Via Teleconference
(December 10, 2021)

3:34 P.M. EST

MR. ZIENTS:  Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.

Today, we’ll start with an update from Dr. Walensky on the state of the pandemic, and the Omicron variant, and the decision by FDA and CDC yesterday to make boosters available to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY:  Thank you, Jeff.  Good afternoon, everyone.  I’d like to start by walking through today’s data.

The current seven-day daily average of cases is about 118,500 cases per day, which represents an increase of about 37 percent over the previous week.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 7,400 cases per day, also an increase of about 16 percent over the previous week.

And the seven-day average of daily deaths are about 1,100 per day, which is an increase of about 28 percent over the prior week.

I know we all remain concerned about where we are in the pandemic, both with Delta and now with the Omicron variant.  CDC has been actively addressing and evaluating the Omicron variant and working with state and local jurisdictions to understand its spread.

As part of that investigation, today we are releasing the first MMWR report that details the characteristics of the first 43 confirmed Omicron cases in the United States.

As you can see reflected on this map, as of today, 25 states have reported confirmed cases of Omicron.  This report in the MMWR provides an early look at the impact of the Omicron variant as we continuously work to learn more.

Among the first 43 confirmed cases in the United States between December 1st and 7th, over half were between the ages of 18 and 39 and about one third reported international travel before they were diagnosed.

Nearly 80 percent — or 34 individuals — were fully vaccinated.  And about a third of them — or 14 of those 34 individuals — received an additional booster dose, though some who had a booster had just recently received it.

Additionally, 16 percent of the cases reported had previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Among all cases, there was only one hospitalization and no deaths have been reported to date.

In reported cases thus far, most people experienced only mild symptoms, which is what we would expect from a group of fully vaccinated individuals.

This initial look at case characteristics is a starting point.  We will continue to closely follow this variant to learn more about clinical severity, transmissibility, and susceptibility to our therapeutics and vaccines.

Although we don’t have all the answers on the Omicron variant, initial data suggest that COVID-19 boosters help to bolster protection against Omicron.

And, we should remember that, still, over 99 percent of cases in the country right now are caused by the Delta variant, which is driving increases in cases and hospitalizations.  Vaccination with a primary series and boosting with an additional dose for those who are eligible will keep people out of the hospital and save lives

New data were published this week that demonstrate the power of booster doses.

Two studies from Israel were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Both studies looked at people who received their primary two-dose series of an mRNA vaccine at least five months earlier and compared those who had received a booster dose with those who had not yet been boosted.

In one study, for those who were boosted and over the age of 50, there was a 90 percent decrease in mortality from COVID-19 compared to those who did not receive a booster.

In the other, across all age groups evaluated, rates of COVID-19 infection and severe disease were substantially lower in those who had received a booster dose, with a nearly twentyfold decrease in severe disease for those who were boosted.

Yesterday, I’m pleased to say, following FDA action, CDC expanded recommendations for booster shots to now include everyone 16 and older.  The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is the only authorized and recommended COVID vaccine for those ages 16 and 17.  I encourage this group to get a booster shot six months after completing their primary Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination series. 

As we continue to work to stay ahead of the virus, this recommendation will ensure that more people across the U.S. can strengthen their protection against COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death.

As always, we are following the science.  There have been over 50 million booster doses administered in the United States, and we are monitoring the safety of these doses, as well as reports from around the world where those 16 and older are also receiving booster shots.

It is clear that booster shots are a safe and effective way to prevent COVID-19 and to protect against the threat of new variants.

Parents, now is the time to ensure that your children are vaccinated.  If they are 16 or older and six months from their primary series, they can get a booster shot.  If your child is five years and older and has not yet gotten their first shot, now is the time.  Getting them vaccinated helps protect them from COVID-19 and the potentially serious outcomes from this infection. 

As a mother of three, I know the concerns that parents hold for the health and safety of their children. These vaccines are not only safe, but they are highly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

In the last month, there have been 7 million shots given to children ages 5 to 11.  The most common reported side effects among 5- to 11-year-olds after vaccination have been mild.  They’ve included sore arm, headache, and fatigue. 

COVID-19 vaccines are being monitored for safety with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in United States’ history, and no safety concerns have been identified in this age group.

I know some parents want to “wait and see.”  I wanted to reiterate that vaccination is the best way to protect your kids from COVID-19 and the best way to protect your entire family.

Please take the time to ask questions and get any additional information you need to make this critical decision to get your children vaccinated.

In this moment, we all have an essential role to play in coming together to do what we know works against this virus.  Vaccines work, boosting works, testing works, masking works, physical distancing works, washing our hands works, and proper ventilation works.

I am confident that we can all do our part as we fight together against COVID-19 and prepare for more Omicron.

Thank you.  And I’ll now turn things back over to you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS:  Thank you, Dr. Walensky.

Next, Dr. Fauci will provide an overview of the latest science on Omicron.

Before I turn to him, I want to level set on how we should be thinking about the variant in the coming weeks as more and more data becomes available.

Since Omicron was first detected, the world’s scientific community has been working to gather data and learn more about the variant.

As more and more data become available, it’s important to keep in mind what Dr. Fauci said on Tuesday: It will take some time to have a clear understanding of Omicron’s transmissibility, severity, and vaccine impact.

And we will need to look at the totality of the data.

We are starting to get initial data that Dr. Fauci will review today.  And in the coming weeks, we expect to learn more.

This is science at work.

Americans should be confident that we have the best scientists in the world on the job and that we will continue to be transparent — sharing what we know, when we know it.

With that, over to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI:  Thank you very much, Jeff.  I’d like to spend just the next couple of minutes underscoring some of the things that were said both by Dr. Walensky and by Jeff.

If I could have the first slide.

So, the question on everyone’s mind is: What are the data that are now emerging gradually, day by day, from different groups on the ability of vaccine-induced antibodies to effectively neutralize the Omicron variant.

Next slide.

This is a list of just some of the representative publications — almost all on preprint servers looking at this laboratory data regarding neutralization of Omicron by vaccine-induced antibodies.

Rather than go through each and every one of these, the common denominator is what I said on the first slide: that what is happening is that data are emerging that there is a diminution in protection by the antibodies induced by the standard two-dose vaccine.

     Next slide.

     And this is summarized on the first bullet here:  Preliminary data, as of a couple of days ago, “demonstrates that sera from individuals who received two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech…vaccine exhibited [about a] 25-fold reduction in neutralization titers against Omicron [when] compared to wild-type.”  That’s the sobering news. 

The encouraging news is that “Booster doses increased the neutralizing antibody titers by 25-fold compared to two doses against the Omicron variant.”  A striking endorsement of the importance of boosting. 

Let me get a little bit more detailed about that.

Next slide. 

These are some of the neutralization data that Pfizer released two days ago.  Let me quickly go through it.  On the left-hand part of the slide, one looks at what’s called the “vaccine neutralization titer” — the pseudo virus titer — when you look at a mechanism of neutralizing a particular representation of virus function.

Twenty-one days after the second dose, notice the purple bar, Omicron, is very low compared to the neutralization against wild-type and Beta. 

But look at what happens, in a striking way, one month after the third dose.  Note that the purple bar — which represents Omicron — and the number above it, 154, is essentially equivalent to what a typical two-dose vaccination does against wild-type, shown on the left with the 155. 

Also, neutralization titers — or the pseudo virus neutralization titer — in the other variants also had a sharp increase. 

Next slide. 

So, let’s just finally go over a couple of key points.  Early data are emerging from a different group.  And literally on a day-by-day basis — and you’re going to see, over the weekend, more tweets and other information coming through.  And then in the early part of next week, you’ll be seeing data very likely in preprint servers. 

Preliminary findings using laboratory studies with NIH assays, animal study results likely will not be out for several weeks.  There’ll be clinical and epidemiological study.  But one thing that is a caveat: Although laboratory data are generally good indications and hints of a clinical outcome, they don’t always reliably predict. 

And one point that is critical is that we measure, because it’s easy to do, antibodies — antibodies that are induced by vaccines, et cetera.  We must remember that there are other components that may play an important part in protection against particularly severe disease, and that is memory B cells, subsets of T cells, CD4 or CD8 T cells.  All of these things, even on a two dose, may actually play a role in preventing against severe disease. 

Final slide.  Next, please. 

So, early in vitro studies clearly indicate that boosters increase antibody titers against the Omicron variant.  So, if you’re concerned about SARS-CoV-2 in general and certainly about the Omicron variant: First, get vaccinated.  And then, when eligible, get boosted. 

Back to you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS:  Thanks, Dr. Fauci.  Next, let’s turn to Dr.  Murthy to discuss the very important topic of the impact the pandemic is having on the mental health of young people in this country. 

Dr.  Murthy.

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY:  Well, thank you so much, Jeff.  And it’s good to be with everyone again.  Let me start by reiterating what my colleagues have said — Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci — that the initial science on Omicron is encouraging, especially in people who are boosted.  But the key right now is a little bit more patience while we gather more data. 

I know that many out there might be feeling tired and frustrated after many months in this pandemic.  Many of us have
felt the emotional rollercoaster of COVID.  But that’s when — and I felt that too. 

But when I do feel that, that’s when I remember that the big difference between now and March 2020 is that we have more knowledge about how to assess and tackle new variants.  And most importantly, we have more tools — including vaccines, testing, masking, and ventilation — that allow us to more safely resume many of the activities we have missed.  These include gathering with our family and friends, keeping our kids in school, and getting back to work. 

There is no doubt more work ahead, but we are also making progress, unmistakably, and we won’t stop until the job is done. 

And today, I want to talk about the mental health challenges of COVID and how they’ve especially affected young people. 

COVID dramatically altered kids experiences at home, at school, and in the community during a crucial period of development.  We’ve seen rates of anxiety and depression among young people increase throughout the pandemic.  But it’s important to recognize that our children were already struggling before COVID-19 arrived. 

In 2019, one in three high school students and half of female high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which was an overall increase of 40 percent from 10 years prior. 

Taken together, the impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing has been devastating.  But while mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread, the key is that they are treatable and often preventable. 

And that’s why, this week, I issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on protecting youth mental health.  The advisory is a resource for kids and families, and provides recommendations for young people, parents, schools, technology and media companies, community organizations and governments alike.  It’s a blueprint for building on the investments the administration is already making in mental health and resiliency, investments that include $190 million to increase access to behavioral health services for youth, $80 million to support the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program, and $30 million in Project AWARE. 

The advisory represents a vision for what we can build together, which is a healthier, more resilient, more fulfilled nation.  Because when families struggle to put food on the table and when kids are going to crumbling schools, it’s hard to maintain good mental health.  That’s why to address mental health in America, we have to build a future where all kids can thrive.  And to do that, we have to address the barriers that are holding them back. 

All of this won’t happen overnight.  Many of the recommendations that we offer in the advisory require structural buy-in and change.  But two of the most important steps that we can take today are to end this pandemic and to create a culture that sees mental health as part of health and not something to be ashamed of.

It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to now allow another to grow in its place.  And for the young girl in Oregon who hasn’t seen her grandparents in too long; or the teen in Texas whose social media accounts are telling him he’s not popular enough, not smart enough, not good looking enough, not rich enough; for the Indian kid in Miami who feels alone in his middle school because of who he is and what he looks like: For them, for all their peers, change can’t come soon enough, and that’s why we’re going to continue to work on improving the health of young people across America. 

Thank you all.  And I’ll turn it back to you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS:  Thanks, Dr. Murthy.  Before we open up for questions, I want to reiterate that we have the tools and the know-how we need to confront Omicron.

Vaccines remain our most important tool.  And thanks to the President’s relentless focus on vaccinations since day one, we have made significant progress. 

In fact, just this week, we hit two milestones: 200 million fully vaccinated Americans, up from just 2 million when the President took office, and 300 million vaccines donated and delivered to 110 countries around the world, with nearly 31 million doses shipped in the last week alone.

Two hundred million fully vaccinated Americans and three hundred million vaccines donated and delivered around the world — these are two major milestones in our fight against the virus.

So, as we enter this winter, we are in a much stronger, safer position than last winter.

And we’re executing the President’s winter plan to build on this progress using every tool at our disposal to move us further along the path out of the pandemic. 

The President’s plan is delivering.  We’re getting the most shots in arms per day since May, seven months ago.  We’re getting booster shots to 1.1 million Americans a day — more people boosted per day than ever before.  And as of yesterday, 16- and 17-year-olds are now eligible for a booster. 

So, heading into the winter, our vaccinations program is accelerating, and we’re sparing no effort to keep people safe, our schools open, and the economy growing. 

But we need everyone to do their part.  This means getting boosted. 

The doctors have been crystal clear: Everyone eligible for a booster shot should get one right away because boosters provide the highest level of protection against COVID. 

We’ve made boosters free and readily available at 80,000 locations coast to coast. 

So, my message today is simple: Please, if you were fully vaccinated before the first week of June, go get your booster shot today.  And get your kids and yourself vaccinated as soon as possible if you haven’t already.  It’s safe and effective, free and easy, and will help keep you, your loved ones, and your community safe this winter. 

With that, let’s open it up for some questions.

MODERATOR:  Great.  First question we’re going to go to Tamara Keith at NPR.

Q    Thank you for taking my question.  The FDA authorized a new monoclonal antibody this week made by AstraZeneca that protects people from getting COVID for six months after getting the shots.  How do you imagine that being used?  Is the idea that it would be a substitute for a vaccine or for people who aren’t willing to get one?

And then a separate question for Dr. Walensky: Back in March, you talked about sort of having this sense of impending doom as COVID numbers were rising.  COVID numbers are jumping pretty significantly right now, including hospitalizations and deaths.  How are you feeling?  Is there — is the doom not there?

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Murthy, do you want to talk about the AstraZeneca monoclonal?

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY:  Jeff, did you mean me or Tony?

MR. ZIENTS:  Either one.

DR. FAUCI:  I’ll do it.

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY:  You can start, yeah.

DR. FAUCI:  Yeah, so when you have a something that’s a prophylactic, namely preventing infection by a monoclonal antibody infusion, that is not intended to be a substitute for a vaccine for someone who you would predict would respond to the vaccine. 

Those prophylactics are due to a subset of people who you would not expect or have already shown that they are not responding adequately to the vaccine, and those are usually people are either at very high risk and have not had a good response.  Some of those very obviously would be transplantation patients, patients who are on immunosuppressive regimens for autoimmune and other disease. 

So, let me repeat, because it’s important: Whenever we see the availability of an intervention that could theoretically substitute for vaccine, there’s not at all a recommendation that it’s either/or.  It’s if you don’t respond to a vaccine, that’s when you use that.

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY:  And now we just (inaudible) —

MR. ZIENTS:  Go ahead, Doctor.

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: — we see these layers of protection.  And, you know, we know that some vulnerable individuals need an additional layer, but we are not taking away the layers that we have been recommending, which include vaccines.

MR. ZIENTS:  Second question, Dr. Walensky?

DR. WALENSKY:  Yeah, thank you for that question, Tamara. 

You know, right now, we do have increasing cases.  We’re at 100,000 — 118,000 a day, but we also have many more readily available tools than we had earlier this year. 

We have 200 million people who are fully vaccinated, and we have boosters ready available and — readily available in 80,000 sites for people to roll up their sleeves and get maximum protection from our vaccines and our boosters. 

We have vaccinations for our children down to the age of five.  And we have a lot of science that inform — that informs many of the things that we can do to prevent COVID-19 in ourselves, in our families, and in our communities. 

And it is the collection of all of those things together — vaccinations, boosters, and preventive measures — that really gives me a lot more faith in our — where we are currently.

MR. ZIENTS:  Next question, please. 

MODERATOR:  Nate Weixel at The Hill.

Q    Hey, thanks for taking my question.  There was some new data from CDC out today just laying out a little bit more of the timeline on when we knew Omicron was in the U.S.  So it seems like it was here earlier than the travel restrictions were put in place.  So, I’m just going to ask if there’s a timeline on when they might be lifted and sort of what you see the purpose of them at this point is.

MR. ZIENTS:  I’ll take that. 

You know, we continue to see a steep rise in cases out of Southern Africa.  And the travel restrictions, when they were taken, they were certainly not taken lightly.  They were taken out of an abundance of caution to give us time to prepare for Omicron; to evaluate it, as we’ve been talking about today; and to help slow the spread.

We expect to learn more, as Dr. Fauci outlined, on transmissibility, severity, and the vaccine impact of Omicron in the days ahead. 

We understand and sympathize that the travel restrictions are causing difficulty for those in Southern Africa.  But we think of these as temporary measures for a limited period of time.  And we believe they’re appropriate for that limited period of time.  We are continuously evaluating this policy on a day-to-day basis. 

Next question. 

MODERATOR:  Let’s got to Cheyenne Haslett at ABC News.

Q    So, my first question is about the UK, where experts have predicted that Omicron will reach parity with Delta as soon as next week.  What does the CDC modeling show about when Omicron will reach that level with Delta here?

And my second question is for Dr. Murphy about the report on mental health of young people during the pandemic.  I wonder how you think this really difficult time is going to affect the long-term development and success of this younger generation.  Where do you see this going as they get older?

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Walensky and then Dr. Murthy.

DR. WALENSKY:  Yeah, thank you for that question, Cheyenne.  So, right now, our genomic surveillance demonstrates that we have less than 0.1 percent of cases in the United States is Omicron. 

We’re continuing to follow it, but we’re also seeing data from other countries — UK and South Africa — that is demonstrating a really fast doubling time in — somewhere in the two to three days. 

So, I don’t suspect we’ll be on the same time horizon as UK, and we’re continuing to follow cases.  And we’ll look at the carefully.

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Murthy?

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY:  Thanks, Jeff.  And, Cheyenne, thanks for that question.  You know, I am worried about our children; that’s why I issued this advisory.  And a lot of the steps that we took this year to make sure we got our kids back to school — you know, we created more tools for families to be able to gather, be able to see their grandparents and their friends — these are an important part of helping kids get back so much of what they need. 

But the truth is that our kids have been struggling for a long time, even before this pandemic.  And to truly make the investments that our children need means that we’ve got to invest in prevention programs and expanding treatment and expanding the healthcare — the mental healthcare workforce. 

Those are steps that this administration has taken, and there’s more to do there. 

And, finally, I’ll just say that what we really have to do is something that government can’t do but all of us as individuals can do, which is to fundamentally destigmatize mental illness. 

We have to change how we think about and talk about mental illness so that children don’t feel ashamed of struggling with their mental health and so that they don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Next question.

MODERATOR:  Serena Marshall at NowThis.

Q    There we go.  Thank you so much for taking my question.  I just wanted to follow up on the travel ban/South Africa question, and then one other for Dr. Walensky.

The World Health Organization has said that travel bans like this adversely impact global health efforts by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. 

South Africa has great sequencing and — data that many epidemiologists have said we benefited from by them being able to identify this variant so quickly. 

So, given that, are you concerned that other nations and that this ban remains in effect, even as the U.S. has implemented mandatory COVID testing for those traveling here, will disincentivize other nations from identifying new variants as they come through? 

And then, Dr. Walensky, I’m wondering if there’s any plans for the CDC to change how they will be managing breakthrough cases and tracking those.  I know there’s been a big call within the medical community to have more real-time data reporting, especially now learning, as outlined, that many of those Omicron cases currently in the U.S. are among the vaccinated.

MR. ZIENTS:  So why don’t we start — Dr. Fauci, maybe you can comment on how we’re working with South Africa and other countries, at the same time appreciating that the travel ban is a temporary measure of the cooperation that we’re having with South Africa and other countries around the world.

DR. FAUCI:  Yes, thank you, Jeff.  Well, first of all — just to reiterate what we’ve all said several times on these briefings — that we value very, very much the generosity and transparency of our South African colleagues, and we can understand how they feel. 

Early on, when we first heard — literally the first day — about the threat of Omicron, the action was taken to cut off temporarily the travel from South Africa and the surrounding countries.  This is something that we did not take lightly, and we do feel badly about any hardship that that has imposed upon them. 

What we are doing currently, right now, is looking at the evidence that would get us to pull back on that.  And the CDC will be doing some modeling studies that they literally have started already to determine what the risk of increased influx of patients — balance of individuals who are infected — balanced against the already existing infection in our own country. 

So, the bottom line of what you’re saying is that we would like to lift that as soon as we possibly can, based on evidence that we can use as the basis for that lifting.

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Walensky, second question.

DR. WALENSKY:  Yeah, thank you for that question.  So we have many different mechanisms by which we follow breakthrough cases.  One is through passive reporting.  But we know, through passive reporting, we’re not getting all of those cases in. 

So, what we do in addition is we have many different cohorts — large numbers of cohorts, tens of thousands of people — that we look at specifically so that we know that we’re following and we’re getting active reporting from all of those places. 

So, we follow healthcare workers and frontline workers.  We follow patients in long-term care facilities.  We follow patients in other health systems, like Kaiser Permanente and Intermountain Health.  And then we’re also tracking in numerous departments of public health.  And over 20 departments of public health are now combining their vaccination data with their testing data with their hospitalization data.  And that’s over a third of the population, and that’s giving us a really accurate view of breakthrough cases, both for two doses of vaccine and now for booster shots as well.

MR. ZIENTS:  Next question.

MODERATOR:  Jeff Mason at Reuters.

Q    Thanks very much.  Dr. Fauci, could you elaborate a little bit more on what data you will be looking for for making those decisions about travel?  And for both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky: What broad advice would you give right now to families who are planning travel over the holidays — for Christmas and New Year’s — given the data that you’ve talked about tonight?  Any broad advice that you would share?

MR. ZIENTS:  Let’s go to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI:  Jeff, I want to make sure –- Jeff I want to make sure I understand your question.  When you say what data we’re going to be looking for regarding travel, are you referring specifically to the travel restrictions?  Is that what you’re asking? 

Q    Yes, sir.

DR. FAUCI:   Okay, thanks.  Well, Jeff, what it is is that you can do a modeling to take a look at the dynamics of infection here in this country and in other countries where there are no travel bans; get an estimate for what the dynamics of the infection: how it’s accelerating, the numbers of cases, and the projected number of cases in South Africa and other southern countries; and determine whether or not it actually makes no difference if you keep people out from that country.

And those data can actually be acquired by some reasonably good models.  And we hope that we will have — we figure — and I don’t want to make any promises — literally within the next few days to a week.

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Walensky, on general travel advice.

DR. WALENSKY:  Yeah, I’m really glad you asked this question, Jeff.  Look, we want people to get — be able to get together safely for the holidays.  And that is going to require us to all be vigilant in a time where we have a rising number of cases. 

We know the right things that we need to do, and we’re asking people, as they think about their holiday travel, to really do all of those things to protect themselves and their family.  So what is that?  That is making sure you’re fully vaccinated and boosted if you’re eligible for boosting; getting your kids vaccinated; making sure those people who you’re gathering with are vaccinated; ensuring people are practicing the proper prevention and mitigation strategies, including masking for at least a couple of weeks before they come together. 

And if you want that extra layer of reassurance on top of all of those prevention strategies, take a test before you gather, and make sure everybody together is coming together with a negative test.

MR. ZIENTS:  Okay, one last question, please.

MODERATOR:  Last question, Kaitlan Collins, CNN.

Q    Thanks so much.  I just wanted to follow up on a conversation that we’ve been having this week about why the United States has not made these rapid tests free like you’ve seen other nations do.  And I want to just get you to weigh in on whether or not that is still an option that the government is considering.

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, Kaitlan, testing is free in many venues across the country, and we want to make sure that, in general, testing is done in the most efficient and effective way.

As you know, at-home tests have become very popular.  And we’ve increased the supply — quadrupled it — to meet growing demand.  And that’s just benchmarking versus end of summer versus where we now are. 

We’ve also dramatically scaled up free testing at pharmacy and community sites.  They’re now at 20,000 sites across the country, and these are located particularly in the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable communities.  We’ve created a new streamlined pathway to bring more at-home tests to the market. And we’ve gone from no at-home tests on the market, when the President took office, to eight on the shelves today. 

So the President’s winter plan, which he announced last week, builds off of this progress: free at-home testing for anyone with private insurance going forward, and another 50 million tests for people not covered by private insurance at convenient places like health centers and community sites across the country.

So, overall, we have made tremendous progress, and the administration’s $3 billion investment will scale up testing capacity and drive additional progress.  Our goal is to give free tests to everyone who wants one in the most efficient and effective way possible.

There is enough testing capacity in this country, and we’re confident that as more tests come to market — get authorized and come to market — innovation will continue and prices will come down. 

But I want to emphasize: Between the free tests that are available at pharmacies; the free tests that are going to be distributed throughout the country at community centers, convenient locations; and the 150 million people who are in private insurance and the ability to be reimbursed — there’s plenty of free testing across the country.

Thank you for today, and we’ll look forward to seeing people next week.  Thank you.

4:11 P.M. EST

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