Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials 13 March

The White House

Via Teleconference

11:18 A.M. EST

MR. ZIENTS: Thank you everybody for joining us today. Today, we will get a state-of-the-pandemic update from Dr. Walensky, Dr. Fauci will highlight the latest science, and Dr. Nunez-Smith will discuss our focus on equity.

But first, I want to start by giving an overview of the President’s address to the nation. Last night, President Biden announced that all Americans will be eligible for vaccinations no later than May 1. All Americans no later than May 1. And the President put the nation on a path to get closer to normal by the 4th of July.

As many of you remember, on the President’s first full day in office, he outlined a comprehensive strategy to beat this pandemic. We’ve spent every day since then executing against that strategy, and we are making progress.

As you can see on our weekly vaccination progress report, the current seven-day average — the dark bar on the far right — is 2.2 million shots per day. That’s a new record pace that we will continue to build on.

On Inauguration Day, only 8 percent of Americans 65 and over had gotten their first vaccination. Today, that number is nearly 65 percent. This is important because 80 percent of COVID deaths have been individuals 65 and over. So we’re making progress, but there’s more work to do.

Last night, Americans heard the President say that all we — that all of us need to do our part, and that if we do, there’s a good chance that families and friends will be able to safely gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day.

I want to walk through the key components of our effort moving forward, starting with May 1 eligibility. The President will direct states, tribes, and territories to make all adults eligible for the vaccine no later than May 1st. That’s earlier than expected and reflects our success working with vaccine manufacturers to increase supply and secure doses for all adult Americans, and also our progress in increasing both the number of vaccinators and the number of places that people can get vaccinated.

Now, that does not mean that everyone will get a shot immediately, but May 1st is the date every adult will be eligible to sign up to get the shot. And by the end of May, we expect to have enough vaccine supply available for all adults in this country.

To help ensure that we turn vaccine supply into shots and arms, the President announced that we will continue to increase the number of vaccinators in the place — the number of places to get vaccinated. First, over the coming weeks, we will deliver vaccines directly to up to 700 additional community health centers that reach underserved communities, bringing the total number of these community health centers participating in our federal vaccination program to 950.

Second, we will work to double the number of pharmacies participating in the Federal Pharmacy Program. We will make the vaccine available at more than 20,000 pharmacies across America.

And the administration is instructing these pharmacies to expand mobile operations into the hardest-hit communities to reach more people.

Third, the administration will more than double the number of federally run mass vaccination centers to ensure that we hit the hardest-hit communities — sorry, to ensure that we reach those hardest-hit communities. Many of these sites will include mobile operations to further reach out to underserved communities and deliver thousands of shots per day.

Today, in fact, I’m pleased to announce the addition of a new FEMA-supported site in Detroit. This site, located at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, has the ability to administer 6,000 shots per day. And last night, President Biden announced the deployment of more than 4,000 active-duty troops to support vaccination efforts, bringing the total troop deployment to over 6,000.

Fourth, we will increase the number of vaccinators — people who can administer shots in arms. Dr. Nunez-Smith will talk about the importance of today’s PREP Act amendment to increase the total number of vaccinators in the field.

Now, we know the work to increase vaccine supply, vaccinators, and places to get vaccinated is not enough on its own. We need to make it easier for every American to get vaccinated. Too often, it’s too difficult, too time consuming, and too frustrating for people to identify where vaccines are available and where to schedule an appointment.

That’s why the President, last night, announced steps to make it easier for individuals to find a vaccine near them.

By May 1st, as vaccines are available in more places, the administration will launch a federally supported website that will show the locations near them that have available vaccines.

And because we know that not everyone has Internet access or is comfortable online, we will also launch a call center to provide assistance in finding a vaccine. Since so many Americans use their state and local websites to schedule vaccine appointments, the administration will also deploy technology teams to help to improve these systems.

Reopening schools safely is critical to getting closer to normal. Last night, President Biden discussed additional steps in our efforts to reopen schools. Now that the American Rescue Plan is law, $130 billion will help schools pay for critical supplies to implement CDC’s mitigation strategies, hire more staff, and support children’s academic, social, and emotional needs. And we’re getting educators vaccinated.

Last week, the President announced that he’s using the administration’s authority to direct states that haven’t yet prioritized pre-K-through-12 school staff and childcare workers for vaccinations to do so immediately.

As we work to get more people vaccinated, we need to expand testing, diagnostic screening, and genomic sequencing. With the American Rescue’s [sic] Plan $1.7 billion investment, we will dramatically expand our ability to sequence samples to identify, track, and mitigate emerging variants. And the administration will use the nearly $50 billion in testing that comes from the funding in the American Rescue Plan to invest in screening and testing to help schools reopen safely, and also to expand testing in congregate settings, including shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness, prisons, and other settings where individuals live in close quarters.

Across the next several weeks, the CDC will provide public health guidance based on the best available science and the pace of vaccinations for people as they travel, participate in small gatherings, and go to work, and in houses of worship.

Also, as we increase the number of people vaccinated, we know some people may have a need to demonstrate that they are vaccinated. The private sector and not-for-profit coalitions are already beginning to work on this. Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.

As the President noted last night, this fight is far from over. We still have a lot of work to do. This is certainly not a time to put down your guard. Mask up and follow the public health standards. We need all Americans to get vaccinated as soon as it’s their turn, and to help your family and friends and neighbors get vaccinated, as well.

Together, unified, we can defeat this pandemic, and we can all celebrate a more normal Fourth of July with our family and friends, gathering in small groups, to celebrate the holiday.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Walensky. Dr. Walensky?

DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff. It’s good to be back with you all today. We are now officially one year and one day into the COVID-19 pandemic. As I reflect back on the near-impossible clinical decisions we had to make to prioritize scant resources — ventilators and PPE — I recall those moments, and I’m sure many of you shared them, where I felt powerless and hopeless. And here we are, one very long year later, led by science and propelled by a growing sense of hope that we can and we will get out of this together.

But cases and hospitalizations and deaths remain high, and we’ve been fooled before into being too lax. So now is the time to double down to see this through.

CDC’s most recent data shows cases continue to fluctuate between 50- and 60,000 new cases per day, with the most recent seven-day average being more than 55,500 cases per day. The most recent seven-day average of hospital admissions continues to decline, down from the previous seven-day period to about 4,900 admissions per day. We also continue to see around 1,500 to 1,800 deaths per day, with the latest seven-day average being just over 1,500 deaths per day.

I’m encouraged by these data, but we much — must remain vigilant to continue in our efforts to get cases, admissions, and deaths down.

We’re making remarkable progress on our vaccination efforts. We now have more than 64 million people who received at least one dose of vaccine, and we are vaccinating millions more each day. This is our path out of the pandemic. As you heard last night from the President, we are working as quickly as we can to ensure that every American has access to vaccine.

As we get more vaccinations into communities, I am asking everyone to do the right thing: Continue taking public health precautions and be ready to roll up your sleeve when that vaccine is available to you.

Throughout the pandemic, parents and caregivers have faced the challenging task of balancing childcare responsibilities with work responsibilities, often operating in virtual environment, with limited childcare options. We know that childcare programs and early childhood education are essential to healthy childhood development. The services these programs offer are important for working parents and provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for kids to get them ready for school and develop critical social and emotional skills.

Like other businesses and community services, many childcare programs have been challenged in their response to the pandemic. Early last year, CDC released initial guidance for childcare programs during COVID-19. As we learned more about the virus, CDC experts updated that guidance several times throughout 2020.

Today, CDC is again releasing updated guidance based on the most recent science. That science includes additional evidence showing that, when used consistently and correctly, prevention strategies such as mask wearing, staying home when sick, and good hand hygiene can allow childcare programs to operate safely and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

This updated guidance is intended for all types of childcare providers, including childcare centers, family childcare homes, Head Start programs, and pre-kindergarten programs, and is meant to supplement, not to replace, other laws, rules, or regulations that childcare programs must follow.

The guidance includes strategies that childcare programs can use to maintain healthy environments and operations, to lower the risk of COVID-19 clusters in their programs, to prepare for when someone is sick with COVID-19, and to support coping and resilience for their staff and children and parents they serve.

Critically, the updated guidance evidence — emphasizes the importance of mask wearing for all children older than two years old and all staff, except when eating or sleeping. It also highlights strategies such as cohorting, where groups of children are kept together with the same peers and staff to reduce the risk of spread throughout the program. The guidance also provide recommendations on simple, low-cost ventilation strategies, how to adapt the environment for children with disabilities and special needs, and ways to make spaces, such as communal spaces, food service areas, and other — and play areas safer.

Recognizing that guidance can sometimes be complex, we’re also releasing a suite of complimentary resources, infographics, and toolkits to help programs with implementation. For example, we have included quick guides and flowcharts to help you know what to do if a child becomes ill or is showing signs of COVID-19 while in care. All of these resources, along with the guidance, are now available at CDC.gov. I hope that childcare providers will view the guidance as a one-stop shop for strategies they can use to safely provide care and enrichment to our nation’s children.

In addition, I’m excited to note that the American Rescue Plan, signed by the President yesterday, includes $24 billion in emergency funding to help support childcare providers. This funding can be used to pay for rent, utilities, and staff, but also to help childcare providers implement COVID-19 prevention strategies.

I also want to stress that our childcare guidance emphasizes the importance of COVID-19 vaccination as an additional layer of prevention for childcare workers. I strongly encourage America’s childcare workers to get vaccinated.

Last week, President Biden directed all states to prioritize childcare workers, as well as K-through-12 teachers and school staff for COVID-19 vaccination in March.

CDC is taking a leading role in helping to achieve the President’s goal through our Federal Retail Pharmacy program. We now have over 9,000 pharmacies participating nationwide, while childcare workers are being prioritized for vaccination appointments.

If you are a childcare worker and want to get vaccinated, please visit CDC.gov and check out the pharmacy partners that are participating in your state. Our website also provides information on where to go to schedule your appointment.

And if you are a childcare center whose workers don’t uniformly have access to the web, please work with your center and your community to assist them in making appointments.

Finally, as we’re talking about the impact of this pandemic has had on childrens and family, I want to share with you another concerning way that COVID-19 is affecting the health of our nation: disrupting our ability to vaccinate children against other infectious diseases. On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps to provide immunity before child — children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.

During the pandemic, we have seen substantial declines in pediatrician visits. And because of this, CDC orders for childhood vaccinations dropped by about 11 million doses — a substantial and historic decline.

As we work to get our children back to school, we certainly do not want to encounter other preventable infectious outbreaks such as measles and mumps. When planning for your child’s safe return to childcare programs or to school, please check with your child’s doctor to make sure that they are up to date on their vaccines. As if they did — and if they did fall behind, they can get caught up by following CDC’s catch-up immunization schedule available on the CDC website.

This pandemic has taken so much from us already. We must work together to protect our children’s health now and in the future.

Thank you. I’ll now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to spend just a few minutes on updating you from something that I spoke about a couple of pressers ago regarding therapy and, in some respects, prevention of COVID-19 disease.

If I could have the next slide.

This is a slide, again, which I had shown previously. And the reason I repeat it is because what I’m going to tell you over the next two or three minutes relates to things that will be very useful if one consults the treatment guidelines, which, as I mentioned, is a living document which is updated on a regular basis as new clinical data come in.

The reason why I point this out is that, recently, there has been a considerable amount of information regarding some of the monoclonal antibodies that are used in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Recall, a week or so ago, I spoke to you about the direct antiviral agents that we are pursuing in a very proactive way. What we’re going to be talking about in the next minute or two are the monoclonal antibodies.

So just to orient you, there are a number of monoclonal antibodies, not all of them directed against the virus itself. For example, tocilizumab is an anti-IL-6 receptor antibody from Genentech. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The monoclonal antibodies that are directed against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein — usually the receptor-binding domain — are bamlanivimab from Lilly, etesevimab from Lilly, the VIR-7831 by Vir-GSK, and a cocktail from Regeneron called casirivimab and imdevimab — again, from Regeneron.

So let’s just go to the next slide.

We’ll talk about monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 treatment.

Next slide.

I had mentioned that tocilizumab — there was a recent guideline alert from the NIH, which showed that this particular monoclonal antibody in combination with dexamethasone, for certain advanced hospitalized patients, namely patients who were exhibiting rapid respiratory decompensation, showed that it was useful in the treatment of these individuals who are exhibiting this rapid progression of disease.

Next slide.

Now getting to the monoclonal antibodies against the virus itself, the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab recently — literally, a couple of days ago at the CROI Conference, which is the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. I point that out to you — is that many of the researchers who had previously devoted their careers to studying HIV have now pivoted because of the emergency nature of COVID-19. In this study reported at CROI, in individuals who were ambulatory — with the question being asked, “Can we keep them out of the hospital?” — it showed a 70 percent reduction in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths, by any cause, by day 29 in people who received this combination as opposed to placebo.

Next slide.

There was another study by Vir — which is a combination of the Vir Biotechnology Company and GSK — who announced that their product, VIR-7831 — again, in ambulatory patients — reduced hospitalization and risk of death, with an 85 percent reduction when you look at this compared to placebo.

Next slide.

Very quickly now, looking at monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 prevention, as opposed to treatment: In this study reported a couple of days ago, bamlanivimab prevented COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in the nursing home setting. What does that mean? It meant that in an individual where you have infection in a nursing home, and you looked at the groups — be they staff or residents — who were randomized to placebo versus bamlanivimab, there was an 80 percent reduction in the incidence of moderate or worse COVID-19 at eight weeks.

Next slide.

Here again is the Regeneron COV antibody cocktail that I mentioned just previously. In this situation, it was within a household setting — in other words, where there is a infection in the household setting — and you’re looking at the results of randomized — the family members, either to this cocktail or to placebo, to determine if you can prevent, namely a post-exposure prophylaxis, or if you can treat early disease.

The results were really dramatic. There was 100 percent protection against symptomatic infection in the group, compared to placebo. And it reduced the overall infection rate by 50 percent. And importantly, those who were infected had 100-fold lower viral load and shorter duration of the detectable viral RNA.

Now, the reason I show you the slide on the NIH treatment guidelines is that this is a very fluid area of research, particularly since, as I mentioned on a previous presser, that these monoclonal antibodies can be knocked out, particularly when given as monotherapy, by different variants — which is the reason why, as we go on — and I will report to you at future meetings — you will see mostly combinations of these antibodies, as opposed to single ones, because the single ones are most vulnerable to the variants that can knock them out easily.

I’ll stop there and turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.

DR. NUNEZ-SMITH: Thank you so much, Dr. Fauci. It’s great to be here. I’m just going to return us to vaccines for a moment. So, you know, as a doctor, as a frontline worker myself, I am very excited to see that more of my healthcare colleagues now have the chance to further expand their participation in the response.

You know, and as Jeff said, expanding the number of places people can get vaccinated, as well as a number of vaccinators — that’s going to be critical for us as we drive an equitable response.

You know, we are faced with this reality that marginalized and minoritized communities are often the first to be forgotten, especially when resources are in short supply. And so we remain very committed to disrupting that narrative.

You know, with today’s announcement, up to 700 new community health centers coming online, a doubling of pharmacy locations, and a surge in vaccinators, we’re ensuring that equity remains at the center of our response.

So I want to just take a minute to touch on the newly eligible vaccinators. You know, to help meet the demand for more shots in arms once everybody is eligible for vaccines come May 1, the administration is expanding the pool of qualified professionals who will be able to administer shots. And so this list now includes dentist, optometrist, paramedics, physician assistants, and many more, including trained medical and healthcare students.

You know, alongside this effort, the Department of Health and Human Services will launch a new portal to help individuals determine where they can sign up to volunteer to administer shots.

We know a person’s zip code is a stronger driver of health than their genetic code, so we will continue to prioritize getting the necessary resources to those areas and communities that have been hardest hit and are at highest risk.

As we fight against centuries of structural inequities, we must be intentional about making vaccination easy and convenient for everyone, and key to that effort is having enough vaccinators to deliver shots in arms. So I encourage my fellow healthcare colleagues to visit the new portal at PHE.gov. Check your status and sign up to help.

So, thanks so much in advance. And with that, I’ll turn it back over to you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you. Let’s open it up for questions.

MODERATOR: All right, we’ll start doing questions now. Just a reminder to please keep your question to one question so we can get through as many as possible.

First we’ll go to Carl O’Donnell at Reuters.

Q Hey. One thing I wanted to ask you: So there’s been, you know, some commentary lately from a number of different — from a number of different groups about the impact of U.S. export controls on, you know, both efforts in places like India to scale up global supply and also, you know, AstraZeneca’s ability to get shots to the EU, where it’s already been authorized.

Just wondering if you can sort of share any views that you guys have on that and whether, you know, there’s any reassessment for, you know, how to make sure that the global supply chain is streamlined.

MR. ZIENTS: So, you know, the President has been very focused on fulfilling his responsibility to the American people. And we as a country have suffered over a half million deaths — more than any country in the world — so we’re rightly focused on getting Americans vaccinated as soon as possible. And, you know, as we’ve talked about, we’re pleased with the progress, and there’s yet a long road ahead.

However, we know this is a global pandemic and that the virus has no borders. That’s why the President is providing — the United States is providing the most funding of any country to COVAX — over $4 billion. It’s why we — the President, on his first day in office, reengaged with the WHO. And that’s why just today, this morning, I participated in the Quad meeting with the President, and it was announced that we’re working to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at facilities in India. And we also believe that the historic partnership between J&J and Merck will help expand capacity and ultimately benefit the world.

So we will continue to prioritize getting all Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible while at the same time understanding this is a global pandemic and making as big a contribution as we possibly can to worldwide efforts to get everyone else vaccinated.

MODERATOR: Next question will go to Kaitlan Collins at CNN.

Q Thanks very much. I have two questions — one super quick. One is: How many people do you actually want to see vaccinated by July 4th in order to meet that goal of having those small gatherings that the President was talking about?

And secondly — I think this is probably best for Jeff, but you all have said we’ll have enough vaccine for everyone by the end of May — not that everyone will get it by then. But if we’re looking at these numbers, it looks like Moderna will have 200 million by then, Pfizer 200 million, and Johnson & Johnson 20 million. So, that’s enough, based on my math, for about 220 million people. So where are those other vaccines coming from in order to have enough for all eligible Americans by the end of May?

MR. ZIENTS: So, Kaitlan, I think your 20 million is the figure that Johnson & Johnson has talked about in terms of their cumulative doses by the end of this month. The work that we did, working with Johnson & Johnson and Merck to accelerate their manufacturing process — particularly the fill-finish piece, which is relevant in this timeframe — has it so that Johnson & Johnson is now delivering at or near its 100 million by the end of May.

So if you take the 200 million doses by the end of May, of Moderna, plus the 200 million doses of Pfizer, plus the at or near 100 million completion of the Johnson & Johnson first contract, that is more than enough supply to vaccinate — vaccine supply to vaccinate all adult Americans by the end of May.

Now, we need to ramp up the number of vaccinators, as we’ve been talking about, and the number of places where Americans can get vaccinated so that when all adults are — Americans are eligible on May 1st, we can accelerate and move very quickly to get as many Americans vaccinated as soon as possible.

DR. WALENSKY: Maybe I’ll just address the second — the first question, and that is: We’re not looking at a single metric of a fraction of people vaccinated in a vacuum. We’re looking at it in the context of what’s going on with the pandemic, as well. So I don’t think we can put a single metric on that, as well as what’s happening in — what science has emerged with regard to vaccinated people. So, it’s hard to put a metric on a single number

MODERATOR: Great. Next question will go to Cheyenne Haslett at ABC.

Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. How likely do you think it will be that states can open up to every adult before May, when it comes to that vaccine supply? And when should states really be expecting the floodgates to open on vaccines?

MR. ZIENTS: Well, I think that the key here is that May 1 is a date that the President will direct using his authorities. There, hopefully, will be states — and we already have one in Alaska — that open up before then, and we’re doing everything we can to encourage states to get as many needles in arms as fast and efficiently as possible.

And this is where increasing the number of vaccinators, the number of places, the can community vaccination centers, the federal pharmacy channel, the community health centers — as we continue to scale those efforts, we can accelerate from the 2.2 million rate that we’re having on average per day now — hopefully, we can accelerate that further. And there will be states that open before May 1, but May 1 is an absolute deadline for all Americans to be eligible to receive the vaccine.

MODERATOR: Next question will go to Sean Sullivan at the Washington Post.

Q Thanks very much. Can you talk a little bit about why the President felt the need to set out specific dates in his speech last night, and also how you intend to manage the public’s expectation of what will happen by those dates? As you’ve pointed out and as the President pointed out, you know, things could change, the situation could change. But how do you manage expectations from a public that might not always be paying attention to some of those developments, caveats that could make things change?

MR. ZIENTS: So I think it’s — I think we all would agree that it’s important to have deadlines and goals, and we spent a lot of time working through the supply, the number of places, the number of vaccinators, and we believe May 1st is the right deadline. No later than May 1st.

So we will have enough supply, as we’ve talked about, by the end of May, given all the President’s work and leadership to bring forward the supply and create enough supply for all adult Americans by May 31st. We will have enough vaccinators and enough places for people to get vaccinated.

And the funding from the American Rescue Plan really helps to ensure that we will have that capacity to do the 2.2 million shots per day that we’re currently doing, and hopefully to accelerate off of that pace as we add more places and more vaccinators.

MODERATOR: All right. We got time for one more question. We’ll go to Zeke at AP.

Q Thank you all for doing this. First, for Jeff, can you speak to — with the expansion in the retail pharmacy program and as well as the community health center program, how many doses are you starting to divert into that — into that stream — that fairly controlled stream? I know you’ve told the governors that their allocations will remain largely static for the coming weeks.

And then, just another one on the AstraZeneca, in particular: With the stockpile of millions of doses here in the United States that aren’t approved here but they can be used overseas, with that EUA still up in flux, why not just send those vaccines overseas right now to help out and save some lives, with American allies in particular?

MR. ZIENTS: Well, the allocation that we’ll make on a going-forward basis will be based on performance of the different channels. And performance is a function of speed and efficiency, but as Dr. Nunez-Smith talked about, as importantly, equity and fairness. The next couple of weeks of supply overall are relatively flat before supply really starts to accelerate towards the end of the month, and then into April and into May.

Now, when I say “relatively flat” — at a level that’s more than twice what it was six or seven weeks ago. So allocation will be based on performance, and we believe that community health centers are particularly important in order to reach hard-to-reach communities and to ensure fairness and equity. The pharmacy program is also structured around fairness and equity. So we’ll make future allocations based on performance.

As to AstraZeneca, we’re following the exact same process that we did with the other three now-approved vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J. And just as we did with those vaccines, as we awaited for the completion of the clinical trial — and right now, my understanding is that AstraZeneca is in the middle of its phase three trial — and then an FDA determination of when they submit the data from the clinical trial, we have a small inventory of AstraZeneca so that, if approved, we can get that inventory out to the American people as quickly as possible, as we just did with J&J. So, AstraZeneca, we’re awaiting the clinical trial and then the decision by the FDA and CDC.

I think that’s it on questions. I just want to thank everybody for joining today, and we look forward to seeing you on Monday. Thank you.

11:54 A.M. EST

To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/COVID-Press-Briefing_12Mar2021_for-transcript.pdf

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.