Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials 20 April

The White House

Via Teleconference

10:33 A.M. EDT

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good morning, and thank you for joining us. I am joined by Dr. Walensky from the CDC and Dr. Fauci from the NIH today. I want to tell you today that things are about to get a whole lot easier.

When we arrived in January, many Americans were understandably frustrated with the pace of the vaccination program and the sea of challenges: not enough vaccines, few places to get vaccinated, a shortage of vaccinators, and confusing rules on who qualified in every state, Tribe, and territory.

We got to work, around the clock, deploying the whole-of-government approach — from the FEMA personnel who are getting shots in arms in communities across the country, to the men and women in the armed forces who are overseeing the shipment and delivery of the vaccines, to the scientists and clinicians at FDA, CDC, and NIH who have ensured the safety of these vaccines.

As a result, our vaccination program is now humming and it’s even accelerating. Over 80 percent of seniors have had at least their first shot, up from 8 percent. And now, 50 percent of adults in the U.S. have had at least one shot, up from 5 percent.

And we now have one thing on our mind: making sure the other 50 percent know how easy it is to get a shot. So, if you still think it’s too difficult to get your vaccine, here’s what you need to know: The lack of supply, the shortage of locations, the confusing rules are all in the past. That cannot be said enough.

Thanks to the aggressive action taken by many, and the collaboration of so many people across the country, there are now thousands of more people ready to help get you vaccinated. There are now millions more vaccine doses available and waiting. And there are now more than 60,000 safe and convenient places for you to go get your shot.

Every one who you’ve seen finally able to safely hug a loved one, to visit each other without masks, to see old friends, that’s an opportunity that’s now within reach for you if you make your appointment.

If you’re 16 or over, it is your turn to get vaccinated, no matter where you live. And now there’s now a 9 out of 10 chance that you are located within 5 miles of your vaccine shot.

And for those of you who have people in your lives who can’t get to a vaccine site, we are helping community-based organizations connect vulnerable Americans with shots. And to get resources to healthcare providers serving at-risk populations and to promote equitable distribution of vaccines, today, HHS is making $150 million available to community-based healthcare providers to strengthen their efforts to get shots in arms and care for patients with COVID-19.

I want to conclude my remarks by offering great thanks. This vaccination program will be what brings us out of the pandemic. And thanks to the President’s whole-of-government, wartime response, today is an important day in the entire scope of the pandemic.

Thanks to the scientists who have spent more than 20 years researching and developing the technology that led to these vaccines; to the warehouse workers and truck drivers getting vaccine doses to every corner of the country — to the local pharmacies, health centers, medical centers, faith-based organizations, and many more ensuring vaccine access in their communities; and to the healthcare workers who are putting the shots in arms — thanks to all of them, it has never been easier to get a shot.

Join the more than 130 million Americans who have already gotten at least one shot — half of one — half of all adults. That’s a lot of progress, but as we said from the start, winning this war against COVID-19 takes all of us doing our part.

So, here’s my direct plea to everyone listening: If you haven’t already made an appointment to get vaccinated, make one right now. You are eligible. Then, reach out to your family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they can make an appointment too. And see what help you can offer them to help those who might need extra assistance.

Thank you.

With that, I will turn it to Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY. Thank you, Andy. Good morning, and I’m so glad to be back with you again today. Let’s begin with an overview of the data.

Yesterday, CDC reported nearly 60,950 cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is up to over 67,440 per day. For context: One month ago, our seven-day average of cases was just over 53,000 per day. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 5,460. And sadly, the seven-day average of daily deaths are now increasing, with six consecutive days of increases, to about 695 deaths per day. Sunday, we again saw almost 700 deaths in a single day.

In good news, so far we have administered 209 million vaccine doses, with an average daily administration of more than 3 million doses. This brings us to 192.8 million doses in the first 100 days — 96 percent of our goal in 88 days. This means that almost 40 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and one out of every four people is fully vaccinated.

Also encouraging news: More than 65 percent of people over the age of 65 and more than — and more than 25 percent over the age of 65 are fully vaccinated [More than 65 percent of people age 65 and older and more than 25 percent of people are fully vaccinated]. This is tremendous progress. Thank you so much to the many people across the United States who have lined up to get vaccinated. Your efforts will help us get out of this pandemic.

I want to recognize that we remain in a complicated stage. On the one hand, more people in the United States are being vaccinated every single day at an accelerated pace. On the other hand, cases and hospitalizations are increasing in some areas of the country, and cases among younger people who have not yet been vaccinated are also increasing.

Just like all of you, I want to get back to doing the things I love with family and friends who I haven’t been able to see over the past year. We all have a role in turning the tide and to trend our cases down. One of the most important things we can do to get back to doing the things we love is to get vaccinated.

I am so thrilled that, today, all people age 16 and up are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine — a tremendous step forward in our efforts to end this pandemic. Data from CDC and other experts continue to show that the COVID-19 vaccines we are using are effective and can prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

As all adults now become eligible to be get — to get vaccinated, I want to again point out two really encouraging pieces of data. First, we recently released a study on how vaccines are working in the real world. Among nearly 4,000 healthcare personnel, first responders, and essential workers who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the risk of any infection, asymptomatic and symptomatic, was reduced by 90 percent after receiving the two recommended doses of the vaccine. This study was yet additional evidence that these vaccines are working. The efficacy we saw in clinical trials is now being shown in the real world.

Second, last week, we released data on the so-called num- — the number of so-called “breakthrough infections” — of people who, despite being vaccinated, still tested positive for COVID-19 more than 14 days after they’re getting their second vaccine dose.

With any vaccine, we expect such rare cases. But so far, out of more than 84 million people who are fully vaccinated, we have only received reports of less than 6,000 breakthrough cases. Although this number is from 43 states and territories and likely an underestimate, it still makes a really important point: These vaccines are working.

Of the nearly 6,000 cases, approximately 30 percent had no symptoms at all. This is really encouraging news. It demonstrates that — what we’ve already discussed about these vaccines: They also help you prevent from getting seriously ill.

Additionally, our current data suggests that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against the variants circulating in the United States.

These now — these data are now available on the CDC website at CDC.gov, with information on how healthcare providers and public health authorities can report breakthrough infections if they see them occur. We will update the data as it is reported to the CDC.

Based on these data, here’s the bottom line: Getting a vaccine will help protect you, it will help protect others, and it will help us end this pandemic. The more people get vaccinated, the fewer infections there will be, which means fewer variants will emerge and fewer breakthrough infections will occur and the quicker we can get back to doing the things we love.

By working together, taking precautions, and all of us getting vaccinated, we can turn the corner on this public health crisis.

Thank you.

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

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I would like to expand a bit on the theme of what today means, namely April 19th.

Can I have the first slide, please?

As you’ve heard so many times, right now, all adults are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine that can get vaccinated. And, by “adults,” I really do mean a little bit below that. People 16 years of age or older now can get vaccinated wherever vaccines are available.

For those who are hesitant about vaccines, we have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American people to do their own homework, to make up their minds based on the data.

Next slide.

So let’s take a look at what vaccines are. They’re efficacious in clinical trials, effective in real-world settings, and they’re safe. And there’s real data — not just opinion, but data — to back each of that up. And we invite people who are in the pro- — process right now of making a decision about whether they want to get vaccinated to look at the real, transparent data.

Next slide.

Have these vaccines been efficacious in clinical trials?

Next slide.

We know for sure they are. This is — this is work that has been done in tens of thousands of people in clinical trial, has been peer reviewed independently and published in scientific journals, with Pfizer and Moderna showing the efficacy here from New England Journal of Medicine papers.

Next slide.

The same holds true for J&J. All three are highly efficacious in clinical trials.

Next slide.

The next question is: Are they effective in the real-world setting? There’s real, transparent data about that.

Next slide.

For example, if you look at the real-world effectiveness, there are a number of studies. I’m just going to give you some examples.

In over 23,000 employees at the University of Texas, the infection rate was miniscule among vaccinated employees: 0.05 percent. The CDC — looking, again, at the real-world effectiveness — showed that in almost 80,000 person-days with full immunization, 0.04 per 1,000 person-days.

Next slide.

More data showing that when you look at mass vaccination setting nationwide — comparing 600,000 vaccinated people, which matched control in Israel. Look at the real-world efficacy.

Next slide.

Speaking of Israel, look at the relationship between vaccination and the number of cases. In Israel, 61.8 percent have received at least one dose. We are not there yet, but we can get there.

Next slide.

Finally: Is it safe? Well, we’ve been talking now about the extraordinary capability we have of monitoring safety, where an extremely rare adverse event of 6 individuals among 7,000 was picked up by the surveillance system.

Next slide.

What are those surveillance systems? There are many that follow up on clinical trials. There’s monitoring systems by the CDC, by the FDA, and other monitoring systems. So when we say a vaccine is safe, you’re talking about an exquisitely sensitive monitoring system.

So what we say to anyone who has doubts about getting a vaccine: We leave it up to you. Look at the data. The data speak for themselves.

And on the last slide: We all want normalcy in America. The highway to that normalcy is vaccination — very similar to what Israel has done and is doing. We can get there. And every single day, as we get 3 to 4 million people vaccinated, we get closer and closer to that normalcy.

Thank you very much. Back to you, Andy.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And just to clarify, I think you said 6 out of 7 million at last count. Was that correct?

DR. FAUCI: Yes.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Yes. Okay, great. Let’s open it up for questions.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to Rebecca Robbins with New York Times.

Q Yes, thank you. The Serum Institute of India has been saying that the Biden administration is blocking exports of raw materials that it needs to make COVID vaccines. And the Serum Institute has also urged President Biden to lift that embargo. So I wanted to ask: Which raw materials are at issue here? And do you have any plans to address Serum’s concerns?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: So, Dr. Fauci, I don’t know if you have a response or any details, or otherwise, I may —

DR. FAUCI: You know, Andy, I don’t. I’m sorry. I don’t. We could get back to you on that, I’m sure, but I don’t have anything for you right now.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Yeah. Let us get — let us get back to you. Suffice it to say we are taking very seriously the global threat from the pandemic; have been a leader in the funding of COVAX; have done a several bilateral transfers of vaccines; and are looking very hard and taking very seriously all of these complex issues. We’ll get back to you on specifics.

Next question.

MODERATOR: Tamara Keith at NPR.

Q Thank you so much. I have just a couple, but I hopefully won’t take too long. One question I have is whether you’re seeing any, sort of, rural/urban divide in the uptick in new cases. And also, whether that divide is showing up in vaccine hesitancy or non-hesitancy.

And then, a broader question from my colleague, Rob, who asks: With surging cases again in many places and now even deaths rising again, should the federal government be doing more than just appealing to people to be careful?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Let me take — to ask that Dr. Walensky to take those questions — this rural versus urban divide. And I think the second part of the question is: What precautions are we urging people to take and what else can we be doing?

DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you for that question, Tamara. We’re actually looking at the data exactly right now, both — because we can’t really do it at the state level, we really have to do it at smaller, county levels; at ZIP code levels to really understand what the uptick is and what the cases are, as well as looking at what the SVI is in all of these ranges. And we’re doing the data analysis right now, and I’m hoping to get back in touch with you.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Okay. Next question, please.

MODERATOR: Dan Vergano at BuzzFeed.

Q Thanks very much. We’d like that data, Dr. Walensky, and to release the (inaudible), by the way, not just one paper.

I’m wondering, with the change to all adults being eligible, what are you going to do when demand is uneven in different parts of the country? Are you going to continue the “by population” distribution or are you going to send more vaccines to places where there’s more demand versus — versus less? Thanks very much.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you. Yes, let me — let me reiterate a couple of points here. We have, last week, 28 million vaccines being shipped out to states. That is more than enough to maintain our current pace of at least 3 million doses per day.

So we are increasingly confident that while people may have some period of time where they need to wait, we do believe that there is adequate vaccine supply for everybody to get vaccinated and get an appointment, increasingly.

The other thing I’ll say is that, you know, I think our philosophy is: Just because a state may be behind in their demand for vaccines or it may take a little more work to get vaccines into arms in some places relative to others, it does not mean that we think we should be giving up on those locations. It does not mean that we think they should lose those doses and they should be automatically transferred somewhere else.

It just simply means that we and the state and county officials and local doctors need to work harder to listen to the local communities and — as Dr. Fauci, I think, so well said — allow people to get the information that they need to make the decision about whether to get vaccinated or not.

So we are going to make sure everybody, no matter where you are in the country, has ample opportunity to get vaccinated. We are not going to, quote, unquote, “punish” less — less ready areas.

We’re going to actually work harder with them to make sure that people have the information they need.

DR. WALENSKY: And maybe just a follow up to say we have seen that the distr- — the administration of vaccine across the country is not uniform. We — even in our preliminary analysis, we know that it hasn’t been uniform. And that — and that’s exactly why we have to engage in the efforts that was just discussed.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Next question.

MODERATOR: Shannon Pettypiece at NBC.

Q Hi. I have a couple that should be relatively quick though. First, I just want to doublecheck that you have not received any additional severe adverse (inaudible) beyond those six that were reported last week.

And I also wanted to know: The pace of vaccinations has been sticking around this 3 million to 3.5 million doses a day. Do you expect that to be the pace we’re going to see of vaccinations per day throughout the summer? Or are you anticipating at some point that that’s going to get up to, you know, 4 million or above 4 million? Or should we just expect it to stay at that 3 million?

And then, finally, I know we are approaching President Biden’s 100 days. He had asked people to wear a mask through the first 100 days. So after that 100-day mark, do you anticipate there being some lessening of that mask restriction or some change to the requirement, given that he, sort of, set that deadline of a mask for 100 days?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Okay, so the first question, go — go to Dr. Walensky, which is about the Johnson & Johnson adverse events.

DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you for that question. We have been collecting people who have been reporting things through VAERS. We are working through — these have been a handful of cases, not an overwhelming number of cases. We are working through and adjudicating them and verifying whether they do in fact reflect a true case. And that will be the work of the CDC this week, as well as the FDA. And then we will present that to ACIP on Friday.

So we’re doing that work right now. We are encouraged that it hasn’t been an overwhelming number of cases, but we’re looking and seeing what’s come in.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Okay. And what was your second question? Do you mind reminding me?

DR. WALENSKY: Pace. The pace.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: The pace. The pace. Yes, I think your asking was whether or not doing more than 3 million vaccines a day is — whether we do even more. I think I heard you say how impressed you were that we were, as a country, able to do more than 3 million cases a day and isn’t that fantastic.

Obviously, there is no number high enough for us. And we are putting 28 million vaccines a week into the field and doing everything we can, working around the clock with states. And states are doing everything they can to work around the clock.

So I’m not going to predict what that’s going to look like in the future. I’m not sure I would have predicted that we would even be at this point. But I can tell you that we are more than prepared to sustain the pace.

And I would just reiterate that today’s a day when there are so many Americans that still think getting a vaccine is a complicated, confusing process because, when it rolled out, indeed it was more challenging and more difficult.

So, we need to remind people that it’s easy, because there’s a lot of people that want to get vaccinated, but they think it might be challenging. It is never been easier. If you’re over 16, you’re very likely to be very close to a vaccination location with an appointment near you. So please take advantage of that.

Then you had a third question.

MODERATOR: Andy, it was about the 100 million — day mask call, and if there’s any plans to go from there.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Oh, the mask call. Well, let’s get to the 100 days. You know, I think — you know — you know one thing about President Biden: He follows the science, he listens to his scientists, and we’ve got 12 more days to go until we get there.

So please mask up, everybody, because it does save lives.

Next question.

MODERATOR: Last question. Let’s go to Zeke at the AP.

Q Thank you. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, I was hoping — if you could maybe give us some more of the mile markers on the road — on the highway back to normalcy, as you discussed? Particularly, to follow up on Shannon’s question there, is it your medical opinion right now that — scientific opinion — that mask wearing will be necessary after the 100-day mark?

Additionally, you know, is it — is it advisable now for people who are vaccinated — fully vaccinated — to travel, or are you still recommending against it?

And sort of a general sense of when we can expect to see — one of the — you know, we’ve seen in Israel, they’ve begun to lift their outdoor mask mandates at a 60-some-odd percent vaccination rate. Is that a similar milestone that you’re looking for when you change that — that recommendation here in the U.S.? And any other sort of, you know — what milestones should the public expect, as more people get vaccinated, for when they can get back to normal?

DR. FAUCI: So let me take a shot at the Israel thing. So, I think we need to remember the slide that Dr. Walensky showed about the six — the seven-day average of cases; that’s between 60- and 70,000 cases a day.

When you talk about the Israelis pulling back and getting to normal, their level of infection now is extremely low, based on the fact that they have reached the level where they have now about 62 percent of them have received at least one dose. That’s what we’re aiming for.

If you remember what I have said on multiple press conferences, that every time and every day you get more and more people vaccinated, sooner or later — hopefully sooner — that level of infection will get lower and lower. And when it does, it becomes easier and easier to get back to some degree of normality.

But back to you, Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, I would just say, you know, this is an interplay between how many people are vaccinated and how much disease is out there. And while we’re making extraordinary strides in the number of people vaccinated, we still have an extraordinary amount of disease out there. And so I think that interplay is one we really need to consider here.

We know these vaccines work extraordinarily well as prevention interventions. However, they take some time to kick in — you know, somewhere in the two-to-six-week mark. And so if we have a lot of circulating virus today, the vaccines will work, you know, in a month, but they may not work today. So we need to continue to keep the prevention measures up to prevent ongoing cases today.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Great. Thank you all for your questions. If you are not one of the 130 million American adults who’ve been vaccinated, today is a great day for you; it’s never been easier. So please join that — join that group of people who have done what Dr. Fauci has said, done their homework, looked at the data and seen the extraordinary difference in their life and their health and their safety of their family that can happen from these vaccines.

And again, thank you to everybody who’s made this happen so far and is continuing to work hard to make the rest of it happen.

And we’ll be back here on Wednesday. Thanks.

11:00 A.M. EDT

To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/COVID-Press-Briefing_19April2021_for-transcript.pdf

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