Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials 22 May

The White House

Via Teleconference

11:03 A.M. EDT

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good morning. Today, Dr. Walensky will provide an update on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci will provide an update on the latest science, and Dr. Murthy will provide an update on our efforts to build vaccine confidence.

Here’s how I want to start though: I want to discuss what some businesses who cater to young people are doing to assist with the vaccination efforts.

Scores of businesses and organizations have responded to the President’s call to action to volunteer their services and help the American people to get vaccinated.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting a number of outside initiatives to provide incentives for people to get vaccinated. We believe that it’s particularly important to reach young people where they are in the effort to get them vaccinated.

We do know that in addition to schooling, financial loss, stress levels, the pandemic has also had a negative impact on young people’s social lives.

Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination. So today, dating sites like Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish, and Badoo are announcing a series of features to encourage vaccinations and help people with that univer- — help people meet people who have that universally attractive quality: They’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

These sites cater to over 50 million people in the U.S. and are some of the world’s biggest nongaming apps.

Here’s one for you: According to one of the sites, OKCupid, the people who display their vaccination status are 14 percent more likely to get a match. We have finally found the one thing that makes us all more attractive: a vaccination.

These dating apps will now allow vaccinated people to display badges which show their vaccination status, filter specifically to see only people who are vaccinated, and offer premium content — details of which I cannot get into, but apparently, they include things like boosts and super swipes. The apps will also help people locate places to get vaccinated.

Alright, got through that.

Today also happens to be our “Digital Day of Action.” The White House and others, including Michelle Obama, will be highlighting the website and 438829 text line throughout the day.

Now it’s been four months since President Biden’s first full day of office. Things are substantially better than they were four months ago when we were losing thousands of Americans each day and people were waiting weeks or more to get vaccinated, usually not even knowing where or when it would happen.

Today, more than 125 million Americans are fully vaccinated. Those Americans who have been vaccinated are at much lower risk and have more of their lives back. They’re able to do most things mask free and with less reason to socially distance. Tens of millions more, adding up to more than 60 percent of the adult population, are at least partially vaccinated.

The impact has been everything we could have hoped for, given the power of vaccines. Across the country, cases of COVID-19, serious illness, and loss of life are all down dramatically from when we arrived. And they can be brought down even further, and the risk of a future wave in your community significantly reduced, if we keep up the pace of vaccinations.

Many Americans have still not gotten vaccinated — most of them younger, many of them not opposed to vaccination; they simply haven’t prioritized it. It has never been easier.

Starting Monday, when you text to 438829, not only will you instantly see where vaccines near you are available, you will also be offered a free ride there and back, more employers are offering paid time off to get vaccinated, and, as we discussed today, there are clear benefits to your social life.

Most importantly, you’ll be protected from a virus which is still racing around the world.

I will now hand it over to Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY: Thank you. Good morning. I’m pleased to be back with you today. Let’s begin with an overview of the data.

Yesterday, CDC reported a little over 27,850 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is about 27,700 cases per day. This represents yet another decrease of more than 19 percent from the prior seven-day average and also marks the second day in a row where our seven-day average is less than 30,000 cases per day. The last time the seven-day average of cases per day was this low was June 18th, 2020.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions is slightly over 3,400, a decrease of almost 15 percent from the previous seven-day period and another positive trend.

And the seven-day average of daily deaths has also declined to a new low of 498 per day.

At the start of each briefing over the past few weeks, I’ve shared with you a snapshot of the data and, more recently, the encouraging decreases in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. As each week passes and as we continue to see progress, these data give me hope.

I also know that these snapshots are hard to put into the context after 16 months of reviewing them. In isolation, each data point does not tell the full story of what we are seeing across the country.

Today, I’d like to give you a bit of a deeper dive into the data and to share with you ways you can understand the progress your community is making.

Each day, CDC, in collaboration with partners across the government, releases a Community Profile Report, and updates our county-level data on COVID Data Tracker.

When we look at COVID case incidents at county level, we see major decreases. As I mentioned at the start of my remarks, we have seen a 20 percent decrease in the seven-day average of cases across the country, and we have seen some counties across the country have had an even greater decrease, including decreases of 25 percent in more — or more in just the past week.

Each week, we also see a release of an assessment of county-level transmission risk, taking into account rate — COVID rates and COVID-19 test characteristics. And we have used this transmission risk for many of our CDC guidance materials — for example, our school guidance.

Importantly, over the past month, there has been a steady decline in the number of counties in the United States with a high risk of community transmission. And more and more counties are moving to low or moderate transmission categories.

We now have 307 counties, or 10 percent of the entire U.S., in which we would characterize having low transmission. And there are 1,183 counties, or 37 percent of all U.S. counties, in the moderate transmission category, which we define as less than 50 cases per 100,000 in the last seven days.

Now, if you look at this new slide up, I want to show you two maps of our country: one from January and one from this week.

CDC uses data on cases and county transmission to help us understand areas across the country where we may have concern for emerging or sustained outbreaks and where things have markedly improved, and also to understand the burden of infection at the local level, because we recognize that these decisions have to be made locally.

When we look across the country, our areas of high or moderate burden — indicated by red and pink respectively — are shrinking. And areas with low burden of disease — indicated by light green — are markedly increasing. Many of the areas where previous high and moderate burden are now resolving and are highlighted on blue in this map.

The map on the right demonstrates our national landscape that things are improving. And we are seeing this week after week and with more and more green over time.

These data are telling us a story: As more and more people roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, the number of cases and the level of community risk is decreasing.

I want to thank everyone who has done their part to bring us where we are today, with more than 60 percent of Americans 18 and older having received at least one dose and being on their way to full vaccination, and 126.6 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.

The progress in these data are so encouraging to me and, I hope, encouraging to you.

And I know our work here is not done. We still have many more people to get vaccinated. I encourage everyone who is not yet fully vaccinated to visit and find a location to get your first or second shot.

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

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to spend the next couple of minutes just underscoring and emphasizing the reasons why Dr. Walensky was able to show you such promising data, and that is the real-world effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. And bringing you up to date on some of the data that confirms the things that we’ve been telling you over the last several press briefings.

Next slide.

This is an MMWR from the CDC, which is looking both at the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine among healthcare personnel at 33 sites in the United States.

Again, if you look at the effectiveness in the real-world setting — again, right at the point that we saw with the clinical trials — usually real-world settings have less of an efficacy than in the trials, as I’ve mentioned many times. Not so here — 94 percent against symptomatic disease.

Next slide.

If you look at a very interesting study that came out two days ago in the New England Journal of Medicine looking at the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nursing home residents in those who are either vaccinated or unvaccinated, we see a very interesting phenomenon.

Among the 13,000 residents who were vaccinated who received two doses, there was a 1 percent infection within 0 to 14 days of the second dose, and practically no infections — namely, 0.3 percent — after 14 days.

Note that 80 percent of the cases were asymptomatic among vaccinated individuals — something that we have seen in other situations.

Next slide.

On the other side of the coin are those in the same study who are unvaccinated. If you look at the infection rate of those individuals within 0 to 14 days after the first clinic, they were 4.3 percent compared to the very small 1 percent in the previous slide, and they’re 0.3 percent if you waited more than 42 days. This is a reflection of what is likely a mini version, within the nursing home setting, of herd immunity.

Next slide.

And then another multi-state Mayo Clinic Health System study where you look at adenovirus vector, namely the J&J. I’ve been speaking to you up to now about the mRNAs. So, after at least two weeks of follow-up, the vaccine effectiveness, again, was even greater in the United States here than we originally reported, with the 72 percent.

Next slide.

Again, more data. This was a J&J paper that I showed to this group a few weeks ago, looking at the safety and the efficacy of the single-dose Ad26. As you can see, the efficacy was 74 percent in the United States.

But now take a look at this a little bit more closely.

Next slide.

If you look at the hospitalizations and compare the placebo, in red, with the J&J, in blue, 14 days postvaccination, you see there’s 93 percent vaccine efficacy. But if you wait at least 28 days postvaccination, it’s 100 percent with regard to hospitalizations.

Next slide.

And then when you look at deaths, there were no COVID-19 related deaths in the vaccine group, and five COVID-related deaths in the placebo group.

And on the final slide, what does this tell us? That vaccines protect you. They protect your family. And they interrupt the chain of transmission of the virus.

So, the bottom line, as we’re all saying: Get vaccinated.

Passing it over to you, Dr. Murthy.

DR. MURTHY: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Fauci. And it’s good to be with all of you again this morning. I’d like, today, to share some numbers with you concerning people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The recent data from the CDC, involving a survey of over 14,000 people, showed that more than 70 percent of Americans are vaccinated, planning to get vaccinated, or likely to vaccinated.

And while a portion of the unvaccinated population do have questions about the vaccine, and while we are going to continue to mobilize trusted messengers through our COVID-19 Community Corps to help answer these questions, the truth is that, overall, vaccine confidence in the country remains high. That is good news.

The data continues to point, though, to access barriers being an important additional concern among people who are unvaccinated. There’s a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey which looked at pe- — those who are unvaccinated, but who wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

What it found was that more than a third of people in this group said that they have not gotten vaccinated because they didn’t have enough time due to work hours or other schedule conflicts or because they just hadn’t gotten around to it. About 7 percent of people said that they didn’t have information about how to get vaccinated. Eight percent said they weren’t sure if they were eligible or had the right documentation.

These numbers may seem small, but they actually represent millions of people, and they are crucial to reach with vaccines if you want cases to come down and stay down.

Now, when we look at another part of the unvaccinated population — those who do not want to get vaccinated as soon as possible — it turns out here, too, access is an issue. Among those who are employed, 28 percent say that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if they receive time off to receive and recover from the vaccine. Another 20 percent say they would be more likely if their shot was administered in their workplace.

So, employers not only have an opportunity to increase vaccination rates, but if you look at one more piece of data, it turns out that they can also help to close the equity gap in vaccinations. This is so important because we’ve said from the beginning that success is not just determined by how many people we get vaccinated, but by how equitably and fairly we vaccinate our population. And workplaces, it turns out, can play a role in that.

Because among the unvaccinated, 64 percent of Hispanic adults and 55 percent of Black adults have concerns about missing work to recover from vaccinations compared to 41 percent of white adults.

And that’s why the recently announced tax credits for businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 employees are so important — because they provide financial support for businesses providing time off for employees to actually get the vaccine and recover from temporary side effects. We want people to know about this. We want businesses to take advantage of it.

This next phase of the vaccination campaign was — will be driven, more than anything, by the people and organizations and communities who help to vaccinate their families, their friends, and others in their neighborhoods. It’s why we’ve been saying that addressing access, motivation, and vaccine confidence requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.

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