Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials 18 June

The White House

Via Teleconference

11:11 A.M. EDT

MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, and thank you for joining us. Today, Dr. Fauci will discuss the latest science, including an important announcement on next-generation treatments in our long-term fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Walensky will give an update on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Murthy will discuss our public education and outreach efforts, and then we’ll have time for Q&A.

We are making significant progress in our fight against COVID-19 in the U.S. and around the world. Let’s remember where the country was before President Biden took office.

In mid-January, the United States had more than 185,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and more than 3,300 Americans were dying each day from the virus. Kids were out of school, people were out of work, and businesses were closed.

The President committed to marshalling a whole-of Government wartime response to meet this historic challenge. That’s exactly what he has done by building an unparalleled vaccination program.

The results are clear: More than 175 million Americans have already gotten at least one shot, including 87 percent of seniors, those 65 and over; 74 percent of adults 40 and over; and nearly 2 out of 3 of all adult Americans.

In 14 states and the District of Columbia, at least 70 percent of adults have received at least one shot. And just this morning, we learned that 86 percent of K-through-12 educators and school staff had already been vaccinated by the end of May.

What does this all mean? As a result of our success vaccinating Americans, cases and deaths are down more than 90 percent since the President took office on January 20th.

In fact, cases and deaths are at the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic. Instead of heading into a summer, like last summer — of isolation, uncertainty, and loss — we’re headed into a summer of joy, celebration, and increasing freedom from the virus.

However, for all the progress we’re making as a country, too many communities remain at risk because of low vaccination levels. In fact, we’re seeing the communities with the highest vaccination rates have lower rates of new cases and hospitalizations, and communities with the lowest vaccination rates have higher new cases and hospitalizations.

As the President says, we do not want our country, that is already too divided, become divided in a new way — between places where people live free from fear of COVID-19 and places that remain at risk.

The low vaccination rates in some communities is an even bigger concern now that we face the threat of a new, more dangerous variant, including specifically the Delta variant.

The good news is that the best way to protect yourself against these variants, including the Delta variant, is to get fully vaccinated. So, if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re protected. But if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at risk of getting seriously ill or spreading the disease to others. This is why we are pushing so hard to get more Americans vaccinated.

During our National Month of Action, we’re mobilizing an all-of-America effort, including the “We Can Do This” National Vaccination Tour, led by the Vice President, to key communities across the country to reach millions of Americans who still need protection against the virus, and to energize and mobilize grassroots vaccine education and outreach efforts.

Vice President Harris kicked off the tour on Monday in Greenville, South Carolina, followed by EPA Administrator Regan returning to his home state, visiting Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. Yesterday, the Second Gentleman in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, VA Secretary McDonough in Birmingham, Alabama. And to cap off the first week, the Vice President will be in Atlanta, Georgia, tomorrow.

As the outlook on the virus gets brighter and brighter by the day here at home, we’re increasingly focused on driving progress to help end the pandemic around the globe. Last week, the President took a historic step by announcing that the United States will purchase a half billion doses of Pfizer vaccines and donate them to nearly 100 low-income countries around the world. This is by far and away the largest-ever donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country.

And these half billion doses are on top of the 80 million doses the President committed to sharing with the world by the end of June, and the $2 billion the U.S. has donated to COVAX to support its efforts to vaccinate the world.

We’ve already started shipping doses. On Tuesday, doses landed in Mexico, and today, doses land in Canada. And we’ll allocate all the initial 80 million doses in the coming days with shipments going out as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses.

So, in total, we’ve have already committed to sharing 580 million doses. And we expect to do more and more over the summer months as we help lead the fight to end the pandemic across the globe.

Now I want to turn to Dr. Fauci for an important announcement on how we are mobilizing our whole-of-government effort to develop next-generation treatments to prevent severe COVID-19 illness or death.

This pioneering work of American ingenuity and innovation is essential to our long-term response to the pandemic, and is funded by the American Rescue Plan.

With that, over to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Jeff. Can I have that first slide? So, today, the Biden administration announced their investment of $3.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan as part of the COVID-19 Antiviral Development Strategy. It’s a whole-of-government effort aimed at developing the next generation of COVID-19 treatments, as well as preparing us for future threats.

Next slide.

The program is called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, and it aims to catalyze the development of new medicines to combat COVID-19 and, importantly, to prepare for other pandemic threats. And what do I mean by that latter statement?

Next slide.

There are few treatments that exist for many of the viruses that have what we call “pandemic potential.” I’m showing on this slide family of viruses that do, in fact, have potential to evolve into a pandemic, such as the paramyxovirus with Nipah; the bunyaviruses with hemorrhagic fevers; we’re very familiar with the coronavirus — what we’re dealing with right now.

Next slide.

So what is the rationale and the goals for this program? Of course, as we’ve heard so often now over the last several briefings, vaccines clearly remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19. However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk. For those who vaccines may not be as protective, we know that there are many people who are immunosuppressed, in which vaccines, at least initially, may not give an optimum response.

And it also adds a line of defense against other unexpected emerging things, like variants of concern that we are currently dealing with, including the variants that we’ll be discussing a little bit later.

This program is going to bring together leading scientists from academia, as well as industry, to accelerate the development of new antivirals. And as I mentioned, it’s also going to target other viruses of pandemic potential.

Can I have the next slide?

It has two major pillars to the program: development and discovery. The development is the more immediate activity; in other words, it’s going to accelerate the clinical testing of promising antiviral medicines that are already in various stages of development, including clinical trial, things like the Pfizer protease inhibitor; the Atea-Roche RNA polymerase inhibitor; the Merck mutagenic nucleoside, Molnupiravir; and others that are in that pipeline. So it’s to be accelerating things that are already in process.

The other pillar is “discovery.” And this is very important because this is modeled after the highly successful program developed decades ago for the targeted development of antiretroviral drugs for HIV, which has led to transforming therapies to control HIV, namely discovering new antiviral medications.

Next slide.

The program looks like this: It’s a total, as I mentioned, of $3.2 billion. There’ll be $500 million for fundamental research and laboratory support; a billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation; $700 million for the development and manufacturing through NIH, in our usual partnership with BARDA; and $1 billion to support the creation of a program which we are calling the Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern, meaning not only COVID-19, but some of the families I showed you on a prior slide.

And on the last slide: What are the next steps? We’re going to continue engaging with manufacturers in the development part of it to accelerate the testing and authorization of promising meds, which are in later-stage development.

In this regard, we’re going to continue to identify and evaluate additional candidates for this program support. With regard to discovery, we’re going to support academic industry partnerships aimed at discovering new molecules.

So we have a great deal of optimism that this program will ultimately be as successful as the highly successful program that we had implemented both for HIV and for hepatitis C.

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

DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And good morning, everyone. Let’s begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported 12,322 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is 12,190 cases per day. This represents a decrease of about 16 percent from the prior seven-day average and is the lowest seven-day average since March 27, 2020.

To put this in context: On January 10, 2021, the seven-day average was 252,000 cases per day. We’ve seen a 95 percent decline in just the past five months. The seven-day average of hospitalizations is about 2,000 per day, a decrease of about 10 percent from the prior seven-day period. And the seven-day average of daily deaths has also declined to 286 per day, the first time that average daily deaths have been below 300 since March 27, 2020.

These numbers make it clear: Getting vaccinated gets us back to normal. It’s the best way we have to defeat this virus and to get everyone back to gathering together safely at weddings, sports events, and travel.

Everyone in the United States ages 12 and older is eligible to get vaccinated. It’s never been easier or more convenient. Vaccines are free and available at a location near you. Remember, visit VaccineFinder.gov to find a site near you. We know that vaccination prevents the vast majority of serious COVID-19 illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.

As far as we have come in our vaccination efforts, with over half of those who are eligible being fully vaccinated, and many cities and states reaching our goal of over 70 percent of people with at least one dose, it’s understandable that some people still have questions. What’s the science behind the vaccines? How were they developed so quickly? How do we know they are safe, especially for adolescents and teens?

Answering those questions remains a critical part of our efforts, especially when it comes to safety. I’m the mother of three myself; I understand that parents want to make sure their children are safe. We don’t want our children to be sick from anything, particularly a preventable illness.

The COVID-19 vaccine saves lives. COVID-19 has resulted in more than 320 deaths in children under age 18 in the United States during this pandemic. And hospitalization rates among adolescents who got COVID-19 were two and a half to three times higher than they are during a typical influenza season.

In addition to preventing hospitalizations, the vaccine also reduces the risk of COVID-19 and therefore reduces the risk of MISC, a serious condition of multisystem inflammation in children, which has affected over 4,000 children in the United States during the pandemic, including 36 children whose deaths were associated with MISC.

My own children received the COVID-19 vaccine because vaccination is the best way to protect our adolescents, teens, and young adults from COVID-19 and its complications.

Tomorrow, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, will meet to review data on reports of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart and surrounding tissue.

These cases are rare, and the vast majority have fully resolved with rest and supportive care. CDC will present details about more than 300 confirmed cases of myocarditis and pericarditis reported to CDC and FDA among the over 20 million adolescents and young adults vaccinated in the United States.

Over the last several months, we have been asking clinicians to be on the look-out for and report patients with symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis following vaccination.

CDC has been collecting these reports, including obtaining detailed medical records to confirm the diagnosis and reviewing them to ensure, in real time, the safety of our vaccines.

Our team has also been in regular contact with the American Academy of Pediatrics, who share CDC’s recommendation for all teens to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tomorrow, in a meeting open to the public, the ACIP will hear a risk-benefit analysis regarding COVID-19 vaccination versus the potential rare side effects across all age groups.

I look forward to hearing this important discussion, which is yet another demonstration of our ongoing efforts to keep safety central to everything we do.

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