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

The White House

Via Teleconference

11:55 A.M. EDT

MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, and thanks for joining us. Before I turn to Drs. Murthy, Walensky, and Fauci, I want to provide an update on our vaccinations program.

Today, more than 210 million Americans — nearly 75 percent of people age 12 and older — have gotten at least their first shot. And just yesterday, we reached 180 million fully vaccinated Americans. That’s up from 2 million the day the President took office.

This is clearly significant progress. But, at the same time, we cannot let up, especially in light of the more transmissible Delta variant.

We are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And the best path out of this pandemic is through more vaccinations.

That’s why vaccination requirements are a cornerstone of the plan the President announced last week.

On Wednesday, the President met with leading organizations — including Microsoft, Walgreens, Disney, Louisiana State University, Kaiser Permanente, and the Business Roundtable — that are all working to implement vaccination requirements.

Vaccination requirements work, and they’re good for the economy.

Let’s walk through how vaccination requirements are playing out.

At United Airlines, the vaccination rate among employees has gone from 59 percent to 90 percent in just six weeks.

Eighty-nine percent of active-duty troops have now gotten at least their first shot. That’s up from 76 percent just three weeks ago when Secretary Austin directed the military to require vaccinations.

Kaiser Permanente, which instituted its requirements last month, now has 89 percent of their employees vaccinated.

The same is true for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Requiring vaccinations has led to about 90 percent of its workforce being vaccinated — more than a month before its deadline.

Ninety percent of Fox Corp. employees reported they are fully vaccinated after the company mandated all employees submit their vaccination status or undergo regular testing.

And at Rutgers University, the University of Vermont, University of Virginia, and UC Berkeley all have 97 percent of their students vaccinated.

So, here’s what we know: Vaccination requirements work. They get more Americans vaccinated, which is the best path out of the pandemic. Plain and simple.

Private and public sectors implementing vaccination requirements have seen their vaccination rates increase by double digits in just the few weeks.

And early adopters of vaccination requirements — from private employers, to healthcare systems, to the military — have already reached vaccination rates of about 90 percent well ahead of the deadlines they’ve set. Ninety percent vaccination rates — that’s really strong progress, and these organizations continue to see more employees vaccinated each day.

Vaccination requirements are not only our path out of the pandemic, but they also accelerate our economic recovery.

By increasing the number of workers that are vaccinated, vaccination requirements will keep workplaces safe and help curb the spread of the virus in communities.

That means more Americans getting back to work. It means safer schools and healthier families. It means more consumers dining out and shopping at their local small businesses.

Look, you don’t have to be an economist to understand why vaccination requirements will boost more than vaccination rates. They will also boost job growth, the labor market, and the overall economy.

But that is exactly what leading economists believe, including those at Goldman Sachs and Moody’s.

One economist even called the President’s plan for vaccination requirements, quote, “the cheapest and most powerful economic stimulus ever enacted.”

The bottom line is the President’s vaccination requirements are becoming the standard for American workers across the country. They work, they’re good for the economy, and they are widely supported.

Importantly, workers support vaccination requirements.

At United Airlines — one of the first companies to announce vaccination requirements — there’s an overwhelming level of support from its workforce. A flight attendant emailed the CEO: “I do feel safer and better knowing the people I work with are vaccinated,” and that “customers have told me how much it means to them.” Another employee wrote, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

So, I will close with this call to action: If you’re the leader of a business, a college, school district, a healthcare system, or a large venue without a vaccination requirement, or if you’re an individual American who hasn’t yet gotten vaccinated, step up and do your part. It’s the right thing to do.

You have the power to save lives and help accelerate our path out of this pandemic.

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

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Well, thank you, Jeff. I’ll start by sharing where we are with COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

This past Wednesday, the FDA released a data summary about booster shots. And today, the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee — also known as VRBPAC — is meeting to discuss the data and evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a booster.

Next week, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet to provide their independent evaluation, after which the CDC will make their final recommendation.

This process is consistent with what we outlined in August, where our goals were to stay ahead of the virus, to lay out an initial plan based on our clinical judgment, and to ultimately ensure that the final plan would be based on the independent assessment and recommendations of the FDA and CDC.

Our goal then and now is to protect the health and wellbeing of the public. As soon as the FDA and CDC complete their evaluations, we will be ready to move forward accordingly. We’ve used this time since our August announcement to communicate and coordinate with pharmacy partners, nursing homes, states and localities.

Yesterday, the CDC sent a message to state health officers laying out the process ahead and offering to help implement it in their jurisdiction.

And the infrastructure that helped deliver more than 200 million first shots will be ready to go to deliver millions of booster shots as well.

At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to reach those who have not yet been vaccinated. Our COVID-19 Community Corps and other local organizations are doubling down on their outreach, doing town halls and having the one-on-one conversations that we know are critical to getting people the information they need about vaccines.

Last week, I had the chance to speak one-on-one with a young man who was unsure about whether he wanted to take the COVID-19 vaccine. We had a virtual face-to-face conversation and spent 45 minutes talking through his concerns. We talked about his family, the science behind the vaccines, claims he had seen online that he was unsure about, and how he had felt dismissed when he had raised questions in the past. And at the end of our conversation, he actually decided to get vaccinated. This past (inaudible), he got his first shot.

Not every conversation will end in a vaccination right away, and that’s okay. What matters is that we help people connect to accurate, science-based information that they can trust. And all along the way, we have to let them know that their questions matter as we approach them with dignity and respect. That’s the approach that will help us accelerate the path out of this pandemic.

Thanks for your time today. And I’ll pass it on to Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY: Good morning. And thank you, Dr. Murthy. Let’s begin with an overview of the data.

Our seven-day average of cases is about 146,000 per day. Our seven-day average of hospital admissions is approximately 11,165 per day. And our seven-day average of daily deaths has increased to 1,448 per day.

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has placed tremendous stress on the healthcare sector, from hospitals to nursing homes to outpatient clinics. In the context of COVID, multiple studies have shown that there have been substantial increases in healthcare-associated infections during the pandemic, reversing key national progress made prior to 2020.

Just last week, CDC published data from more than 3,000 hospitals showing that infections people get while in hospitals went up in 2020, after going down for several years in a row. The pandemic and these case studies have reminded us about the importance of preventing all infections, not just COVID. And this is especially critical in our highest-risk patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

And that is why, today, CDC is announcing a $2.1 billion investment from the American Rescue Plan to strengthen infection prevention and control activities across the U.S. public health and healthcare sector.

Over the next three years, CDC will issue awards totaling $1.25 billion to 64 state, local, and territorial health departments to accelerate infection control efforts and invest long term in preparedness for the future. This includes improving laboratory capacity to detect infectious threats, training healthcare workers in a first-of-its-kind program, and expanding data so we can track infection in real time and monitor progress.

Notably, we will allocate $500 million to support the creation of state-based strike teams to assist skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities tackle infections. We know that these facilities not only care for high-risk individuals, but they’re the very facilities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

So, in addition to providing infection control for things like ventilator-assisted [ventilator-associated] pneumonia or catheter-associated urinary tract infections, this funding will be available to help nursing homes prevent, detect, respond, and extinguish COVID outbreaks. It will help them hire more staff, further increase vaccinations of all types — COVID and influenza — and strengthen infection control.

The bottom line is this: Infection prevention and control saves lives across the healthcare sector, whether stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 or containing the spread of many other infectious diseases such as drug-resistant infections. Ensuring healthcare settings have the resources necessary to stop infections is pivotal to ending this pandemic and to preventing future ones.

Safe practices are not something we can just put in place one time. They need to be followed consistently to protect patients and healthcare workers alike.

Building a better, more resilient health system is an investment we must make to battle COVID-19 and the next infectious disease.

With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to spend the next couple of minutes updating you on where we are in addressing post-COVID-19 conditions, specifically what we refer to as “long COVID.”

First, I want to distinguish that many people, particularly those who spend a long time in the hospital, have residual organ system dysfunction that’s directly explainable by organ system damage. For example, someone who has damage to lung — parenchymal lung tissue very often has pulmonary function abnormalities that persist due to explainable organ system damage.

However, there are a number of individuals who have signs and symptoms that are not completely explainable by an apparent pathogenic process. That’s referred to as long COVID.

In fact, the CDC just today has published an MMWR indicating that up to one third of participants in that study experienced post-acute sequelae two months after their positive initial test.

So what is long COVID? Next slide. It’s a constellation of signs and symptoms characterized by those shown on the slide, particularly extreme fatigue; unexplained shortness of breath; muscle aches; dysautonomia, which is temperature dysregulation or unexplained tachycardia; sleep disturbances; depression and anxiety; and what’s referred to as brain fog or an inability to concentrate.

So what are we doing about this quite serious situation that we’re facing now, given the numbers of people infected? A relatively large number of people. Next slide.

So, two days ago, the NIH announced the awarding of $470 million to build a national study population cohort to study the long-term effects of COVID-19. The funding was supported by the American Rescue Plan, and the parent award is going to NYU Langone Health. They will then make many — up to 30 or more — sub-awards to institutions that will serve as the core of this recovery clinical science.

The RECOVER meta cohort: What do we mean by that? Next slide. RECOVER stands for Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery.

So what about this meta cohort? Next slide. It is a constellation of researchers, people affected by long COVID, representatives from advocacy organizations, working together to develop common protocols. It constitutes populations of adults, pediatrics, and including pregnant women. They will be doing clinical assessments, laboratory tests, imaging, tissue pathology, looking at data from electronic health records and mobile health technologies.

Next slide.

So what are the key questions and gaps that we need to fill? Epidemiology, phenotypes. What are the clinical spectrums? What are the natural histories? Importantly, if we’re going to ultimately do something about it, what are the pathophysiological mechanisms of disease? What are the risk factors or the protective factors? And does SARS trigger changes in the body that increase the risk of other conditions later on? All very important questions. And hopefully, this meta cohort study will allow us to answer them.

And on the last slide, for those who want to learn more and want to sign up to get updates, visit the website shown on this slide.

With that, I’ll now hand it back to you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Doctors. Let’s open it up to questions. First question.

MODERATOR: Austin Landis at Spectrum News.

Q Hi, thank you. We’re hearing more and more reports of people walking into vaccination sites and getting boosters, even if they’re not eligible yet. And some have done that by saying it’s their first dose instead of their third. So are you all working with providers to crack down on that at all? And can you also speak about how you’re tracking the numbers of booster shots so far and actually separating them out from the first shots?

MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Walensky?

DR. WALENSKY: We are closely — thank you for the question. We are closely working with jurisdictions to make sure that they understand what is in their provider agreements and what is currently indicated for a boost — or a third dose, I will say.

And those — some of these we want to encourage, of course, for those who are severely immunocompromised. Several weeks ago, we put forward guidance that encouraged people who were severely immunocompromised to go and get a third dose of them. Some of these are actually expected and, in fact, indicated.

We are tallying and able to tally, through immunization programs, the number of people and who has gotten a third boost — the third dose — and we’re actively tracking that.

MR. ZIENTS: Next question.

MODERATOR: Josh Wingrove at Bloomberg.

Q Thank you. Hi, there. Thank you for doing this. Can you tell me a little bit about what you expect to come from the vaccine summit next week that the President is hosting? And the Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. will order more Pfizer doses for the purposes of international donation towards that 1 billion target that will reportedly be set. Are you able to confirm that? Thank you.

MR. ZIENTS: Well, on the second part of the question, you know, the President has been clear that we will do more and more to help lead the world in getting the world vaccinated. And, you know, we’ve done a lot already with 140 million doses shared with almost 100 different countries. And, you know, what we’ve done with those 140 million doses is donate more than all other countries in the world combined.

And as you know, Josh, we also have purchased 500 million doses of Pfizer to donate — and I’ll emphasize “donate” — to those countries — those 100 countries that are most in need.

This will be a big topic of conversation at UNGA next week. We expect it to be so. And that’s a moment for countries around the world to rally to do more to help accelerate the globe’s exit from this pandemic. I have no other updates to share with you at this point.

Next question.

MODERATOR: Zeke Miller at the Associated Press.

Q Thanks for doing this. With the looming potential approval of these booster — of the booster Pfizer — could you, Jeff, hopefully provide an update on the number of doses of Pfizer vaccine ready for use as boosters here in the U.S., as well as, you know, looking forward to how many — what’s the current U.S. stockpile?

And then, secondarily, should those boosters be approved, should we expect similar incentives programs — you know, lotteries and the like — to try to get — convince people to get their third shots? You know, is there a — how does the federal government plan to reach out to people who may not remember where they got their first shot, which shot they got to tell them to get those doses, and particularly people in harder-to-reach populations?

MR. ZIENTS: Yeah. Well, thank you. We have plenty of supply of all three vaccines for boosters — pending, obviously, the FDA and the CDC recommendations. We have supply in inventory and we have also supply on order. So, supply is in good shape for all Americans to get boosters as recommended by the agencies.

The question about working to be prepared — we’ve been working for the last few weeks intensely with our partners, our governors, state and local health officials, the Federal Pharmacy Program, the community health centers to ensure that we are ready for next week to begin booster — boosters.

I want to emphasize though, Josh, when you talk about incentives and — and I’ll add to that the requirements that I talked about — it’s really important that the unvaccinated Americans, which is still north of 70 million people who have not gotten their first shot, even though they are eligible — it’s really important that people get their first and second shot, while at the same time, based on the recommendations at FDA and CDC, will obviously make it easy and convenient for people to get a boost as recommended.

Next question.

MODERATOR: Maureen Groppe at USA Today.

Q Hi. My question is for the Surgeon General. You said on CNN, on Sunday, that you’ll be monitoring exemptions for vaccine requirements to make sure they’re not being abused. Can you elaborate on how you’re going to do that, and what actions you can take if you do find abuse?

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Sure, Maureen. Thanks. Thanks for the question. You know, that question — the answer I gave was in response to a question that was raised about exemptions. And the simple answer there is that we are — we have said that medical exemptions and religious exemptions will be accepted for the requirements that we spoke about in the President’s announcement.

But like any other program that we roll out, we’ll see how those programs go. We’ll get feedback from workplaces that are putting requirements, from other institutions that are putting requirements to see how those exemptions are working. And based on that feedback, you know, if we need to make adjustments, we will do so.

So that’s what the comment was intended to be. It’s just focused on the notion that we’ve got plans; we’re going to roll out those plans. And we’re going to take feedback, and if we need to make adjustments in the future, we will be sure to do that.

MR. ZIENTS: Next question.

MODERATOR: All right, our last question will go to Tamara Keith at NPR.

Q Thank you so much for taking my question. I am wondering — you’ve been very public about planning to roll out boosters, and you’ve also said you don’t want to put pressure on the scientific agencies. How does being so public about this not put pressure on those agencies to make the decision that you’re planning for them to make?

MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Murthy.

SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Yeah, well — and, Tamara, thank you for that question. So, let me go back to why we made the announcement in August that we did. There were two reasons: transparency and planning.

And from the transparency perspective, many of us — including myself, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky, Dr. Collins, and other scientific leaders in the administration — had said publicly that we were following the data closely, and if we saw a signal that he indicated to us that protection was starting to wane and that additional shots may be required, that we would be transparent and open with the public about that. That was one of the reasons we felt it was important to speak up when we saw that signal in the data.

The second reason is planning. You know, if you want to roll out booster shots to the population, you can’t flip a switch and make that happen overnight. There’s important planning that has to take place with localities, with state governments, with community organizations. And so we laid out an initial plan for that purpose: to allow the time that we now been using over the last few weeks to do that all-important coordination so the public could be confident that if and when boosters were required, they would be there for them.

And, finally, let me note this — which is that in the announcement in August and certainly in the time since then, we have always said that this initial plan would be contingent on the FDA and the CDC’s independent evaluation. We will follow that evaluation and their recommendations. We will make sure our final plan reflects it.

So I see what we were doing in August and what we continue to do there as really prioritizing transparency and preparation.

And that’s — our fundamental goal here is to make sure that the American people are protected against the virus, and that’s what I believe we are doing.

MR. ZIENTS: Yeah, I’d add that when — in December, when the vaccines were initially authorized for emergency use, there was not a strong plan in place, and we saw that there was a lag in terms of getting shots in arms. So, we want to make sure we’re ready whatever decision the agencies make.

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

12:20 P.M. EDT

To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/COVID-Press-Briefing_17September2021_transcript.pdf

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