Feb 2, 2021

White House COVID-19 Response Team Press Conference Transcript February 2: Vaccine Update

White House COVID-19 Response Team Press Conference Transcript February 2
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsWhite House COVID-19 Response Team Press Conference Transcript February 2: Vaccine Update

The White House COVID-19 response team held a press conference on February 2, 2021. Official Jeff Zients discussed the Biden administration’s plan to increase the amount of vaccines distributed across the United States. Vaccines will begin being delivered directly to pharmacies on February 11. Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Jeff Zients: (00:08)
Last week, we took steps to increase the amount of vaccine going to states, tribes and territories by 16%. Today, we are further increasing that weekly allocation by an additional 5%. So for the next three weeks, we will provide a minimum of 10.5 million in total doses per week across all jurisdictions. That means we have increased supply by more than 20% since we took office. And we have succeeded in our efforts to secure the equipment required to extract a sixth dose from Pfizer’s vials. Vaccine kits shipped to states, tribes and territories with Pfizer vials now contain the syringe required to enable a 20% increase in the Pfizer doses.

Jeff Zients: (00:59)
To be clear, this is on top of the 10.5 million doses we will ship this week. I also want to be clear that we are delivering on our commitment to provide states with three weeks forward visibility into supply. This is critical and we’ve heard strong feedback from state and local leaders that this is helping give them what they need to plan and get vaccines administered more quickly.

Jeff Zients: (01:25)
But we know it’s not only the amount of vaccine that matters. Another critical component is creating easily accessible places for Americans to get vaccinated. Millions of Americans turn to their local pharmacies every day for their medicines, flu shots, and much more, and pharmacies are readily accessible in most communities with most Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy. That’s why we’re pleased to announce our first phase of the federal retail pharmacy program for COVID-19 vaccinations. This is a key component of President Biden’s national strategy, offering vaccinations in America’s pharmacies.

Jeff Zients: (02:05)
Starting on February 11th, the federal government will deliver vaccines directly to select pharmacies across the country. This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities and it’s an important component to delivering vaccines equitably. This pharmacy program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country so you can make an appointment and get your shot conveniently and quickly.

Jeff Zients: (02:33)
But I wanted to set expectations appropriately. Due to the current supply constraints, this will be limited when it begins next week. In this first phase of the program, supply will be at only about 6,500 stores nationwide before expanding. And in the early phase, many pharmacies across the country will not have vaccine or may have very limited supply. People should first make sure they meet their state’s eligibility requirements for vaccinations and then check availability on their local pharmacies website. Equity is at the core of how the Center for Disease Control is working with states to select pharmacy partners for this first phase. Sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including socially vulnerable communities. And the CDC will monitor the data on an ongoing basis to make sure that pharmacies are efficiently and equitably administering vaccinations.

Jeff Zients: (03:35)
This initial phase of activating local pharmacies will get more shots in arms and will ensure that pharmacies have the infrastructure and the experience they need to scale up when vaccine supply increases in the months ahead. Eventually, as we’re able to increase supply, up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide could provide COVID-19 vaccinations. These are places ranging from local independent pharmacies to national pharmacies and supermarkets. This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient, trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities. Importantly, pharmacies are just one part of our overall effort, which also includes mass vaccination sites, mobile clinics, community health centers, and other providers that Americans count on each and every day.

Jeff Zients: (04:30)
Finally, central to our strategy is to make sure states, tribes and territories have the resources they need to turn vaccines into vaccinations. That’s why at the direction of President Biden, FEMA has increased its support. On his second day in office, President Biden directed FEMA to fully reimburse states for the cost of National Guard personnel and other emergency costs. Today we’re announcing that we will go even further. We will fully reimburse states for the eligible services they provided back to the beginning of the pandemic in January, 2020. That means the states will be fully repaid for things like masks, gloves and the mobilization in the National Guard, and they can use the additional resources for vaccination efforts and emergency supplies moving forward.

Jeff Zients: (05:23)
This reimbursement is estimated to cost a total of $3 to $5 billion and is only a small share of the resources that states need to fight this pandemic, including for testing genomic sequencing and mass vaccinations centers. So to fully support states, tribes and territories needs to contain the pandemic and vaccinate their population, President Biden is requesting $350 billion from Congress in the American Rescue Plan.

Jeff Zients: (05:54)
As the president has said, this is a national emergency and we are treating it as such. We’re bringing the full force of the federal government to partner with state and local leaders in this efforts. We are giving Americans the facts they need and we’re working to ensure our response is fair and equitable. We are doing all we can, but it is critical that Congress does its part as well. We need Congress to quickly pass the American Rescue Plan and give us the funding we need to continue to scale up our vaccination program and to provide the resources the state and local leaders need to protect their communities and fight the pandemic. And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.

Speaker 2: (06:37)
Thank you everybody for joining. We have time for a couple of questions from Jeff today. First, we will go to Carl O’Donnell with Reuters.

Carl O’Donnell: (06:52)
Hi, this is Carl. Thank you for your time. I guess what would be helpful would be just to understand, first of all, you mentioned 6,500 pharmacies in the program originally. How many vaccine doses do you think are going to be pushed through that on a weekly basis? And also just want to confirm that for that 3 to 5 billion, does that require the Congress to pass any legislation allocating funds or is that something FEMA can do from its existing funding? Thank you.

Jeff Zients: (07:29)
A million doses will be allocated next week to those 6,500 pharmacies. So that’s in addition to the 10.5 million doses that are going to go to states, tribes and territories. That’s the first phase of the pharmacy program. And we’ll phase up, as I said, as supply increases. On your FEMA question, no, that does not require Congress acting, that’s a decision that the president has made and we will reimburse states that $3 to $5 billion.

Speaker 2: (08:01)
All right. Next, we’ll go to Kaitlan Collins with CNN.

Kaitlan Collins: (08:07)
Thank you very much. I have two questions for you, one on this rollout. Given you just said this is in addition to the 10.5 million you’re already sending, where are these vaccines coming from? This 1 million that you’re going to start sending out? What allotment is this coming from that you have? And then secondly, you said to make sure that you can meet the eligibility guidelines before you go to try to get a vaccine at these pharmacies, a lot of states are in different phases of distribution. So is the federal government recommending that those states open up their eligibility so it’s the same across the board and therefore a little less confusing for people?

Jeff Zients: (08:46)
First of all, Kaitlan, thanks for the good questions. The additional 1 million on top of the 10.5 is consistent with Moderna and Pfizer scaling their operations. We’re doing all we can to monitor and help the manufacturers produce as much vaccine as possible. So the increase of over 20% that’s happened since the beginning of the administration, that’s going directly to states, territories and tribes, plus this million to pharmacies directly is all result of the manufacturing scaling up. And we hope that we can do all we can and we will do all we can to continue that scale up to make more vaccines available.

Jeff Zients: (09:24)
Your second question was on state. Each state does have its own policy and individuals should check their own state policy for eligibility. You will recall that President Biden a couple of weeks ago did call on states, territories, and tribes to move as quickly as possible to make all people 65 and over eligible in their states and more than half the states have done so. That’s an important population, more than 80% of the over 400,000 deaths that this country has suffered have been in people that are over 65 years of age.

Speaker 2: (10:03)
Next, we’ll go to Zeke Miller with AP.

Zeke Miller: (10:08)
Thanks for doing the call. Jeff, on the pharmacy elements, could you speak to how those million doses per week will be distributed across the country? What metric will be used to sort of ensure equity, [inaudible 00:10:23] distribution will be population based. And then on the president’s call for Congress to pass legislation, how much quicker would the pace of vaccination be with additional congressional funding and conversely how much slower would it be without congressional action?

Jeff Zients: (10:43)
Thanks, Zeke, and again, good questions. On the pharma allocation, it’s allocated the same way we allocate to states, tribes and territories based on their populations. However, the Center for Disease Control, which has quite a bit of experience working with pharmacies, is making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses; and across the board, as you know, equity is foundational to everything we do. On the American Rescue Plan, we’re doing all we possibly can with the resources we have and we will continue to do so. The faster Congress acts, the faster we can scale vaccination sites, mobile units. We can increase testing, we can increase emergency supplies. So given this pandemic, it’s important that Congress act as fast as possible so we can scale our efforts and fight the pandemic as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Speaker 2: (11:49)
We have time for a couple more questions. We’re going to go next to Elizabeth Weise with USA Today.

Elizabeth Weise: (11:56)
Hi, thanks so much for taking my call. A question about production. The states report that they get fluctuating amounts of vaccine every week, even though they’re ordering the same amount each week. Is it that production coming out of the Pfizer/Moderna plants varies by week, or what is causing that fluctuation?

Jeff Zients: (12:16)
Well, Elizabeth, that is one of the messages we heard loud and clear through the transition was that it was very hard for states to plan to most effectively vaccinate their populations without a better sense of what their shipment was likely to be the following week. That’s why we, since we’ve come into office, have given a minimum of three weeks of visibility. So this morning when I was talking to governors about 10.5 million doses being distributed, that’s not only for the next week but it’s for the next three weeks. And that allows them to plan accordingly to know what staffing to have, what centers to open.

Jeff Zients: (12:52)
So I think historically there had been fluctuation. We are very tuned into not having that fluctuation and we are guaranteeing minimum levels of distribution to the states of doses for the next three weeks, and we started that last week with 10 million. We’ve moved that up to 10.5 million for the next three weeks. So it’s really important that states know what’s coming and as production increases, we hope to increase those minimums across time, but always give the three-week visibility so states can plan accordingly.

Speaker 2: (13:26)
Thanks. And last we’ll go to Anne Flaherty with ABC.

Anne Flaherty: (13:28)
Hi, thanks for taking my question. Jeff, do you have any sense of how the weather on the East coast has impacted the rollout of these doses? And also, on the FEMA run sites that the president wants to set up, there are some that are already in place, in supporting vaccination sites. Are we going to expect to see more along with the pharmacy rollout, some FEMA run sites?

Jeff Zients: (13:57)
Good questions. Anne, thank you. First on the weather, I talked to General Perna earlier this morning. All vaccine doses have been available to the states on schedule. Unfortunately, as you know, given how hard the storm has hit some locations, some vaccination sites have had to close or limit their hours. So in terms of vaccine distribution to the states, that’s all worked as planned despite the challenges of the weather. In terms of individual vaccination sites in certain parts of the country that have been hard hit by snow, some of those sites are closed and people are being rescheduled for later in the week.

Jeff Zients: (14:39)
On FEMA, we have had a very active first couple of weeks with more than $1.7 billion going from FEMA to the states to support vaccination. Some of these sites were already started and we’ve helped with technical assistance and resources to bring them to a higher level. There are other sites that are being set up that are going to be run by the federal government with the help of FEMA, potentially military personnel, doctors, and nurses, et cetera. So we’re making a lot of progress. We will meet and likely exceed the president’s goal of having 100 community vaccination sites up and running by the end of his first month in office. At the same time, we’re also utilizing mobile vaccination units to make sure that we’re reaching hard-to-reach communities, again, with equity being first and foremost as a foundational principle of our vaccination program.

Jeff Zients: (15:43)
So, I think that brings us to the end. I want to thank everybody and really appreciate the interest. We’re doing everything we can to effectively vaccinate individuals across the country. We really do need Congress to act and pass the American Rescue Plan to help us expedite our efforts and make them more effective and more efficient. Thank you.