Apr 19, 2021
White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript April 19
Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team & Task Force held a press briefing on April 19, 2021. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (00:00)
… and 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 these 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 aged 16 and up are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, a tremendous step forward in our efforts to end this pandemic.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (00:55)
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 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% 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 critical trials is now being shown in the real world.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (01:50)
Second, last week we released data on the number of so-called breakthrough infections of people who, despite being vaccinated, still tested positive for COVID-19 more than 14 days after 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% had no symptoms at all. This is really encouraging news. It demonstrates what we’ve already discussed about these vaccines, they also help you prevent from getting seriously ill.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (02:47)
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 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.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (03:25)
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. Anthony Fauci: (03:50)
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’s 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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (04:34)
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 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 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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (05:44)
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 minuscule among vaccinated employees, 0.05%. 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 maxed 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% have received at least one dose. We are not there yet, but we can get there.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (07:10)
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 six individuals among 7,000 was picked up by the surveillance system. Next slide. What are those surveillance systems? There are many. There are 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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (08:06)
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 in 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.
Andy Slavitt: (08:33)
Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And just to clarify, I think you said six out of 7 million at last count. Is that correct?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (08:39)
Andy Slavitt: (08:40)
Yes. Okay, great. Let’s open it up for questions.
Speaker 4: (08:46)
Let’s go to Rebecca Robbins with New York Times.
Rebecca Robbins: (08:50)
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. 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?
Andy Slavitt: (09:15)
Dr. Fauci, I don’t know if you have a response or any details otherwise on that.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (09:21)
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.
Andy Slavitt: (09:28)
Yeah. Let us get back to suffice to say we are taking very seriously the global threat from the pandemic, have been a leader in the funding of COVAX, have done 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.
Speaker 4: (09:57)
Tamara Keith, NPR.
Tamara Keith: (09:58)
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?
Andy Slavitt: (10:33)
Let me ask that Dr. Walensky to take those questions on 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. Rochelle Walensky: (10:47)
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 uptake is and what the cases are as well as looking at what the SVI is in all of these ranges. We’re doing the data analysis right now, and I’m hoping to get back in touch with you.
Andy Slavitt: (11:16)
Okay. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (11:19)
Dan Vergano at BuzzFeed.
Dan Vergano: (11:24)
Thanks very much. We’d like that data, Dr. Walensky, released to the whole news media, 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 less? Thanks very much.
Andy Slavitt: (11:50)
Thank you. Yes, let me iterate a couple 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.
Andy Slavitt: (12:23)
The other thing I’ll say is that 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.
Andy Slavitt: (12:58)
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 “punish” less ready areas. We’re going to actually work harder with them to make sure that people have the information they need.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (13:23)
And maybe just to follow up to say we have seen that the administration of vaccine across the country is not uniform. Even in our preliminary analysis, we know that it hasn’t been uniform and that’s exactly why we have to engage in the efforts that was just discussed.
Andy Slavitt: (13:40)
Speaker 4: (13:42)
Shannon Pettypiece at NBC.
Shannon Pettypiece: (13:47)
Hi, I have a couple that should be relatively quick though. First, I just wanted to double check that you have not received any additional severe adverse 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 vaccinations per day throughout the summer or are you anticipating at some point that that’s going to get up to 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 mass restriction or some change to the requirement given that he sort of set that deadline of a mask for 100 days?
Andy Slavitt: (14:53)
Okay. The first question go to Dr. Walensky, which is about the Johnson & Johnson adverse events.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (15:01)
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. That will be the work of the CDC this week as well as the FDA and then we will present that to ACRP on Friday. So we’re doing that work right now. I’m encouraged that it hasn’t been an overwhelming number of cases, but we’re looking and seeing what’s coming.
Andy Slavitt: (15:35)
And what was your second question, do you mind reminding me?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (15:38)
Pace, the pace.
Andy Slavitt: (15:40)
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.
Andy Slavitt: (16:23)
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 has 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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (17:01)
Andy, it was about the 100 million day mask and if there’s any plans.
Andy Slavitt: (17:07)
Well, let’s get to the 100 days. One thing about President Biden, he follows the science, he listens to the scientists. We’ve got 12 more days to go until we get there. So please mask up everybody because it does save lives. Next question.
Speaker 4: (17:26)
Last question was going to Zeke at AP.
Zeke Miller: (17:30)
Thank you. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, I was hoping if you could maybe give us some more of the mile markers on the highway back to normalcy, as you’ve discussed, especially 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, is it advisable now for people who are fully vaccinated to travel, or are you still recommending against it, and sort of a general sense of sort of when we can expect to see… We’ve seen in Israel they began to lift their outdoor mask mandates at 60 some odd percent vaccination rate. Is that a similar milestone that you’re looking for when you change that recommendation here in the US, and any other sort of… What milestone should the public expect as more people get vaccinated for when they can get back to normal?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: (18:24)
Let me take a shot at the Israel thing. I think we need to remember the slide that Dr. Walensky showed about 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 a level where they have now about 62% 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. Rochelle Walensky: (19:22)
Yeah, I would just say 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, somewhere in the two to six week mark. And so if we have a lot of circulating virus today, the vaccines will work 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.
Andy Slavitt: (20:02)
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 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 the safety of their family that can happen after using vaccines. Again, thank you to everybody who’s made this happen so far and those continuing to work hard to make the rest of it happen. We will be back here on Wednesday. Thanks.