Apr 2, 2021

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript April 2

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript April 2
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsWhite House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript April 2

Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team & Task Force held a press briefing on April 2, 2021. Dr. Walensky said “fully-vaccinated people can resume travel at low risk to themselves.” Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Jeff: (04:13)
Our seven-day average is 2.9 million vaccinations per day, up from last week’s 2.5 million per day average. This is an unprecedented pace, no other country has vaccinated this many people this fast. And as of today, 74% of individuals, 65 and over, have received at least one shot. And 52% of American seniors are now fully vaccinated. Overall, nearly 100 million Americans have received at least one dose and more than 56 million adult Americans are now fully vaccinated. And as the president announced earlier this week, states are responding to his call to make all adult Americans eligible, to receive a vaccine no later than May one.

Jeff: (05:07)
In fact, by April 19th, more than 90% of all adults across the country will be eligible for vaccination. And 90% of Americans will have a vaccine site within five miles where they live. And vaccine supply this week, a total of more than 33 million doses went out to states, tribes and territories, and through the federal channels, including pharmacies and community health centers. This is a record level of weekly vaccine supply.

Jeff: (05:41)
I do want to address the recent issues at the manufacturing plant in Baltimore, that is working for Johnson & Johnson to produce their vaccine substance. I want to emphasize, the issue at the Baltimore plant did not impact any J & J doses that have been distributed, as all J & J finished doses to date were produced in a different FDA-approved facility,

Jeff: (06:05)
Johnson & Johnson, and the FDA are working through the identified issues in the FDA approval process for the new facility. The company and FDA will provide updates as the process concludes. At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has also reiterated its commitment to deliver at or near a 100 million doses by the end of May. And importantly, we are on track to have enough vaccine supply for all adult Americans by the end of may.

Jeff: (06:37)
Let me close by reiterating what the president said at the start of the week. We are in a life and death race against the virus and the war against this virus is far from won. Even as we’re vaccinating record numbers of people, we have many more people to get vaccinated and we are seeing cases rise. Our whole of government response is accelerating to get Americans vaccinated as quickly, efficiently and equitably as possible.

Jeff: (07:14)
We are working to put this pandemic behind us as fast as we can, but we’re not there yet. So we need everyone to do their part. That’s why the president called on every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain or reinstate mask mandates.

Jeff: (07:34)
To be clear, as our vaccination efforts move forward, we need everyone to follow the science and listen to the experts, wear a mask, socially distance and get vaccinated when it’s your turn. And with that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky.

Dr. Walensky: (07:53)
Thank you, Jeff. And good morning, everyone. I want to start today by reiterating with an update of our vaccination efforts. We are now vaccinating close to three million people a day. Nearly 40% of all adults in the United States have received at least one dose of the vaccine. And more than one in five adults is now fully vaccinated. It is truly inspiring for me to see many Americans embracing vaccination. We know that the massive scale-up of vaccination is the key to protecting the American people and to inching us closer to our regular lives. As more people get vaccinated, we at CDC have the responsibility to provide you with science-based recommendations on the activities that can safely resume.

Dr. Walensky: (08:39)
In early March, CDC issued its initial guidance on what activities are safer for fully vaccinated people. And remember fully vaccinated is defined as two weeks after receiving the single dose vaccine or after two weeks after receiving the second dose of the two dose vaccines. When we released the guidance in early March, I emphasized that the science and evidence will-

Dr. Walensky: (09:03)
… in early March, I emphasize that the science and evidence were rapidly evolving and that we would update our guidance as new evidence emerged. We now have several newly-released studies documenting the real-world effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, so today we are releasing an update to our guidance for fully-vaccinated people.

Dr. Walensky: (09:21)
Specifically the new guidance today speaks to travel. We state that fully-vaccinated people can resume travel at low risk to themselves. For domestic travel fully-vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before or after travel and do not need to self-quarantine after travel.

Dr. Walensky: (09:42)
For example, fully-vaccinated grandparents can fly to visit their healthy grandkids without getting a COVID-19 test or self-quarantining provided they follow the other recommended prevention measures while traveling. For international travel, fully-vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before they leave the United States, unless it is required by their international destination. However, fully-vaccinated people should get tested and have a negative test resolved before they board an international flight back into the United States, but they do not need to quarantine when they arrive here. However, fully vaccinated people who do international travel should still be tested three to five days after arrival in the United States on an international flight.

Dr. Walensky: (10:33)
Our guidance reiterate that all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation while traveling. As I mentioned previously, the science on COVID-19 is constantly evolving. We will continue to monitor the evidence and provide updates as we learn more.

Dr. Walensky: (10:57)
With so many people still unvaccinated, it is important that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, continue to take prevention measures in public and adhere to our guidance on ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask, physically distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and wash your hands frequently. And while we believe that fully-vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases.

Dr. Walensky: (11:31)
Before I close, I want to provide a brief overview of the state of the pandemic. CDC’s most recent data showed the seven-day average of new cases is now slightly above 62,000 cases per day, a continued increase over the seven-day period. Similar to cases, new hospitalizations continue to increase, with the most recent seven-day average at nearly 4,950 admissions per day. The seven-day average of deaths is slightly below 900 deaths per day.

Dr. Walensky: (12:07)
These data continue to be clear, despite the good news on the vaccination front, we simply cannot yet afford to relax the prevention strategies. We must continue the practice of mitigation strategies we know work, like wearing a mask and physical distancing in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to see the end of this pandemic. This is a pivotal moment for our country. As I said before, we are taking unprecedented actions to vaccinate the public as quickly as possible, and millions are being vaccinated each and every day. We are better equipped than ever before to take on these serious challenges, but we must remain vigilant.

Dr. Walensky: (12:50)
Finally, I want to briefly update, follow up on a question I received on Wednesday from Nsikan Akpan at New York Public Radio about the B1526 variant and its classification as a variant of interest, rather than a variant of concern. I want to be clear that listing a variant as one of interest, rather than a variant of concern, does not mean we are not prioritizing the variant or that the variant is not important for us to carefully follow. Rather, it means that we are still working to understand the variant, gather data on it, and determine its impact on medical therapies, disease severity, and transmissibility. As we are better able to characterize the variance, its classification may change based on those findings.

Dr. Walensky: (13:36)
In the case of B1526, the one most recently found frequently in New York, we continue to assess its prevalence regionally and nationally, it’s transmissibility, and to conduct studies to understand how its mutations, for example, it’s E484K substitution, impact therapeutic and antibody responses. Until those assessments are complete, it will remain a carefully followed variant of interest.

Dr. Walensky: (14:05)
I want to acknowledge today that providing guidance in the midst of a changing pandemic and it’s changing science is complex. On the one hand, we are telling you, we are worried about rising cases, to wear a mask, and to avoid travel. Yet on the other hand, we are saying that if you are vaccinated, evolving data suggests that traveling is likely lower risk. The science shows us that getting fully vaccinated allows you to do more things safely. And it is important for us to provide that guidance, even in the context of rising cases. At the same time, we must balance the science with the fact that most Americans are not yet fully vaccinated, which is likely contributing to our rise in cases. And that means we have to continue to reinforce messages about the critical importance of COVID-19 prevention measures.

Dr. Walensky: (14:57)
We all want to return to the things we love. Getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible and taking prevention measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 is the path out of this pandemic and back to our everyday activities. To help the public understand what actions to take depending on their vaccination status, we have placed updated information for consumers on the CDC.gov website.

Dr. Walensky: (15:23)
Thank you. I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (15:27)
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to just spend a couple of minutes extending what Dr. Walensky said about the real-world effectiveness of the vaccine. If I could have the first slide?

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (15:39)
There have been a couple of things that have occurred over the last several days that are worthy of note. The recent MMWR from the CDC showed that the messenger RNA of both Moderna and Pfizer continues to show a 90% effectiveness in real-world conditions of health workers. Also, there was a report from Pfizer about 100% protective in adolescence, as well as vaccine protection in adults up to six months. Next slide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (16:08)
This is the MMWR from the CDC, which as I mentioned a moment ago, showed that for both the Pfizer and the Moderna, there’s a durable efficacy of 90%. I want to point out, in the yellow highlighted on the bottom of the slide, there were only three PCR confirmed infections that occurred in almost 79, 000 person days with full immunization, which comes to 0.04 per 1,000 person days.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (16:40)
This is extraordinary. When you do clinical trials, often the efficacy in the pristine conditions of a trial turn out to be better than the real-world effectiveness. What we are seeing is effectiveness that’s easily as good, if not better, than what we’ve seen with the efficacy. Next slide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (17:01)
In addition, in this slide here from Pfizer and BioEnTech, showed high efficacy up to six months. But I want to point out one aspect of this that is very interesting. Part of the study was done in South Africa. Although it was relatively small in size, they showed in the setting of the troublesome B1351 South African variant that there was six cases in the placebo and zero in the vaccinated group, strongly suggesting the efficacy of the vaccines that we’re using now against problematic variants. Next slide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (17:44)
With regard to adolescent populations, the goal obviously is to vaccinate the entire population, and children and adolescents make up about 22% of the population. And emerging data suggests that vaccination can prevent asymptomatic carriage. We’re doing further studies to nail this-

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (18:03)
Asymptomatic carriage… We’re doing further studies to nail this down. Next slide. And then, finally, what you see here is that in a study of adolescents where you did a study most recently, in which you were shown to be literally 100% efficacy, in which 18 cases of COVID-19 was seen in the placebo group. And again, no cases in the vaccine group. Currently, there are studies underway in children that go from six months to 11 years. And by the end of this year, we should have enough information to be able to safely vaccinate children of virtually any age. So the bottom line message is that vaccines work very well in the real world setting. They work against variants, although we need further data to confirm that. They are durable for at least six months, and they work in adolescents. Very, very good reason for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to you back to you. Back to you, Jeff.

Jeffrey Zients: (19:06)
Actually over to Dr. Murthy, please.

Dr. Vivek Murthy: (19:10)
Well, thank you so much, Jeff, and it’s good to be with you, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, again. And good to be with everyone who’s joining us this morning. Yesterday, we announced the next phase of our public education campaign on COVID-19, and I want to provide you today with an update on these efforts and discuss our approach. Our COVID public education campaign has three goals. One, provide information. We want to give the American people facts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect themselves. Two, build trust. We need to help build confidence in the vaccines by making sure people get accurate scientific information from trusted sources. And three, connect people to vaccines. We need to mobilize our communities across our country to increase awareness of how you can get the vaccine when it’s your turn. The research is telling us right now, that when people decide whether to get vaccinated, they want to hear from the people they know and trust. That may be a doctor, a nurse, maybe a teacher, or a minister. It might be a family member or friend.

Dr. Vivek Murthy: (20:16)
And that’s why the most important element of our public education effort is empowering local, trusted voices. We will be providing them with the resources they need to help their communities get vaccinated. Now, why is this so important? It’s important because we have a big, diverse country. Not everyone listens to the same individuals or trusts the same institutions. Misinformation also spreads quickly. And that’s why these trusted community members are essential for health education and empowerment. I’ve seen this myself, firsthand. I’ve seen how conversations with doctors have changed people’s minds, as they’ve realized that the science behind the vaccine is sound. I’ve also witnessed how people see their friends and family getting vaccinated, and that [inaudible 00:21:04] their concerns and build their confidence in the vaccine. Bottom line is, people look to trusted community members when they have questions and concerns.

Dr. Vivek Murthy: (21:12)
And we want to support these trusted voices, because they have the power to help turn this pandemic around. And that’s, why yesterday, we launched the COVID-19 Community Corps. It’s a nationwide grassroots network of health professionals, community organizations, faith leaders, businesses, and Americans from all walks of life, who are collectively stepping up to be leaders for their communities in this national vaccination effort. Our plan is to equip them with CDC-approved materials, to help them deliver science-based information to their networks. And we are reaching out to everyone everywhere to join this effort. Some of the founding members include sports leagues like NASCAR, Major League Baseball, and WWE, health professionals, like the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, industry groups, like the chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau, civic organizations, like the NAACP and Unidos, faith-based organizations, like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.

Dr. Vivek Murthy: (22:17)
As you’re getting a sense, this is a broad coalition of organizations that are trusted in their communities, and they’re ready to help deliver public health information that can save lives. Yesterday, we launched with about 275 founding members. And I’m happy to tell you that in less than 24 hours, 2,500 more members have signed up. And our goal is that as this program is established, more and more Americans from all corners of our country, will sign up and become community core members themselves. So if you’re active on social media, if you volunteer with a civic group or at your church or temple, if you run an organization that you think can be helpful, or if you just want to help have an informed conversation with family members around the dinner table, then we need you in this effort.

Dr. Vivek Murthy: (23:03)
We want to give as many people as we can, access to the information they need to choose to get vaccinated, and to then help the people they care about, make that decision too. You can sign up and get more information, at wecandothis.hhs.gov. That’s wecandothis.hhs.gov. Finally, I would just say this in closing, this has been a long, hard year for all of us. But despite this suffering that COVID has caused, this pandemic has reminded us of a fundamental truth, that we need each other. And together, we have the power to end this pandemic. We can do this, but it will take all of us working together, supporting one another, and keeping our faith that better days are ahead. Thank you. And I’ll turn it over to Jeff. Look forward to your questions.

Jeffrey Zients: (23:53)
Wonderful. Thank you, Surgeon General. Let’s open it up for a few questions.

Press Staff: (23:58)
All right. And I recognize we’re running a little bit late on time, so let’s keep one question each. First, we’ll go to Victoria Knight at Kaiser Health News.

Victoria Knight: (24:09)
Hey, can you hear me?

Press Staff: (24:11)
Yes.

Victoria Knight: (24:11)
Hi. Hi. Yeah, my question is, I’m wondering, I’m a DC resident. We’re among the lowest percent of having our population vaccinated. It’s 14% when I checked this morning, and I know there’s a huge demand here. I’m wondering, what is the federal government going to do to help these states and territories that are struggling with the percent of population vaccinated?

Jeffrey Zients: (24:39)
Well, this week was, as I mentioned, a record amount of supply. And that’s a very good start. We need to work with states to ensure that they’re administrating shots in arms in an efficient way. And the federal government, the whole of federal-

Victoria Knight: (24:52)
When I checked this morning, and I know there’s a huge demand here. I’m wondering, what is the federal government going to do to help these states and territories that are struggling with the percent of population vaccinated?

Jeffrey Zients: (25:09)
Allocating federal allocation to the 40,000 retail pharmacies directly. So that’s quite a coverage across the country, with 90% of Americans living within five miles. We’re also making direct federal allocations to community health centers. That program is scaling up to 900. So we’re doing everything we can, both through the federal channels and the state channels, to support efforts to take the increased supply and convert that into shots in arms. Next question?

Press Staff: (25:42)
Stephanie Ebbs at ABC News.

Stephanie Ebbs: (25:46)
Thank you. I wanted to ask about the travel guidance. It addresses the low risk to fully vaccinated individuals, but what do we know about the risk to unvaccinated individuals who might also be traveling? And is that part of the tension Dr. Walensky discussed on the guidance that travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals, but that you still don’t want people engaging in non-essential travel at this time?

Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (26:18)
Thank you for that question. Yes, we haven’t changed our guidance for non essential travel at all. We are not recommending travel at this time, especially for unvaccinated individuals. Our guidance on unvaccinated individuals, really is to limit travel to only essential travel, with masking protective prevention strategies. And so our update on this is really only for those who are vaccinated, and that represents about 20% of the adult population.

Jeffrey Zients: (26:47)
Next question.

Press Staff: (26:49)
Jeff Mason Reuters.

Jeff Mason: (26:53)
Hi. Thanks very much. A follow up on the travel guidelines, and I want to just be clear that this is an honest question and not a gotcha question.

Jeffrey Zients: (27:02)
But this is an honest question and not a gotcha question. Dr. Walensky, do you still feel a sense of impending doom? And if so, how do you square that with these new guidelines today?

Dr. Walensky: (27:13)
Thank you for that question. It’s our responsibility at the CDC to look at the evolving evidence of what is lower risk to do when you are fully vaccinated. And, that evolving evidence demonstrates that traveling would be a lower risk activity if you are fully vaccinated. And, that was the reason for the update of the guidance. That said, we are at 64,000 new COVID cases today and our numbers continue to increase. We have an increase of 8% today. I still continue to worry that with 80% of the population un-vaccinated, that we have a lot of work to do to control this pandemic, which remains my concern.

Speaker 1: (28:00)
Brian Karem. BORG.

Brian Karem: (28:05)
Thank you very much. Two quick questions for Dr. Fauci. Number one, there’s been reports that there have been thousands of cases of B117 strain in the United States that appear to be deadlier than the original strain. Is there any data to show that that particular strain or any other strain is as lethal or more lethal than the original strain? And, then the second question is the question I get from everyone who isn’t a reporter.

Brian Karem: (28:36)
Most of us on this call, have covered this pandemic since the beginning. Many of us were in the White House briefing room, Dr. Fauci, when you first came out and, and talk to us, but there are many of those who continue to see that you’ve been vilified by certain members of Congress and that you’re accused of causing a problem that you’re trying to solve. And on a personal level, just a human response, how do you deal with that?

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (29:05)
Okay. So the first question about the 117, there seems to be little doubt that the 117 seems to transmit more efficiently from person to person. There is a suggestion that it also causes more severe disease. The proof of that is much more difficult than showing that it’s more transmissible. So, I would think from the reports we’re seeing, it very likely could be a bit more serious, but it definitely is more transmissible.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: (29:37)
With regard to your second question. You know, it’s really unfortunate that there is that degree of vilification of me. And I just think it’s a reflection, I guess of concern about what we’re doing now, compared to what was being done before. I tend to, you asked me how I deal with it? I deal with it by to the best of my ability to not pay attention to it. I have a very serious and important job now as the Chief Medical Advisor on COVID-19 to President Biden. And, I really want to use all my energy to focus on how together with the medical team, which is an extraordinary team here, how I can be part of that team and function with value added. If I start worrying about the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me, it would be a distraction and I tend to not want to be distracted. That’s how I deal with it.

Speaker 1: (30:35)
Next question. Last question. We’ll go to Josh. Wingrove at Bloomberg.

Josh Wingrove: (30:40)
Thank you again for taking the call. Dr. Walensky, I believe you just said that the CDC is not recommending non-essential travel even for vaccinated people? Another, Andy Slavic tweeted something similar. The written report doesn’t say that. Can you just clarify? Are you… Should fully vaccinate people be doing non-essential travel or not? Or is it just an un-vaccinated or partially vaccinated people that should be avoiding that? And Jeff, can you just clarify on Johnson&Johnson, based at 24 million doses in April, would you have expected that number to be higher if Emergent had been approved rather than have these issues at it’s plant? Thank you.

Dr. Walensky: (31:21)
Yeah. So, I would say generally we know that travel was up for the month of March, more so than it had been since the beginning of this pandemic. We know that right now we have a surging number of cases. I would advocate against general travel overall. Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel. Our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so if you are vaccinated is lower risk.

Jeffrey Zients: (31:51)
And Johnson and Johnson, as you know, Josh, they delivered 20 million doses by the end of March. The company has committed to 24 million by the end of April and importantly to be at or near the hundred million by the end of may. We’ve seen with all of the vaccine manufacturers, meaning Moderna and Pfizer, a ramp up across time. So Moderna and Pfizer are now in a steady cadence week to week. That’s not something that Johnson and Johnson has yet achieved. So, 20 million delivered to date 24 million is the target that the company has committed to for April. Most importantly, the company is committed to being at or near a hundred million doses. By the end of the May. Stepping back, we will have enough supply for all adult Americans by the end of May, which is what is most important here.

Jeffrey Zients: (32:49)
Thank you for joining today, and I hope everybody has a good weekend and we look forward to seeing you on Monday. Thank you.