Feb 26, 2021

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript February 26

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript February 26
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsWhite House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript February 26

Dr. Fauci and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team & Task Force held a press briefing on February 26, 2021. Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Andy Slavitt: (00:00)
Thank you for joining us for our White House COVID response briefing. I have a few important updates for you this morning, and then I will turn to doctors Fauci and Walensky. First on our efforts to mobilize the country to defeat COVID-19 and second on our progress in supporting 100 community vaccination centers nationwide to vaccinate more people, more quickly and more equitably. Before I get there, let me begin by taking stock of where we are. Even as we have crossed the grimmest of milestones, the loss of over 500,000 American lives, we are pulling together as a country. In the time since the president has taken office, we’ve now doubled the pace of vaccinations and are rapidly on our way to vaccinating many of the people most at risk of dying from being hospitalized from COVID-19 with nearly one in five adults and nearly half of Americans over 65 having received their first shot. What is important and what I want to cover today is that any progress is a result of the hard work of many, people and entities working together for the greater good. Vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, distribution partners at McKesson, FedEx and UPS, governors, mayors, county officials and their health departments, the thousands of providers, pharmacies, and members of the military, FEMA and other states and federal employees that have been part of this vaccination effort. And of course, all the people of science in the NIH and NIAID, the CDC, BARDA and FDA. This is all one effort. There is so much more to do but one thing has become clear is that while none of us on our own can defeat COVID-19, all of us working together can. And today I want to highlight what people across America can contribute to this cause at this critical time. From day one, President Biden has been pulling the country together to unify against the virus.

Andy Slavitt: (02:10)
This begins with Congress. We can not defeat this virus as rapidly as we need to without action from Congress. Today, the House will start the vote process on the American Rescue Plan. This legislation will enable Americans across the country to defeat COVID-19 and get back to normal life more quickly. The bill is critical to allowing us to do some things that we all need to do to defeat this virus. Needed funding to make schools safer to open, the ability to stay ahead of the virus as it mutates by funding greater sequencing, testing and tracing to contain outbreaks and stay ahead of new variants, addressing supply shortages, investing in high quality treatments for people with COVID-19, providing paid sick leave and other support to contain the spread of the virus and providing relief to the communities hardest hit by the disease.

Andy Slavitt: (03:09)
We urge the Senate to quickly follow and pass this legislation. Just as Congress is taking action, so too are the nations’ private and civil sectors and the small and large companies that are at the heart of our economy and provide jobs to so many. One of the benefits of being and providing honest and clear communication with the public about the challenges we face are all of the people who raise their hands and offer to help. Since the president’s first day on the job 37 days ago, he’s called us to come together and defeat this as a nation. Since January 20th, we have been engaging in literally hundreds of conversations with hundreds of companies who are eager to help put an end to COVID-19, get people safely back to work, re hire workers and grow the economy as the president outlined in his national strategy to defeat COVID-19.

Andy Slavitt: (04:09)
So today the administration is announcing a new partnership with America’s leading business organizations to enlist the full force of the private sector to defeat COVID-19 with a call to action. The Biden administration is joining with the Chamber of Commerce, leaders of the black, Latino, and Asian business community, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable to call on businesses big and small to promote three critical efforts across the country. Our call asks three things of America’s businesses to increase the safety of employees, customers, and the community, and will help us put a more rapid end to this pandemic. First, require masking and social distancing to protect workers, customers, and others on their premises. Second, reduce barriers to vaccinations, make a plan to get employees vaccinated and make it easier for employees to get vaccinated by providing incentives like paid time off or compensation for employees to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

Andy Slavitt: (05:22)
Third, communicate with customers and educate the public about the benefits of masking and vaccinations. We’re asking businesses to amplify CDC messages about masking and vaccinations on their products, properties, and websites. Through these partner organizations, step-by-step resources to help businesses operate safely will be available. HHS and CDC are collaborating with them so they can take advantage of our research and approaches to talking about vaccines and vaccinations mostly effectively. Together, we hope to reach hundreds of thousands of businesses representing over 100 million people, to promote efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. This afternoon at 4:00 PM I will be hosting a call with thousands of business owners to lay out this call to action and ask for their help and participation. But the work’s already begun. Since we’ve arrived, we have had over 250 conversations with business leaders in sectors as diverse as technology, retail, social media, medical products, airlines, health insurance, hospitals, utilities, and we’re having more every day.

Andy Slavitt: (06:43)
Each of them has something valuable to add. Ford and the Gap are producing and donating millions of masks. Professional sports leagues and the live events industry have offered their more than 100 stadiums and venues to local communities to be used as vaccination sites. Retailers like Best Buy, Target and Dollar General all are giving more than a half a million workers paid time off or compensating employees who get vaccinated. Uber, PayPal, and Walgreens are teaming up to provide $10 million worth of free rides to vaccination sites. And Lyft is partnering with CVS and the YMCA to provide 60 million free or discounted rides to vaccination sites. In both of these efforts, we are encouraging organizations to target the benefits to people who need them the most, so community’s hit hardest bounce back. CVS has also agreed to improve access and appointment times for people looking for vaccines and special efforts to reserve vaccine appointments.

Andy Slavitt: (07:48)
This is critical to health equity. The utility company Avangrid has committed to include public health information in more than 3 million paper bills. These are examples, but examples that others can replicate in addition to their own unique efforts. Our call to action today will ask companies to make similar unique commitments that brings their unique skills and resources to the problem of keeping Americans safe and ending the pandemic as quickly as possible while also following the lead of these other companies. Over the coming weeks, the Biden administration will highlight more innovative ways and America’s private sector is rising to the challenge as we put this crisis to bed by working together. Let me talk now about the progress we’re making to reach the president’s goal of one hundreds community vaccination centers within his first month in office.

Andy Slavitt: (08:58)
Thanks to the incredible work of FEMA, the Department of Defense and colleagues across the government, since January 20, the Biden, Harris administration has already supported the establishment or expansion of 441 community vaccination centers across 37 states, territories and the District of Columbia. Over the past month, we’ve provided 171 sites with federal personnel, we’ve deployed nearly 3,500 total personnel nationwide to support vaccination operations including expert logisticians, vaccinators, greeters, clerks, and other support roles. Personnel are signed from agencies across the federal government, including FEMA, CDC, DOD, National Guard, and the Forest Service, Department of Interior, Veterans Affairs Department, and the Army Corps of Engineers. 177 sites have received federal funding and at the president’s direction, FEMA is reimbursing 100% of costs for vaccination operations. This funding covers critical-

Andy Slavitt: (10:03)
Costs for vaccination operations. This funding covers critical supplies, staffing, training, and transportation needs that support increased vaccination distribution and administration. 62 sites have received federal equipment, from folding chairs to containers to dry ice. The federal government has provided a range of equipment to meet state, tribal, territory, and local needs, and help establish and expand sites. This will get done in the details. Thank you to everyone involved in these efforts.

Andy Slavitt: (10:33)
The President is visiting a federally established community vaccination site today in Houston, Texas. This site opened yesterday and has the capacity to vaccinate 6,000 people per day. And today we’re announcing two new federal vaccination sites, one in North Carolina and the other in Illinois. Starting in two weeks, the United Center in Chicago will be used to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day. And in North Carolina, a new site in Greensboro will have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people per day.

Andy Slavitt: (11:07)
Selection of both of these sites was based on a CDC FEMA framework developed to target those most vulnerable. The goal is to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity. Deploying the CDCs social vulnerability index.

Andy Slavitt: (11:26)
In closing, I want to come back to the important milestone of where we are this week, with over 50 million shots that have been administered since President Biden took office. 50 million shots in 37 days. That’s ahead of our target, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storm, which devastated millions of people in the Midwest and in the South.

Andy Slavitt: (11:51)
As the President has said, if we do the right things, and we have the right plan, we will get things moving. We’ve doubled the pace of administrating shots in six weeks. We’ve increased vaccine distribution to states by nearly 70%. And nearly 60% of people over 65 now have received at least one shot. That was 14, six weeks ago. Close to 50% of people over 65 have at least one shot now. That was 8% six weeks ago.

Andy Slavitt: (12:25)
I’m going to repeat that. 8% of people over 65 six weeks ago had received their first shot. Now that’s close to 50%. That’s important because people over 65 account for 80% of COVID-19 deaths. And 75% of people who live in long-term care facilities have gotten their first dose. And those cases are at the lowest level since reporting began in May.

Andy Slavitt: (12:54)
So yes, we are making progress, but we are not there yet, and there’s lots of hard work to do. But I want to thank everybody, everybody across the country, that’s been involved in helping us make this progress. And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Walensky.

Dr. Walensky: (13:11)
Thank you so much, Andy. I’m glad to be back with you today. Let’s get started on an overview of the pandemic.

Dr. Walensky: (13:16)
Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January, and deaths had been declining in the past week. But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory. The most recent seven day average of cases, approximately 66,350, is higher than the average I shared with you on Wednesday. In fact, cases have been increasing for the past three days, compared to the prior week. And while deaths tend to fluctuate more than cases and hospital admissions, the most recent seven day average, approximately 2000 per day, is slightly higher than the seven day average earlier in the week.

Dr. Walensky: (14:05)
We are watching these concerning data very closely to see where they will go over the next few days. But it’s important to remember where we are in the pandemic. Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions. Although we have been experiencing large declines in cases in admissions over the past six weeks, these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic. So I want to be clear. Cases, hospital admissions, and deaths all remain very high, and the recent shift in the pandemic must be taken extremely seriously. CDC has been sounding the alarm about the continued spread of variants in the United States, predicting the variants such as the B117 variant, which is thought to be about 50% more transmissible than the wild type strain, would become a predominant variant of COVID-19 by mid-March. We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants in the most recent data.

Dr. Walensky: (15:04)
Our estimates now indicate that B117 accounts for approximately 10% of cases in the United States, up from 1% to 4% a few weeks ago, and prevalence is even higher in certain areas of the country.

Dr. Walensky: (15:18)
And earlier this week, new research came out about additional emerging variants in New York, the B1526 variant, and in California, the B1427 variant, that also appeared to spread more easily and are contributing to a large fraction of current infections in those areas, adding urgency to the situation.

Dr. Walensky: (15:38)
We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give into a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Not now, not when mass vaccination is so very close, when what we need to prevent this is truly imminent. We must continue to be vigilant and committed to consistently taking the steps we work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Walensky: (16:06)
Where the pandemic goes from here is dependent on our collective behavior and resolve to do our part to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Together, we have the capacity to avoid another surge in our nation.

Dr. Walensky: (16:21)
I know people are tired. They want to get back to life to normal, but we’re not there yet. Give us time. We need to get more vaccines into our communities and to get more people vaccinated. This is our path out.

Dr. Walensky: (16:35)
Here in the United States, over 46 million people, or 14% of the population, have already received at least one dose of the vaccine. And so many more of you are ready to roll up your sleeves as soon as vaccine becomes available to you. And indeed, more vaccine is on the way. We are at the precipice of having another vaccine in our toolboxes, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Walensky: (16:59)
Like many of you, I’m excited about news that another safe and effective vaccine option could be coming as quickly as next week. We are closely watching FDA’s advisory committee today and the actions they may take today and tomorrow on this vaccine. Following FDA’s actions, CDCs advisory committee on immunization practices, or ACIP, is prepared to meet over the weekend and continue the same data being discussed at FDA’s advisory meeting. Then ACIP will make recommendations for the use of the vaccine, and I will stand by to review them and ready to sign.

Dr. Walensky: (17:36)
Having an additional safe and effective vaccine will help protect more people faster. I look forward to the ACIP discussion, receiving their recommendations, and sharing with you about ACIP’s recommendations and our next steps moving forward. Thank you. I look forward to your questions, and with that, I will turn things over to Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Fauci: (17:56)
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’m going to give now a brief update on the science, particularly focusing on the vaccine, if I can go to the first slide. This is the slide that I’ve shown to this group before, but just building on what Dr. Walensky just said, we really are looking forward with the very positive anticipation to the final determination of the [inaudible 00:18:22] and the FDA concerning the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen vaccine.

Dr. Fauci: (18:28)
What this means, from the data we looked at, that we now have three highly effective vaccines. Importantly, each of them are very effective against severe disease, and virtually all of them say that you look at the data, and it’s clear that you get essentially no hospitalizations or deaths in any of… This is very good news.

Dr. Fauci: (18:52)
So again, we have three candidates now are in play. We look forward to the results, as Dr. Walensky said. This should be forthcoming, hopefully, within the next day or two, together with the recommendations about how it is to be utilized.

Dr. Fauci: (19:08)
In addition, on this particular slide, there are other candidates that have fulfilled enrollment, and we’re looking forward with them too. The bottom line is that the more vaccines that have high efficacy that we can get into play, the better there is.

Dr. Fauci: (19:25)
Next slide. Now, one of the things that was mentioned by Dr. Walensky is that the fact that we have variants that are in play. We have the 117 that is here increasing in its prevalence now in the country, with modeling telling us that by the end of March, it might be the overwhelming candidate for… not candidate, but the overwhelming strain that is actually spreading. We also have the others that Dr. Walensky mentioned, the 427 in California, the 526 in New York. We must address these. There are-

Dr. Fauci: (20:03)
… in New York. We must address these. There are a couple of ways of doing that. Let’s take a look at the 351 that has attracted a lot of attention, which was originally in South Africa, is not dominant at all here in the United States, but we need to pay attention to it. One of the ways to do that is to make a version of the vaccine which actually directly addresses that particular variant in question. Could I have the next slide? What we’ve seen, that just two days ago that the Moderna company began the clinical trials to provide booster shots for the variant from South Africa. What they did actually as the first step to beginning these trials, which will begin in mid-March, they sent material to the NIH for a phase-one study. Next slide. Now, if you take a look at this, what this will be is that it’s a variant-specific vaccine candidate, which we’re referring to as mRNA-1273.351, with a 351 designated that is against specifically the variant, which is a 351, which was first identified in South Africa. As I mentioned, we will conduct a phase-one study, which we will begin in mid-March in both naive and previously vaccinated adults. Next slide. On this last slide, I show you the two cohorts to just give you an example of what the prototype model approach that is being taken when you want to directly address a specific variant. One of these studies, the cohort one, will be in previously vaccinated volunteers, namely looking at individuals, and again, this is a phase-one study, not looking at efficacy, but looking at safety and immunogenicity.

Dr. Fauci: (22:08)
That is the way things will likely go over the next several months as this company and others approve, namely taking a look at, can you induce a level of antibody specifically against the variant in question? In this case, it’s the 351. As you could see, the first cohort is in previously vaccinated volunteers. The second cohort is in individuals who are either un-vaccinated and not previously infected, to determine if you were going to have a vaccine program that would be specifically directed against this particular variant, how would you design it? This is the way to go. I want to make one comment that I believe is important. One would ask, are you going to have to do this with every variant, because we cannot determine now where the 526 or the 427` or other variants will go.

Dr. Fauci: (23:08)
So,` there are two ways, actually three ways. One that’s common to both, that you address these variants. First and foremost is to continue what Dr. Walensky mentioned at the close of her comments ,to continue to double down on the public health measures that prevent the transmission. Because as I’ve said often, and it’s true in virology, that viruses will not mutate if you don’t give them the opportunity to spread and replicate. So, public health measures are paramount. Secondly, you can go after the specific mutants, the specific variants as I’ve shown here, but there’s another way to do it. This has to do somewhat indirectly with what we heard yesterday from Albert Bourla, who is the CEO of Pfizer, when he was talking about the idea of maybe yet again, another boost, meaning the higher the titer of antibody against even the wild type will have spillover effects in mitigating the problem that is created by the variants. We know that from experience with the 351, in which the effect of vaccination was diminished by multiple fold, but it wasn’t obliterated because of the cushion of a high level of antibody.

Dr. Fauci: (24:39)
So, a couple of things going on. A, you can directly address it specifically, or you can get as high a robust response from the vaccine in question that would have an effect on the variant. So, let me stop there and hand it back to Andy.

Andy Slavitt: (24:56)
Thank you. Before we turn to the questions, I want to maybe pose a question to Dr. Fauci. Thank you for providing all of us with an overview of the strategy to stay ahead of and target variants as needed in an ongoing basis. But I want to ask a simple question. If you were someone who today is contemplating whether or not you should get a vaccination, should any of this cause you to delay your thinking about getting a vaccination until some of these developments occur, or should people go out and quickly and hastily get their vaccines?

Dr. Fauci: (25:33)
Overwhelmingly the latter, Andy. Right now, get vaccinated. The vaccine that’s available to you, get that vaccine. It is important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. A very firm answer to that question.

Andy Slavitt: (25:50)
Okay. Thank you for clarifying that. All right, let’s go to questions.

Speaker 1: (25:56)
All right. As a reminder guys, since we are running a few minutes behind, please keep your question to one question. First up, we’ll go to Anne Flaherty at ABC.

Anne Flaherty: (26:03)
Hi, thank you for taking my question. You’ve used this forum to talk about increases to boost the supply of rapid tests, and we’re seeing two things. The Wall Street Journal reporting that millions of these tests are sitting on shelves in states, the Abbott tests that the federal government purchased before. Then we’re also seeing a decline in testing. So, do you have an accounting of where these tests are now? How do you plan to make the states accountable to use them? Are you providing them guidance? What’s your plan going forward on that?

Andy Slavitt: (26:41)
Thank you Anne. Let me give you some of the answer now, and then perhaps we can follow up with you with it with even more details. A week or so, or maybe two weeks ago, I can’t recall, we had Carol Johnson on and she spoke of these testing coordination centers that are being stood up. The precisely, the purpose of these centers is to meet the needs, the use cases that we have for additional testing, with the fact that we actually have all of the supply out there, and it’s not being utilized as well. So, we are taking this proactive step to be able to connect the needs for vaccines with the supply of vaccines. Because one of the things we’ve learned is just because a company, as you say, makes a vaccine. I mean, I’m sorry. I say vaccine. I mean test. Just because a company makes a test and just because people need a test doesn’t mean that they’re automatically finding one another. So, this is an initiative we’ll be happy to provide you more details about. The next question?

Speaker 1: (27:45)
Next, we’ll go to Sheryl Stolberg at the New York Times.

Sheryl Stolberg: (27:48)
Hi, thank you for taking this question. I’m wondering if you could elaborate Andy, on the initiatives with respect to the masks and also the Uber rides. How will people get access to the rides. How do you plan to distribute these masks by Ford and the Gap? If you can just put a little bit more information out on that.

Andy Slavitt: (28:13)
Yeah. Thank you, Sheryl. The thing that I want to indicate clearly is these are not, I would not present these as federal efforts. I would prevent present these as efforts by organizations around the country that we are encouraging, and we are highlighting, and we are encouraging others to take stock of. In some cases we have been, in all of these cases, we’ve been making it very clear as companies have asked, where are the needs, but we are not directing these masks. So, unlike what we announced on Wednesday, which is that we will be distributing masks directly to food pantries and to homeless shelters, in this particular case, these are masks that are being distributed by the company. I believe that they can, they’ll be able to answer those questions, but I believe they’ve got targets in mind with regard to the masks.

Andy Slavitt: (29:04)
As it relates to Uber and Lyft, I have a slightly different answer, although the theme is of course the same, that those are initiatives that they’ve taken. They are working in partnership with many of the providers of vaccines. In one case CVS, in another case, I believe Walgreens, and they are making their rides available. We’re also going to be taking some steps to make those rides available, particularly in communities that are disadvantaged and are having barriers to getting those vaccines, through some additional efforts that we will be introducing over the course of the next week. So, given the important need that people have to get to and get to and from these appointments, we are going to be making sure that those efforts, and by the way, there are additional transportation efforts that I did not mention as well, will be, that information will be getting to the sites and to the people that are arranging-

Andy Slavitt: (30:03)
… that information will be getting to the sites and to the people that are arranging appointments.

Andy Slavitt: (30:07)
Next question.

Speaker 2: (30:07)
Next, we’ll go to Peter Sullivan at the Hill.

Peter Sullivan: (30:13)
Hi, thanks. I wanted to ask about restrictions. We’ve seen several States lifting COVID restrictions. For example, Massachusetts yesterday is lifting all restaurant capacity limits. We’ve seen some states lift their mask mandates. Given what Dr. Walensky said about this concerning trend, I mean, are you calling governors to tell them not to lift restrictions? Are you urging them not to further lift things like restaurant limits?

Peter Sullivan: (30:48)
The other thing is, during the campaign, I know the Biden plan called for the CDC to put out guidance based on the level of spread in the community, should bars be open, should restaurants be open? Are you still planning to put out guidance on that? Thank you.

Andy Slavitt: (31:08)
Let me begin with Dr. Walensky.

Dr. Walensky: (31:10)
Yeah. Thank you very much for that question. Given the trends that we’ve seen in just the last couple of days, I would say we can’t be in a place where we’re lifting restrictions right now. If we level off at a level of 70,000 cases a day, we are just at the level where we had the peak before, or the base before we had the fall peak. I would really encourage people, the CDC would really encourage people and states to not expand and release restrictions. We’re watching these trends very carefully.

Andy Slavitt: (31:49)
Dr. Fauci, anything you want to add to that?

Dr. Fauci: (31:51)
Yeah. We understand there is a tendency, given that the deflection of the curve is down, to get back to a situation where you’re approaching normal, because everybody’s under the stress and strain of the long duration of this. But we really have to be careful and take a look at that curve. The point that Dr. Walensky made is critical. If we plateau at 70,000, we are at that very precarious position that we were right before the full surge, where anything that could perturb that could give us another surge. We don’t want to be people always looking at the dark side of things, but you want to be realistic. We have to carefully look at what happens over the next week or so with those numbers before you start making the understandable need to relax on certain restrictions. Just watch it closely and be prepared to react according to what actually happens.

Andy Slavitt: (32:49)
Yeah. Let me just add to that. The president has asked that for 100 days, we all do our part as a country to stop the spread of this virus while we are vaccinating the country. If we do that, and if we do that successfully, we will be able to open schools and businesses safely and keep them open. If we do, as we have sort of been doing over the last year, which is at any sign of what appears to be progress we relax our restrictions, we’ve seen what happens.

Andy Slavitt: (33:27)
The president is very strong in these calls. I can tell you that while we at the federal government don’t control the policies made by state governors, we do talk to them on a very regular basis and talk to their staffs on a daily basis. We also have other avenues we’re working. As I mentioned, we are calling on America’s businesses to make it safe for them to have employees and customers on their premises by following some of these basic measures. We couldn’t say it in stronger terms, we think it is a mistake to take our foot off the gas too early, especially when we are accelerating our vaccination efforts right now.

Andy Slavitt: (34:08)
Next question.

Speaker 2: (34:10)
Next, we’ll go to Brian Karem at Playboy.

Brian Karem: (34:15)
Thanks for taking these questions today. Mine is for Dr. Fauci. We keep saying that we are not out of it yet. We’re not out of the worst. We’re not out of the woods yet. What will it take to get out of the woods? Can you please be specific as to scientifically what the conditions will be for us to try to approach what used to be called normal? Please, please be as specific as you can. What exactly are we looking for?

Dr. Fauci: (34:46)
Yeah. We’re looking at the curve that Dr. Walensky showed, unfortunately looks like it’s kind of stopped there at around 70,000, to go all the way down so that the test positivity is well less than 10%, when you really are in the blue zone throughout the entire country. That’s what we’re talking about. At that point, there are a couple of things that are going on. That will go down at the same time as we get into March and April, when we will have a considerably larger amount of vaccines to go into people’s arms. When that happens, you’ll not only have the curve specifically go down to that very, very low baseline, but you’ll have more and more people that will keep it at that baseline because the virus will not have a real free rein to essentially infect anybody that the virus wants to infect. That’s what I’m talking about specific.

Dr. Fauci: (35:48)
Certainly 70,000 is not there. Not even close. You’ve got to get way down in the test positivity at the same time that you scale up the vaccine. Hopefully that is not too far in the distant future, because as you know, as we get into March and April and May, we’re going to be seeing a lot of vaccine available for people.

Andy Slavitt: (36:15)
Thank you. Okay. Other question?

Speaker 2: (36:19)
Last question. We’ll go to Carl O’Donnell at Reuters.

Carl O’Donnell: (36:24)
Hi. I just wanted to touch a little bit more on the NIH studies for the variant, Moderna’s vaccine being applied to the variant strain. You mentioned mid-March, you would start it. I would imagine that it would take some time to complete the study and then ramp up production for that variant booster, as well as some of the other potential combinations you guys are looking into. Curious as to the timing for availability of that. Given that this particular strain might be out in the general population for a while, could you see that lag time before we have a variant specific shot as something that could slow up the process of being able to fully relax restrictions? Thank you.

Dr. Fauci: (37:14)
Very good question, and I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to clarify it.

Dr. Fauci: (37:20)
We are not talking about a commitment that we are going to be making millions and millions and millions of doses of this. This is a phase-one study, which out of an abundance of precaution in case this particular variant does assume a significant element of what the outbreak is. In order to be able to be prepared for that, you want to make sure you have a product that you will be able to scale up. Going into a phase-one trial to show that you have relevant immunogenicity and safety, does not necessarily mean a commitment to make 300 million or 600 million doses of this vaccine. It’s going to depend upon where the actual outbreak goes.

Dr. Fauci: (38:11)
It is conceivable that another variant, and that’s the point that I made at the end of my formal comments, we’ve got to be very careful because as you’re doing this, you’re doing it at risk because you may not really need to use this. But out of abundance of caution, you want to at least start off and show the proof of principle that you can get a vaccine that can induce a considerable amount of immune response in the form of antibody, certainly, and possibly T-cells that can address the specific variant. If we need to scale up later on, then you make a plan to do that. But this is all going to depend on the dynamics of the outbreak and what other variants might be dominant.

Andy Slavitt: (39:02)
Thank you, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, and thank you all for your questions and for tuning in today. I’ll say again, we are appreciative of the efforts of so many across the country to help us in this war against COVID-19.

Andy Slavitt: (39:16)
I want to just finish perhaps on the note that both Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci emphasized, which is we are not there by a long shot. The progress we’ve made is better than where we were weeks ago, but it is nowhere near the baseline that we need to achieve as a country, and that’s going to take all of us working together.

Andy Slavitt: (39:36)
Thank you, and we’ll look forward to doing this briefing again on Monday.

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