May 5, 2021

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript May 5

White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Fauci Press Conference Transcript April 23
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Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team & Task Force held a press briefing on May 5, 2021. Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Andy: (00:00)
Comprehensive network of community relationships will be critical in helping us meet this new goal. So how are we going to get 70% of adults to have their first shot by July 4th? Well, we, the government, are not, but we the people have a very good chance. If you look at this slide, you’ll see a visual representation of our approach. That’s right, we’re going to make it as easy as possible for every American to get a vaccine. Want to know where to get vaccinated? Get your phone, text your zip code, to GETVAX, that’s 438829. That’s right, text your zip code to 438829. And you’ll be texted back three locations near you with vaccines in stock. Easy. Or if you prefer the information in Spanish, text your zip code to VACUNA, that’s 822862. Easy. Prefer a specific vaccine?

Andy: (01:12)
No problem. Click on the text or visit, you can sort that way. Easy. There are more than 75,000 places you could go to get a shot. In fact, 90% of Americans live have a vaccine right now within five miles of them. Easy. Prefer not to make an appointment? No problem. At the President’s direction, many no appointment walk-in vaccinations are available. Yesterday, the President directed all our federal pharmacy partners to begin providing walk-in vaccinations wherever supply allows. That means Americans will be able to get vaccinated without an appointment at the majority of our nearly 40,000 local pharmacy locations nationwide. Need a ride? Uber and Lyft are offering free and discounted rides. Live in a remote or rural area without a vaccine near you? We’re sending doses directly to rural clinics and expanding mobile vaccination sites and pop-up clinics. And we will announce a call in number designed for people without broadband or cell phones, where we will help people make appointments and remove other barriers preventing them from getting vaccinated. Easy, and convenient, and free vaccines for everyone. That’s what we’re focused on in this next phase.

Andy: (02:28)
You probably can remove the slide. The next set of Americans to get vaccinated tell us they have another priority, getting the facts they need and their questions answered so they know they’re taking a safe and effective vaccine. And as the President said yesterday, many people need to get involved and take some responsibility to meet this goal. We know that many people who haven’t been vaccinated yet have questions that they want answered. They want to observe the response of people who’ve been vaccinated. So if you’re one of the nearly 150 million Americans who’ve been vaccinated, this is your call to action. People want to know what your experience was like. So please talk with your friends, family, neighbors, and community. Share why you chose to get vaccinated, what it was like to get one, and how it felt when you finally got the vaccine.

Andy: (03:23)
I got my vaccine, as did my family, and it was a major, major transition for our lives. I got the vaccine from Pfizer, my mother got the vaccine from Moderna, my wife from Moderna. One of my sons from Johnson & Johnson, the other one from Pfizer. And it was a great experience for all of us. In fact, I was able to see my mother last weekend for the first time in quite a long time. And even my son who doesn’t really like needles said this was not a big deal. It didn’t hurt. So that’s a first. Later I think I will be asking Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky at some point to share their vaccination story when they give presentations as well. The are conversations that we have to have with people are powerful and they work. In January, only 47% of people had either received a vaccine or wanted to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

Andy: (04:18)
That number is over 60% today, according to Kaiser and many more are open to the vaccine. If they find it easy and if they can get their questions answered. As the President has said, it takes all of us doing our part. That’s why the President’s also called on businesses to make sure that people have paid time off to get vaccinated, more than a thousand businesses have so far. We’re also working with major businesses to provide special deals and promotions for those who get vaccinated. The numbers are endless and they’re happening all the time. As examples, Albertsons and Safeway, you can get a 10% off your groceries. At Target or CVS, you can get $5 off any purchase. If you show your vaccination card at The Vitamin Shoppe, you can get a free snack. There may be some not as healthy options like beer and donuts, if that’s your thing. Sports leagues like NASCAR, NFL, MLB, Major League Soccer are also joining the effort by offering ticket giveaways in stadium vaccination programs and discounts and merchandise.

Andy: (05:19)
We’re also providing more resources to enable all of this. Yesterday, we announced significant investments that will enhance and expand vaccination education efforts. This includes $ 250 million in funding for community-based organizations to help them conduct on the ground outreach. More than 130 million for community-based organizations to support vaccine education efforts in underserved communities, and nearly $250 million in funding to help states and other jurisdictions power vaccine education efforts in their own communities. The bottom line is getting to our next goal is a test of many things, including our commitment to one another. It’s in our ability to talk to one another and listen. we have to be patient and supportive as people make these decisions.

Andy: (06:10)
We can’t write anyone off and we have to mobilize everyone in this next phase, because again, it really does take all of us to get the job done. That’s how we deliver 220 million shots in arms in the President’s first 100 days. That’s what will help us meet the President’s new and important goal of 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot and 160 million fully vaccinated Americans by July 4th. It won’t necessarily be easy, but as the President likes to say, there’s nothing Americans can’t do if we do it together. And with that, I’ll turn it to Dr. Walensky.

Dr. Walensky: (06:48)
Thank you, Andy. Good morning, everyone. And I’m pleased to be back with you today. We’ll start with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported just over 32,000 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven day average is about 48,000 cases per day. This represents yet another decrease of about 12% from the prior seven day average. And every day with the daily cases continuing to fall, we are hopeful about these really encouraging trends. The seven day average of hospital admissions is just over 3,900, again, a positive sign with another back-to-back decrease of almost 10% from the prior seven day period. And seven day average daily deaths have also declined to a new low of 400 per day. Something I’m often asked is, “When will this pandemic be over? And when can we go back to normal?” The reality is it all depends on the actions we take now.

Dr. Walensky: (07:46)
Today, CDC published an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that provides some insights using data and evidence to show various scenarios of what will happen with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and how it depends on how many people get vaccinated and whether we continue to follow prevention measures. The study, which CDC did in collaboration with a large group of academic researchers, is the first multi-model effort to project long-term trajectories of COVID-19 in real time in the United States under different scenarios. The team looked at four scenarios, each with different assumptions about vaccination coverage combined with other strategies to prevent spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, masking, isolation, and quarantine. The models forecasted some really good news and an important reminder. In good news, the models projected a sharp decline in cases by July 2021, and an even faster decline if more people get vaccinated sooner. The results remind us that we have the path out of this. And models, once projecting really grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring. And the models give us an important reminder,

Dr. Walensky: (09:02)
… Summer may bring. And the models give us an important reminder. They project that local conditions and emerging variants are putting many states at risk for increases in COVID-19 cases, especially if we do not increase the rate of vaccinations and if we do not keep our current mitigation strategies in place until we have a critical mass of people vaccinated. More specifically, we need to keep vaccinating people, but we all need to keep practicing certain prevention interventions to help us get to the predicted good outcomes. Although we are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, variants are a wild card that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back.

Dr. Walensky: (09:45)
Reassuringly, as Dr. Fauci said on Friday, we are seeing that our current vaccines are protecting against the predominant variants circulating in the country. Simply put, the sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal.

Dr. Walensky: (10:02)
As I look at this report, I’m encouraged and hopeful by the positive impact of our rapid rollout of vaccination in the United States, and look forward to reaching President Biden’s next target of 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot by July 4th, and then followed in turn by the second shot.

Dr. Walensky: (10:22)
What we learned from this report is that we are not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close. All of us are getting fully vaccinated and continuing our prevention efforts can help us turn the corner on the pandemic as early as July, and set us forward on a path toward a more normal lifestyle. I’ll stop here and turn things over to Dr. Fauci

Dr. Fauci: (10:45)
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to do over the next couple of minutes is talk about the relative degree of protection following natural infection versus vaccine, and the combination of the two. Can I have the first slide please?

Dr. Fauci: (11:02)
A couple of statements first to set the stage. We know that reinfections with a homologous strain, namely the same strain as initial infection, remain rare. They occur, but they’re rare. Vaccination in people previously infected significantly boosts the immune response and likely, as I’m going to show you in a moment, providing better protection against certain variants. And then the issue of vaccines actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2, can do better than nature. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (11:36)
This is not a new concept. On the left there is a paper that I actually wrote about, oh, I’d say almost 30 years ago. About 30 years ago, actually it’s exactly 30 years this coming June, when we were looking at HIV. And I raised the question, was natural infection, vaccination or both, what’s optimum? So that’s something that we were at least talking about some time ago. In the middle, the same thing for influenza. We looked at the prospects for a broadly protective influenza vaccine, and looking at immunity that’s natural versus vaccine. Then finally, just a few years ago, we revisited HIV again, namely improving on natural immunity. That’s what I’m going to talk to you about in the next minute or two. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (12:24)
First concept. If you look at this paper from a week or two ago, showed that there were significant differences in the antibody responses elicited by natural infection versus vaccination. In other words, two doses of an MRNA gave antibody titers up to 10 times more than when you recover from a natural infection. So that’s one interesting and important concept. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (12:52)
If you take a look now at what happens, if you have prior infection and then you get vaccinated, and in this study, again, from about a week or so ago, after one dose of the Pfizer MRNA, people who had been previously infected actually showed enhanced both T-cell immunity, as well as neutralizing antibodies, not only against the wild type, but interesting, as I alluded to several sessions ago, you even get some spillover of infection against variants. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (13:28)
If you look at this slide, again, antibody response for people who were previously infected and then boosted with two doses of an MRNA, you had interesting increased protection against the variants of concern. So if you look at the panels on the right hand part of the slide, the four panels are response against four different viruses, some wild type, some variants. If you look at the orange, those are individuals with no history of prior [inaudible 00:13:59] infection who were then vaccinated. Take a look at the blue dots, always significantly higher than the orange dots. Those are people who were previously infected, recovered, and then at some time later got vaccinated. You can see they’re protected not only against the wild type, but against the 351 from South Africa, and the P1. Now remember, these are only laboratory data, have not been proven in the clinic, but they are really very interesting and things that we need to follow up on. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (14:33)
Here’s another example of viral neutralization in individuals who recovered from infection prior to and following a single immunization with Pfizer-BioNTech MRNA. Again, if you look at the left, of individuals before vaccination, you can see that the cross-reactivity against various variants is relatively low, but these people who were recovered from a prior infection, when you vaccinate them, you see a reasonably good response here again against 351, and even SARS-CoV-1 one next slide. Next slide.

Dr. Fauci: (15:15)
And so, to repeat what Andy mentioned to you just a little bit ago, in case you didn’t get a chance to write it down, we need to get vaccinated because vaccines are highly efficacious. They are better than the traditional response you get from natural infection. So making it easy, as Andy said, you can go to or you can text the zip code into this particular app, 438829 in English, or in Spanish 822862. Get vaccinated. Back to you, Andy.

Andy: (15:58)
Thank you. Thank you very much, Tony. Okay, let’s go to questions.

Speaker 1: (16:05)
Thanks Andy. First question, let’s go to Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service.

Jack Jenkins: (16:14)
Hello. Thank you so much for taking my question. My question is just that there was a survey released last month that showed that white Evangelicals, in particular, were a group that was showing a disproportionate amount of vaccine hesitancy as well as potential vaccine refusals. That was in addition to other religious groups. That same survey also showed that white Evangelicals and other groups could potentially be better serve or moved from that vaccine hesitancy as well as that vaccine refusal if they are appealed to by faith leaders or there are faith rooted appeals. With that in mind, is there any … an understanding that this group has said before that the White House is not always the best messenger. Is there any plans specifically to help reach these groups in addition to what has already been done? Is there any concern that they could be an impediment to reaching something appearing or close to herd immunity?

Andy: (17:21)
Yeah. Thank you for the question. It’s a good question. The question I imagine others will have most broadly is I think it’s a little bit dangerous to typecast people who have not yet made the decision to get a vaccine, other than to say some people making this decision required very little information. They knew right away they wanted a vaccine and some people want to take more consideration. They may want to know about the side effect profile. They may want to know how 150 million people have done getting vaccinated. Those were people of all religions. Those are people of all political parties. It is true that people do want to hear from people that they trust and in many …

Andy: (18:03)
It is true that people do want to hear from people that they trust, and in many cases, a faith leader is someone who they trust. We have engaged as early as January with faith leaders, both evangelical, across the map really, and have been very hardened by the very proactive outreach and partnership that we have had and they’ve been involved in many of our calls and many of our conversations.

Andy: (18:26)
It’s really part of our effort, though, to get reliable information, the kind of information that doctors Walensky and Fauci talk about here and that the CDC produces into the hands of people locally so that when someone talks to someone they trust, whether it’s a faith leader, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s a pharmacist or whether it’s somebody else, they can get a straight answer, as opposed to having to rely on social media, where who knows what they’re going to get.

Andy: (18:54)
Next question.

Speaker 2: (18:58)
Brian Karem at The Bulwark.

Brian Karem : (19:02)
Thank you. Thank you very much. My question is for Dr. Fauci, is there any indication that the efficacy of the current viruses … I mean, I’m sorry, the current vaccines are in danger of being compromised by existing variants and what is the scientific data to show that?

Dr. Fauci: (19:26)
Well, there are a number of variants and you’d have to take them one by one. Let me just give you some representative ones to give, I guess, an answer to your broader question. So there’s a variant that we’re all familiar with now. It’s dominant in our own country, originating in the UK, called 117. The vaccines that induce antibodies, the ones we use in this country are really quite effective in protection against that variant.

Dr. Fauci: (19:54)
Take another variant, the one that is dominant in South Africa, the 351 variant. When you do in vitro testing about the vaccines that induce antibodies here in our own country, the MRNAs and others, that you have a rather significant diminution of multiple fold efficacy in the test tube, but it isn’t enough to completely obliterate a certain degree of protection.

Dr. Fauci: (20:25)
When you get the J&J, which is the only one that has the field experience with that, you can see that you may not protect as well against symptomatic infection. The efficacy goes down to about 60 or 50%. However, it protects extremely well against advanced disease in the form of hospitalization and death. And then you have homegrown variants, the ones in California, the 526 in New York. The diminution is modest in the sense of two to threefold in the test tube. That’s something that is telling us that likely the vaccines will protect reasonably well.

Dr. Fauci: (21:06)
The one that people are asking questions about is the 61, it’s not nine, in … 617, excuse me, in India. We are collecting data right now in real time and hopefully within the next several days to a week, we’ll be able to make a determination as to what the effect of antibodies induced by all vaccines are against that particular variant.

Dr. Fauci: (21:29)
So again, a number of variants, different answers to each variant.

Andy: (21:35)
Thank you. Next question.

Speaker 2: (21:38)
Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg.

Josh Wingrove: (21:43)
Thank you very much. Andy, can you talk a little bit more about the steps that the president outlined yesterday. He talked about a more granular approach to get shots into every nook and cranny more or less. Can you give us some specific examples of doing that?

Josh Wingrove: (21:57)
And he also talked about making vaccines available as quickly as possible. If they’re authorized for that 12 to 15 age group, how are you going to do that? Are pediatrician’s offices where you would target that? Is it schools? How is this age group going to be able to access the vaccine? Thank you.

Andy: (22:15)
Thanks, Josh. I’ll start with the 12 to 15 question. We obviously are awaiting the FDA’s decision, and so I don’t want any of my comments to be interpreted any way, assuming or pressuring the FDA at which way they’re going to come out of things. But if it is approved or authorized, as we expect, and we have the ability to move very, very quickly on a number of fronts.

Andy: (22:39)
Number one, using the existing infrastructure for the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine. Number two, using infrastructure that has been deployed historically to pediatrician’s offices to provide childhood vaccinations. Number three, engaging directly with people who are parents will want to talk to to understand these vaccines. So as soon as the FDA, and I should say the CDC Committee provide information, we will be getting that information to people so parents can make quick decisions.

Andy: (23:11)
We know that kids want to go to camp this summer. We know parents want them to be safe. We know that parents prefer to have that done. If they want that done without masks, vaccinations are the best answer. So we are prepared to move as quickly as we can after any kind of authorization.

Andy: (23:26)
In terms of the other initiatives the president spoke about yesterday, he really broke them into a few different categories, but all of them are really thinking of them as leveraging a lot of the investments that we’ve made to date.

Andy: (23:40)
Number one, in making sure that we have vaccines near everybody. So we’ve talked about this with regard to five miles within 90% of Americans, but what about the other 10%, people who live in remote and rural districts? So we are activating the rural health community network and moving vaccines there.

Andy: (24:01)
We are making sure that people who don’t have access to vaccines because they just simply work all day, don’t necessarily get the time off of work, that we’re hoping that they will get, and just maybe don’t have the transportation or the childcare. We’ll be able to have walk-in appointments. So if you walk into a pharmacy, you should be able to increasingly get a vaccine without an appointment.

Andy: (24:26)
Helping people find their vaccine. The slide that Dr. Fauci put up, the 438829, text your zip code, people will be amazed at how close they are to vaccines. And working with employers, over a 1,000 businesses that are giving employees time off.

Andy: (24:44)
So you’ll see, I think, a very long list of things that we’ve been working on, quite frankly, for months. To get prepared for this time, to get prepared to communicate to people, to get prepared to make sure that vaccines find people if people aren’t going out of the way to find them, to make it easy and then to make sure that people’s questions get answered when they’re making decisions about how and whether it get vaccinated.

Andy: (25:07)
Next question.

Speaker 2: (25:11)
Carl O’Donnell, Reuters.

Carl O’Donnell : (25:18)
Hi, thanks for taking my questions. So I want to ask you guys there’s been plenty of reports out now that Pfizer has been distributing shots to other countries from some of its US-based manufacturing facilities. Obviously that’s different than the White House in some cases, such as with AstraZeneca, talking about helping provide some of its own outpatients to countries in need. But it’s still amounts to the US helping other countries access shots to a greater degree than before.

Carl O’Donnell : (25:52)
So I’m curious as to what level of involvement the White House is having in directing those exports? Are they trying to steer them towards countries with the greatest need, for example, the highest case count? Or is this strictly a private decision by Pfizer to other governments that has its own contracts with? Thank you.

Andy: (26:15)
Well, as you may be aware, the prior administration prohibited that type of export. We’ve lifted that. And just to review some of the bidding so far, with our own vaccine supply, we have been supplying the vaccine, we announced to Mexico and to Canada. We also announced that we would be exporting the entire block of AstraZeneca vaccines to countries that have approved AstraZeneca just as soon as we have approval from the Food and rug Administration.

Andy: (26:50)
One of the things that the president announced yesterday is that by the time we get to July 4th, a full 10% of our stock of vaccines that we have acquired will have been distributed to other …

Andy: (27:03)
… of vaccines that we’ve acquired will have been distributed to other countries at a minimum. So that’s very important as part of our commitment. Now Pfizer, as a practical matter, has relationships with other countries and strikes contracts with other countries. And we are pleased that we will be able to be a net exporter of vaccines and still have enough and still have plenty of vaccines to make sure we vaccinate the public. What are the benefits I will say of everybody getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is it will allow us to do a better job leading the way and helping the globe get their vaccines as well. Next question.

Speaker 3: (27:43)
Shannon [inaudible 00:27:44], NBC.

Jack Jenkins: (27:46)
Hi, I wanted to ask about the summer camp guidance. I wondering if Dr. Walensky could respond to some criticism about having kids wear masks outdoors, given that you guys have all talked about the low level of spread outdoor and the low level of transmission among younger children. Dr. Walensky, could you talk at all about the data or the evidence that the CDC use to make that determination that kids need to be wearing masks outdoors? You know, just in all scenarios, regardless of vaccination status, is there any middle ground there where kids wouldn’t have to wear masks outdoors at camp?

Dr. Walensky: (28:24)
Yeah. Thank you for that question. So we have two sets of guidance. We have guidance for masking and if you’re vaccinated or un-vaccinated outdoors, and we also have this camp guidance. Certainly if we have authorization for 12 to 15 year olds and can get vaccinated before going to camp, that’s what I would advocate for, so that they can take their masks off outdoors. We also have guidance, the camp guidance and the outdoor guidance for individuals who are unvaccinated. So those who are 12 and under who are attending camp. And we have some availability of not wearing your mask outdoors in small groups, in groups with other children who are vaccinated.

Dr. Walensky: (29:04)
What we’re really trying to avoid in this camp guidance is what we saw in outbreaks in camps last summer. So if you have five ten-year-old who are on a soccer field, all in front of the same soccer ball, we’re trying to make sure that they’re not a lot of heavy breathing around a singular soccer ball with five kids around it at the same time. But for spread out activities, our outdoor mass guidance for unvaccinated people as small groups allows for those kids to be un-vaccinated. And what we really are trying to do is ensure that all of these kids can have a really good camp experience and keep the camps open without any outbreaks.

Andy: (29:41)
Next question.

Speaker 3: (29:43)
Last question. Let’s go to Zeke Miller at AP.

Zeke Miller: (29:47)
Thank you, Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci. I was hoping you might be able to expand a little bit about what the US will look like, assuming the vaccination rate meets and the case load looks like what the best case scenario that CDC put out in the models this morning. The president hits his goal of 70% vaccinated, 160 million fully vaccinated by July 4th. What at that point should people expect or hope for the country looks like? Will that be the mask wearing, businesses openings, sports games, restaurants. To the extent of can you provide a sort of more of a reason for people to get vaccinated and to follow some of these mitigation measures in this two months stretch right now?

Dr. Walensky: (30:42)
I can start with that. And maybe just say, we’re really looking forward to seeing that time. We’re looking at both the rates of vaccination, as well as the rates of cases come down. And it’ll be the intersection of those two that we’re really looking at. When we see that intersection, high vaccination rates, low case rates, we will look forward to releasing further guidance on releasing some of the restrictions that we currently have in place. One thing I want to just clarify here is while we talk about 70% of this country, these outbreaks are local. They’re happening in communities. And so if we don’t have 70% in any given community, this virus will be an opportunist and we’ll have outbreaks in those singular communities. So not only is it 70% across the nation, but it is 70% of each of these individual communities.

Andy: (31:30)
Dr. Fauci, anything you want to add to that?

Dr. Fauci: (31:33)
Yeah, Andy, certainly, just to underscore what Dr. Walensky said, but also, I mean, to take a typical example, I mean, if you have a community, it’s very important to realize we live in a large country, heterogeneous, and you’re going to have different rates of vaccination, different levels of infection. But if you are in a particular community, a town, a city, or what have you, and you have the 70% vaccination that the president is aiming for with a single dose in adults, and you will see guaranteed the level of infection go very low, you can start looking at things that you were restricted from doing. And gradually, you will see the CDC lifting the restrictions. That would be anything from indoor dining to the workplace, to sports, arenas, to theaters, to things like that. I don’t know exactly which it’s going to be in, which will come first, but the bottom line is you’ll be seeing a clear, noticeable pulling back on some of the public health restrictions.

Andy: (32:34)
Great. Let me close with my thanks, my encouragement for everybody to get vaccinated. And of course, by reminding you once again, that all you have to do is text your zip code to 438829, and you’ll figure out where to get vaccinated. And we will be talking to you again on Friday. Thank you.

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