Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:02 A.M. EST
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, and thanks for joining us. Today, I'll begin with a progress report. Then, I'll turn to the doctors.
We're making important progress in our fight against the virus across three fronts: vaccinations, testing, and ensuring our response is equitable and reaches the hardest-hit communities and those most at risk.
On vaccinations: Our program for kids ages 5 through 11 is hitting full strength this week, with 20,000 trusted and convenient locations coming online.
This includes pediatricians and family doctors' offices, pharmacies, children's hospitals, community health centers, rural health clinics, and school-based clinics.
While our program is just fully up and running this week, by the end of the day today, we estimate that over 900,000 kids ages 5 through 11 will have already gotten their first shot. And through pharmacies alone, 700,000 additional appointments are already on the calendar at local pharmacies.
Parents and families across the country are breathing giant sighs of relief. And we are just getting started. We will continue to work with governors, local leaders, healthcare providers and others to build on this progress.
Minnesota has stood up more than 1,100 locations for parents to get their kids vaccinated, including at the Mall of America, which is the biggest mall in the country and now home to a site that can vaccinate 1,500 kids a day.
Across the country, 114 children's hospitals are now offering vaccinations and engaging their communities, with many hosting family-friendly vaccination events featuring stickers, pets, and stuffed animals.
We're helping states meet parents and kids where they are through FEMA-supported mobile clinics, from Asheville, North Carolina to Florence, Oregon.
And this week alone, New York City has over 1,000 clinics planned at schools, including early-morning-hour clinics before the work- and school-day begin.
Next, in addition to the new program for kids ages 5 through 11, we remain focused on vaccinating unvaccinated individuals. Looking at the last seven days alone, we're averaging about 300,000 first shots per day; that's the highest seven-day total in almost a month.
The simple truth is that vaccination requirements are working. In fact, vaccination requirements have helped reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans ages 12 and older by almost 40 percent -- from about 100 million in late July to under 60 million now.
Vaccination requirements get more people vaccinated, strengthen our economy, and help continue us on our path out of the pandemic.
Next, on booster shots -- which add an important layer of protection: In total, over 25 million Americans have now rolled up their sleeve to get the enhanced protection of a Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J booster. So, our boosters program is running strong.
Stepping back, across the past week, we have administered over 9 million total shots in arms. Nine million shots in arms. That's the highest one-week total since before the summer, five months ago.
It's clear that our efforts to help parents get their kids vaccinated, to vaccinate the unvaccinated, and to get boosters to eligible Americans are driving significant progress in our battle against the pandemic.
Next, on testing: Today, we're taking another step to expand access to rapid diagnostic tests administered at doctors' offices, hospitals, and other healthcare settings.
HHS is investing $650 million from the American Rescue Plan to provide manufacturers of point-of-care diagnostic tests advance purchase commitments so that these manufacturers can scale up their production.
Today's action builds on our $3 billion investment to increase the production of at-home tests -- four new over-the-counter, at-home tests authorized by the FDA since the start of October -- as well as other actions by the FDA and NIH that will increase testing options and decrease prices for consumers.
The bottom line: We've made significant progress on increasing overall testing capacity since late summer, including by quadrupling the available supply of at-home tests to over 200 million per month, starting next month.
Last, on ensuring our response is equitable and reaches the hardest-hit communities and those most at risk: On his first full day in office, the President took historic steps to center our COVID-19 response around equity, and he established the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
The President's leadership and our intentional, constant focus on equity has produced significant results. We've effectively closed gaps in adult vaccination rates by race and ethnicity.
The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed that 73 percent of Black adults, 72 percent of white adults, and 70 percent of Hispanic adults had gotten at least their first shot by mid-October.
We know we have more work to do, but this is progress we can build on.
Earlier this morning, I received the final report from the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which will help us do just that. The report includes recommendations on how we can continue mitigating health inequities caused by COVID-19 and further advance equity in our response.
I want to thank the whole Task Force for their thoughtfulness and expertise in the development of this invaluable report. And I especially want to thank Dr. Nunez-Smith for her outstanding leadership.
With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.
DR. NUNEZ-SMITH: Thank you so much, Jeff. And good morning to everyone, really a pleasure to be with you.
As Jeff just noted, equity has been at the center of President Biden's COVID-19 response from day one. And through our work these past 10 months, we've shown that COVID-19 health equity -- it's not just aspirational, it is achievable.
Today, I did have the privilege to submit the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force final report to Jeff. And the report is a manifestation of a vision that started with President Biden and with Vice President Harris.
By way of origin, you know, during the Vice President's last year in the Senate, she introduced a bill that became the blueprint for this task force. She knew then that the voices of public health experts, practitioners, and community leaders together could be a powerful driver for health equity in this pandemic.
And the President also saw the critical importance of this focus on equity. Just as Jeff mentioned: That very first full day in office, he issued that executive order. It called for a whole-of-government effort to reduce inequities in COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and across our response as a whole.
And it is that vision, it is that leadership at the top that makes it possible for us to say today that this task force has done something that is truly powerful.
The administration fully recognized that the most effective groups are often the first to be forgotten, especially when resources are in short supply. COVID-19 made it clear that in this country, a person's ZIP Code is a stronger driver of their health than their genetic code.
And so we set out to find ways to acknowledge, to address, and overcome those social, those structural drivers and forge a path forward rooted in what is fundamentally fair.
And so, the work of the task force. This group systematically advanced 317 recommendations -- 55 of those are prioritized and highlighted in the body of the final report -- along with five proposed priority actions that will help accelerate that vision for change: investing in community-led solutions to address health equity; enforcing a data ecosystem that promotes equity-driven decision making, increasing accountability for Health Equity outcomes; investing in a representative healthcare workforce and increasing equitable access to quality healthcare for everyone; and recognizing just the need for continued coordination and implementation and leadership of the task force recommendations. The fifth priority action area is that that work continue from an equity infrastructure within the White House.
This is a historic slate of recommendations. And it's remarkable that they were developed really within just eight months since our first meeting.
I'm also extraordinarily pleased to report that the administration has already begun action aligned with an estimated 80 percent of the prioritized recommendation. And much of that action has been achieved through the White House COVID-19 response and agencies across the federal government, underscoring that whole-of-government commitment to equity.
And as Jeff noted, the gaps that once existed in vaccination rates among Black, white, and Latinx adults has closed.
The latest CDC National Immunization Survey -- that was completed at the end of October, that mirrors the data we've seen from the Kaiser Family Foundation, from the Pew Research Center, and also from Gallup. These data collectively tell the story of what is possible when you begin and commit to equity at the center.
This progress -- it was made possible because we called on all of society to join us, and they did. This is a reflection of the work of partners and communities across the country ensuring access; confronting misinformation; prioritizing vaccination uptake; every step of the way, meeting people where they are; leveraging existing resources; utilizing the resources we've provided, from tax credits to grants to the vaccine itself.
And so, to push us further, I'm pleased to announce today that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will invest $785 million in American Rescue Plan funding. Those funds will support community-based organizations that are continuing to build vaccine confidence across communities of color, rural areas, and low-income populations.
Those funds will support Tribal communities leading the way in mitigating the spread of the virus.
It will also protect individuals with disabilities from infection and the ramifications of the pandemic.
It will allow us to continue our mission to build a more diverse and sustainable public health workforce, including by establishing a new, innovative apprenticeship program to train thousands of our COVID-19 community health workers and prepare them for high-skilled, long-term careers in public health.
Today's funding announcements are directly responsive to the task force's recommendations. And they also build on the historic investments we've already awarded for equity-focused programs and initiatives over the past 10 months.
Advancing equity requires full participation by each one of us. And I too want to extend my deep appreciation to the remarkable task force members. That includes the 12 members appointed by the President for the contributions they made to their communities, as well as the 8 federal ex officio members designated to represent their agencies across the federal government.
And it takes an entire team to support a presidential task force, and so thank you to the federal staff team who worked tirelessly to elevate our vision and to the CDC Foundation for its support.
And lastly, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the more than 100 subject-matter experts who joined us, the countless number of stakeholders who provided public comment, attended listening sessions, and briefed us. We could not have walked this journey without you.
Achieving health equity -- it is mission critical for the Biden-Harris administration and not simply because it's the right thing to do. There is absolutely no way forward -- there's no credible path to a new normal without it.
Our nation has begun the hard work to recalibrate. We must stay the course. We must accelerate the health equity journey.
So, as I close, I want to personally thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for the opportunity to lead this historic task force. It has been an honor. It has been a privilege to serve in that role.
And with that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Dr. Nunez-Smith. And good morning, everyone. I want to start with the data and provide you a closer look at the current state of the pandemic.
The current seven-day daily average of cases is hovering at about 73,300 cases per day. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 5,000 per day, also relatively stable from the previous week. And seven-day average daily deaths are about 1,000 per day, which is a decrease of about 11 percent from the previous week.
Last week, following ACIP's unanimous vote, I endorsed their strong recommendation that children 5 to 11 years old should be vaccinated with the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. This committee is comprised of medical and public health experts from across the country, including pediatricians, professors, researchers, and chief medical officers. As experts in their respective fields, they have collectively provided scientific guidance and trusted counsel throughout this pandemic.
The committee members are also parents and grandparents who, after their vote, powerfully shared their personal excitement to vaccinate their own children and grandchildren, offering protection to those they love most.
The voting members of the committee and I agree that the available safety immunogenicity and efficacy data support getting our children vaccinated. This recommendation was further recognized and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.
Over the past week, I've been so encouraged by the stories and precious photos I have received personally and seen in the media of children getting vaccinated. I'm hearing from parents who are breathing a sigh of relief that their younger children, ages five and up, are now able to be protected against COVID-19. And I am seeing the joy in children who are excited to get vaccinated as a critical next step in getting their life back to normal.
Still, I hear questions from some parents: "Is the vaccine safe? What are the risks of COVID-19? Should I vaccinate my own child?" Today, I want to answer some of those questions for you.
On this slide, we have a list of several vaccine-preventable illnesses in children. CDC currently recommends vaccinating children against Hepatitis A, meningococcus, and varicella -- the virus that causes chickenpox. These decisions were made because of the risk of these infections to our children.
In fact, as you can see here, in the years prior to the recommendation for Hepatitis A, meningococcus, and varicella vaccination, the average annual reported deaths from these infections were 3, 8, and 16, respectively. All of those numbers are far lower than 66 -- the number of deaths we have seen from COVID-19 in children 5 to 11 over the past year.
What is clear is that COVID-19 poses a significant risk to our children, with more than 2 million cases reported in children 5 to 11 since the start of the pandemic and 66 deaths over the past year, as well as the risk of additional complications like MIS-C and long COVID.
While children remain more resilient than adults to this virus, they still remain at risk. And with the help of vaccines, we can prevent COVID-19 and many other diseases that were once fatal.
COVID-19 vaccines for children have the potential to protect more than just our children's physical health. We have seen the ways this pandemic has threatened the social and emotional wellbeing of our children. For many children, school has been a safe and enriching environment. For this past year and a half, many children have felt the effects of school closures, outbreaks among students and school staff, and ultimately changes in their normal school environment due to COVID-19.
At the beginning of the school year, I made it clear that it was our goal to return to in-person learning. With our prevention strategies in place and with vaccines now available together, we can help protect our children and keep them in school for in-person learning.
Pediatric vaccination holds the promise of protection for our children, their families, and our communities.
And to the 60 million Americans ages 12 and older who are not yet vaccinated and to the 28 million children 5 to 11 who are now eligible, I strongly encourage you to roll up your sleeves and get vaccinated today.
Thank you. I'll now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I'd like to do for the next couple of minutes -- in the context of a recent announcement from the Pfizer company about an antiviral drug -- is to put this into some perspective and just briefly outline for you where we are in our advances in our strategy in the development of antiviral therapy for COVID-19.
The underlying strategy is to identify vulnerable targets in what we call the "replication cycle" of the virus, and then to either screen but, importantly, to design drugs to inhibit those vulnerable targets.
This is a slide that looks somewhat complicated, but it really simply tells us the big circle is the cell in the body, such as the cell in your upper airway, nasal pharynx, and lung. And at each point, you see the smaller circle is the virus.
There are processes within the replication cycle that are vulnerable to inhibitors, such as those highlighted in yellow -- protease inhibitor, polymerase inhibitor, entry inhibitor.
Let's take a look at one of these -- next slide -- and that is the polymerase inhibitors.
As we all know, just a little while ago -- next slide -- the Merck company, together with Ridgeback, showed clinical data that they announced of a very impressive placebo-controlled trial of around 1,500 people in which the DSMB stopped the study after 775 people because the endpoint of preventing hospitalization or death was met, in which there was a 50 percent decrease in hospitalizations or death in the treatment versus the placebo arm, with eight deaths in the placebo and no deaths in the treatment arm.
Of note, the federal government, particularly the NIH and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, did the basic research funding in academic institutions like the University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to do the research that led to the companies doing an extraordinary job in developing these antiviral therapeutics.
And now, most recently, we hear of the development of a protease inhibitor. Next slide. And that is the Paxlovid, or the protease inhibitor, from Pfizer company. And again, as you know, just a few days ago, the results of a placebo-controlled trial of around 3,000 people were done, and a very, very impressive 89 percent reduction in hospitalizations or death was seen in the treatment arm compared to the placebo arm, with 10 deaths in the placebo arm and no deaths in the treatment arm.
This is an orally administered antiviral, similar to the molnupiravir, which when given within three to five days of the initiation and recognition of symptoms, has this important clinical effect.
Again -- next slide -- the U.S. government did play a role in the development. For example, early consultations with Pfizer referring to researchers providing screening methodology, in vitro testing, and the NIH-led Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Intervention, or ACTIV team, generated the clinical trial protocol.
So, all of this is good news in that we now have one with -- that already has an EUA and one putting in for an EUA to have an orally administered antiviral therapy.
I want to close with the last slide -- next -- which is an important message.
Although antivirals are promising, we must be sure to get our population vaccinated. Antivirals, as good as they are, are not our first line of defense against COVID-19, because we all know it's much, much more important to prevent an infection than it is to treat.
Obviously, if a person gets infected, it is critical to get them good treating.
You saw the data that showed 50 percent to 89 percent diminution in the risk of hospitalization. The way you get a 100 percent decrease in the risk of hospitalization is to not get infected in the first place.
And, finally, get your booster shot when it is your turn.
Back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Dr. Fauci. Let's open it up for a few questions. Kevin?
MODERATOR: Thanks. And we only have time for a few questions today.
First question, let's go to Erika Edwards at NBC.
Q: Hi, yeah, thank you so much. I wanted to go back to the number of kids ages 5 to 11 who've been vaccinated. Where did those numbers come from? What was the source? And is the CDC confirming those numbers?
MR. ZIENTS: Good. Well, thank you for the -- for that question.
As you know -- we've talked it about several times -- the program for kids 5 to 11 is a new program with new sites and specialized doses being shipped out to those sites.
Many of the places that adults go to get vaccinated are not the right places for kids 5 to 11, so we're bringing on the 20,000 sites that we've talked about -- you know, including children's hospitals, pediatricians, family doctors. So many of these are new locations and, therefore, it takes time for them to come on line to begin to give doses to kids and, also, to begin to report.
So, to estimate how many 5- to 11-year-olds have received a first shot, we collected data directly from vaccine partners, including the pharmacies and state and local and health officials. We ran an analysis of those numbers, including numbers that states are beginning to share publicly. So some states do have on their websites the public information. And based on the analysis and based on the gathering of all these data points, we estimate conservatively that at least 900,000 children age 5 to 11 have received at least their first dose.
Our goal, clearly, is to vaccinate as many kids as possible. This is the very beginning of the program. The program is just getting up to full strength, as we've talked about, this week. So, we expect more and more kids to get vaccinated across time, and 900,000 shots in arms by the end of a day is a good start.
Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Let's go to Zeke Miller, AP.
Q: Thanks for doing this. Also, on kid vaccinations, I was hoping you can speak to the expected pace. What is this -- the capacity right now for how many shots you can inject into the arms of those 5- to 11-year-olds? And, you know, do you expect that 900,000-in-a-week pace to accelerate? Or, you know, is that what we should be expecting from here through, you know, until that population of 28 million is vaccinated?
MR. ZIENTS: So, Zeke, I would not think of 900,000 as the pace for a week because it's really just the last couple of days where the doses have arrived and the 20,000 sites have stood up. So, I think it's a pace that is much more than 900,000 on a weekly basis.
Daily, as we talk to states and their teams and talk to the pharmacies, more and more sites are opening -- like the Mall of America site that I mentioned that has the capacity to vaccinate 1,500 kids a day, the mobile clinics that are being deployed across the country.
So, the pace will be increasing across the next several days and across the next couple of weeks. So, I think we have, as we've talked about, plenty of supply for all 28 million kids between the ages of 5 and 11. We have 20,000 sites that are now stood up with more coming on line. So, we expect the pace to continue to accelerate across the coming days and weeks.
Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Cheyenne Haslett, ABC News.
Q: Hey, guys. Thanks for taking my question. States like Colorado have gone ahead and urged everyone over 18 to get boosters as cases spike, but we have repeatedly heard from this team that we're not going to boost our way out of the pandemic. So, I wonder: Will this approach work? Do you encourage other states to do this ahead of the winter?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Walensky?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you so much for that question, Cheyenne. First and foremost, we want to get everybody who's eligible to be vaccinated who has not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated. That, I think, is the most important, in terms of preventing hospitalizations and death and infection in and of itself.
For those who are eligible for a boost now, we would absolutely encourage that they get boosted: those over the age of 65, certainly those with comorbid conditions, and then people who work and live in high-risk settings.
And then I would say to really get our adolescents vaccinated and our younger population -- our newly eligible 5- to 11-year-olds. And I think that that will very much help us in preventing some of these surges that you're hearing about.
And as you likely know, FDA is currently looking at the data for expanding boosters to all populations.
MR. ZIENTS: Just to add a few numbers: As I mentioned earlier, more than 25 million Americans have rolled up their sleeve and gotten a booster. And that's clearly a very strong start to the program.
For the Pfizer-eligible 65 and older -- because, as you know, Pfizer was authorized by the FDA and CDC earlier, several weeks ago -- close to half of those who are eligible 65 years and older have gotten their booster. So that's real progress.
This month, so far, we're averaging close to 800,000 booster shots in arms per day. That's up about 50 percent from October. So, lots of progress.
And as Dr. Walensky said, we encourage everyone who's eligible to get their booster soon.
Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Tom Howell, Washington Examiner [Washington Times].
MR. ZIENTS: Hey, how you doing? Tom Howell, Washington Times. You talked about how hard it is to put a number on the vaccinations needed to reach what we call "herd immunity." Now that number will be determined if and when it happens.
So, I wanted to know if you could clarify the scientific goal behind the workplace mandates that increase uptake of the vaccines. Is the goal to keep more workers healthy and on the job, keep hospitals clear and running, that kind of thing? Or is the goal to decrease transmission in and around the workplace, given that shots do provide some level of protection against infection but that protection took a bit of a hit from the Delta wave? Thanks.
MR. ZIENTS: No, I think it's all of the above, and I'll turn to Dr. Fauci and Walensky for anything they'd like to add.
You know, COVID has had a real impact on the workplace. There's been a significant increase in absenteeism, sick days, people getting infected at work. There are many people who are not in the labor force because of COVID -- childcare needs or health concerns.
So, it's really important that people get -- feel like they have a safe and healthy work environment and people being vaccinated or, along the lines of the OSHA rule, being tested a minimum of once a week is really important for workplace safety, for our economy, and for us beating this pandemic.
Dr. Fauci, Dr. Walensky -- anything to add there?
DR. FAUCI: Yes, as Jeff said, it truly is all of the above. Obviously, we want to keep people out of the hospitals and prevent them from going on to the severe outcome of death. But you're also going to diminish infections in individuals.
Obviously, no vaccine is 100 percent protective against infection, but you do go a long way.
But as we've all said: The biggest disruption of the workplace is when people get COVID. And that's the reason why we want to do everything we can to keep the workplace flow at its normal level by preventing disease. And it's for that reason why it's so important to get the workers, as well as everybody else, vaccinated.
But the bottom line is: It is all of the above that we're trying to do.
MR. ZIENTS: Last question.
MODERATOR: Last question. Let's go to Sheryl Stolberg at New York Times.
Q: Thanks for doing this call. I have a couple of questions. First, the President set out a goal of having 70 percent of adults get at least one shot before July 4th. So, I'm wondering, do you have a specific goal for kids and a timeframe by which you would like to get a certain percentage of the 28 million vaccinated? And also, when will the CDC have actual numbers to report? That's one question.
And then, separately, we haven't heard that much about variants. And I'm just wondering what variants are on the horizon or what concerns you have going into the winter.
MR. ZIENTS: Why don't we start, Dr. Fauci, with the variant question, and then we'll come back to the kids.
DR. FAUCI: Well, Sheryl, right now, the Delta variant still overwhelmingly dominates the isolates in our country with greater than 99 percent of them.
We always keep our eye out for any variant that's out there to determine whether or not it is overtaking in prevalence or not. And when we do get a new variant, we always do studies to see whether or not they evade, or not, monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma or the antibodies that are induced by vaccines.
But right now, our problem is the Delta variant, without a doubt, as well as the fact that we are very alert in looking out for the emergence of other variants.
MR. ZIENTS: On kids, I want to emphasize again that we have plenty of supply for all 28 million kids ages 5 to 11. Now we are with 20,000 sites -- trusted sites -- that parents and kids are used to going to and feel comfortable. There's lots of locations and appointments can be scheduled at many of these locations. Also, locations are open for walkup in many locations.
So, I think it's -- we are set up to vax- -- continue to vaccinate more and more kids ages 5 to 11. We're off to a very strong start with 900,000 kids already having received their first shot, 700,000 appointments already scheduled at local pharmacies alone.
We just want to make sure that we answer any questions and continue to answer questions that parents or kids might have about the vaccines and get as many kids vaccinated as soon as possible at these convenient locations.
Dr. Walensky, on the data question?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, I don't have much to add there. As you noted with new places coming online, there is a bit of a data delay in terms of getting those data to us, and we're working actively with the states to have those come in and with our pharmacy partners and with our pediatric and children's hospital partners.
MR. ZIENTS: I want to thank everybody for today's briefing and look forward to the next one. Thank you.
11:37 A.M. EST
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/COVID-Press-Briefi...
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353311