Via Teleconference Washington D.C. February 8 11:01 A.M. EST
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT:
Good morning, and welcome to the COVID Response update. Thank you for joining us. I'm Andy Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor for the COVID Response Team. Now, we've been battling this pandemic for the better part of a year. More than 450,000 Americans' lives have been taken, we've been separated from our friends and family, thousands of schools and businesses have been sitting empty, and Americans have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are doing everything in their power to put the country and the world back on the right course. Millions of you are wearing masks, and the evidence Dr. Walensky has discussed here demonstrates that in communities where that happens, lives are being saved. That needs to continue and improve in the face of the threats we confront.
We know that millions of Americans are also waiting patiently to be vaccinated. Today, I want to begin the briefing by updating you on what is happening while you're waiting. In the weeks and even months that you are waiting, the nation's efforts are being spent focused on many who are most at risk of hospitalization and death from this virus: the elderly, seniors, frontline health care workers, and many essential workers.
According to a recent CDC report, the Long-Term Care Program has administered now over 4.8 million doses to more than 3.7 million of our most vulnerable. Those who were dying in large numbers over the last year are now on a path to protection. And in skilled nursing facilities that have had at least one vaccination clinic, an estimated median of almost 80 percent of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
As vaccinations at these facilities are completed, that will mean many more lives saved, many more vaccines that can be moved into the inventory for the next priority groups. And in total, of the over 40 million doses that have been administered, over 17 million doses have been administered to people 65 or older.
Now, this is a great representation of the American spirit of generosity and American selflessness because our ability to vaccinate millions of the elderly, seniors, and healthcare workers is a testament to a society that has put our parents and grandparents, those who have served us, and those who continue to sacrifice for us on the frontlines of the healthcare system first.
Now, at the same time, we need to step up efforts to increase vaccinations of racial and ethnic communities that have suffered disproportionately. Health equity is a cornerstone of all of our work, and we'll be talking more about progress there in upcoming briefings.
Even with that perspective in progress, we understand that the process moves more slowly than anyone would like. But each day, we are putting forth efforts to increase vaccine supply, including by use of the Defense Production Act; to create more places to get vaccinated, including new large community vaccination centers and retail pharmacies; and mobilize more vaccinators by allowing retired physicians and nurses and deploying the military.
This is a national emergency and the approach we are taking reflects this. We are putting every resource and tool that the federal government has into this battle, and we're taking a whole-of-government — indeed, a whole-of-country approach. As soon as the Congress puts the American Rescue Plan on the President's desk, we will be able to further increase this effort.
We understand this is a long journey, but thanks to the sacrifice of so many of you and the step-by-step plan we are executing, for many of our most vulnerable Americans, the risk of death is being reduced. And we are committed to leaving no stone unturned.
With that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Walensky for a state-of-the-pandemic update and Dr. Fauci for the latest in science before we answer your questions.
Thank you so much, Andy. I'm so glad to be back and joining you today. Today, I'm going to give you a brief update on the pandemic. As I mentioned on Friday, despite trends moving in the right direction, we remain in a very serious situation. COVID-19 continues to affect too many people, as we continue to mourn all of those lives that have been lost.
Cases have continued to decline over the last four weeks. An average of 119,900 new cases were reported between January 31st and February 6th. That's a drop of nearly 20 percent from the prior week, but still dramatically higher than the last summer's peak. We must continue to drive these cases down.
New COVID-19 hospital admissions also continued to decline. An average of 9,977 admissions per day were reported between January 30th and February 5th, a decline of nearly 17 percent from the week prior.
This is promising, but hospitalizations also remain incredibly high. Over 83,000 Americans are hospitalized right now with COVID-19 — much higher than the summer and fall.
Today, we are reporting that COVID-19 deaths increased 2.4 percent to an average of 3,221 deaths per day from January 31st to February 6th. As I mentioned on Friday, sometimes delays in reporting can lead to fluctuations in the data. This is the case for the average number of deaths reported today, which includes a delayed report of 1,570 confirmed deaths from one state. These deaths were reported last week, but actually had occurred over the prior several months. We may continue to see the variation in daily deaths for different reasons, including reporting delays.
We are continuing to watch these data closely. And although hospital admissions and cases consistently — are consistently dropping, I'm asking everyone to please keep your guard up. The continued proliferation of variants remains of great concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent positive trends we are seeing.
As of February 7th, 699 variant cases have been confirmed across 34 states, with 690 of these cases being the B117 variant, the variant first reported in the UK.
Please continue to wear a mask and stay six feet apart from people you don't live with. Avoid travels, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces. And get vaccinated when it's available to you.
I recognize that the pandemic has taken an enormous toll on all of us. But if we all work together and take these prevention steps, we can finally turn the tide. Thank you. I look forward to your questions, and I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I'd like to address, briefly, two issues that have come up for discussion over the last several days, and one is the question of: Given the fact that there is a greater demand than there is supply, should we be putting all of our effort into getting the first dose into people, with less emphasis on the second dose?
Now, the reason for that — I have explained in the past — because the science has shown in both of the vaccines that we have currently available, the Moderna and the Pfizer — the strong data indicates that a prime boost gives a maximum response of 94 to 95 percent efficacy. But the question has arisen, "Why not study in detail whether or not you can get away with a single dose?"
It is not an unreasonable thing to suggest a study. The only issue is that the practicality of that really makes that a situation that I don't think is able to be done for the following reason: If you look at the number of people that would be required in a study to answer that question — again, one versus two — with the currently available vaccines, the time it took to get information on the phase three and the number of people — that that study, with all due respect, would take several months to get a meaningful answer. At that time, the amount of vaccine that would be available would almost be making that question somewhat of a moot point.
So then let's ask ourselves — the question is: What do we do know about one dose versus two dose? And the data, I think, are important to present. We know from the original studies that, following a single dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer, you had a response that gave you a neutralizing antibody above the threshold of protection. So it did give some degree of protection. And the question was: It was protection, clearly, against the wild type. However, the boost, either 21 or 28 days later, was tenfold higher. So it went, for example, from 1 to 100 to well over 1 to 1,000 in the titer.
The reason that's important: not only because of the height of the response and the potency of the response, but as you get to that level of antibody, you get a greater breadth of response. And by "breadth of response," we mean it covers not only the wild type and currently circulating virus, but also the variants that we see circulating, particularly the 117 and the 351. So it's not just a matter of potency; it's a matter of the breadth of what you can cover.
The other theoretical issue that could be problematic with regard to only a single dose: that if you get a suboptimum response, the way viruses respond to pressure, you could actually be inadvertently selecting for more mutants by a suboptimum response. So, for that reason, we have continued to go by the fact that we feel the optimum approach would be to continue with getting as many people on their first dose as possible, but also making sure that people, on time, get their second dose.
And finally, one thing I want to emphasize: As we know, and we've heard, and it's true, that the projection is that the 117 lineage would likely become dominant in the United States by the end of March. Please remember that the efficacy of the currently utilized vaccines — the two mRNA — are a quite effective against the 117 lineage. So, underscoring what Dr. Walensky just said, the two things that we can do is, A, make sure we adhere to the public health measures that Dr. Walensky just mentioned, and, B, get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can. That's the best defense against the evolution of variants.
I'll stop there, and back to you, Andy.
Read the full trancsript HERE
You can visit a collection of all White House posts by clicking here.