Washington D.C. July 22 11:09 A.M. EDT
Good morning, and thanks for joining us.
Today, Dr. Walensky will provide an update on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci will present on the effectiveness of the vaccines and cases among the vaccinated, and I will discuss our work to get more people vaccinated and help states curb the spread of the virus. And Dr. Murthy will talk about the on-the-ground work we're supporting in communities to get more people vaccinated. And then we'll open it up for questions.
Over to Dr. Walensky.
Good morning. Thank you. And let's begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported 46,318 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is at about 37,700 cases per day, and this represents an increase of 53 percent from the prior seven-day average. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 35,000 per day — an increase of about 32 percent from the previous seven-day period. And the seven-day average of daily deaths has also increased to 237 per day — and increase of about 19 percent from the previous seven-day period.
Today, I want to speak about our need to come together against a common enemy — SARS-CoV-2 and the Delta variant. The Delta variant is spreading with incredible efficiency and now represents more than 83 percent of the virus circulating in the United States. Compared to the virus we had circulating initially in the United States at the start of the pandemic, the Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.
We recognize that some of you are still thinking about whether you will get vaccinated. Maybe you're seeing your local officials stepping forward publicly to get vaccinated, or maybe you're watching on local news that your community hospitals are getting full. Or scarier still, maybe COVID-19 sickness has tragically hit you or your community closer to home.
If you are still on the fence, if you still have questions about the vaccines, we welcome them. My request to you is this: Ask your questions. Talk to your healthcare provider. Talk to your pharmacist. Talk to your friends and neighbors who have gotten vaccinated and get your questions answered so that you feel comfortable and informed in making this critical decision. And, please, continue to do the things that we know work to protect you and your family until you are fully vaccinated.
If you are not vaccinated, please take the Delta variant seriously. This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect.
Please consider getting vaccinated and take precautions until you do. And if you've already had COVID infection, CDC guidance strongly recommends that you get vaccinated. It gives you longer-lasting and more robust protection with the breadth and depth of coverage needed to conquer the variants currently circulating in this country.
To those of you who've already gotten vaccinated: I know you're watching the rise in cases and have questions about what it means for you. I know you're probably worried about two things: whether you will still get COVID despite being vaccinated and which activities are safe.
Let's start with the first concern. Being fully vaccinated gives you a high degree of protection against infection and an even a higher degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. That is what these vaccines were designed for and what the clinical trials studied, and the vaccines generally do their job quite well.
These vaccines are some of the most effective that we have in modern medicine. And the good news is that, current scientific evidence shows that our current vaccines are working as they did in clinical trials, even against the Delta variant.
Importantly, our data showed that infections are much less common in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated, and most illness in vaccinated individuals is asymptomatic or mild. The most important public health step is to increase the vaccination coverage in all communities in the U.S. and globally.
There are places in this country where cases are high and cases caused by the Delta variant are also really high, and many of these areas have low vaccine coverage. In areas with high vaccine coverage and low rates of disease transmission, the chances of you coming in close contact with someone who is infectious is relatively low.
In contrast, in areas with low vaccine coverage and high transmission, there is a much higher chance of you coming in close contact with one or many persons who are infectious and that, in those cases, the greatest risk is for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Whether you are vaccinated or not, please know we, together, are not out of the woods yet and you will want to make thoughtful decisions to protect your health and the health of your family and your community. We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas. We need to come together as one nation, unified in our resolve to protect the health of ourselves, our children, our community, our country, and our future with the tools we have available.
With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Fauci. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I'd like to address for the next few minutes is the phenomenon that many have been speaking about lately, and that is the occurrence of infection after full vaccination.
So, let's just give a bit of a background on the first slide. What do we mean by that? That is the detection of SARS-CoV-2 equal to or 14 days after completion after all recommended doses of what would be an FDA EUA-authorized vaccines.
It's important to remember, as I'll get to in a moment, that infections after vaccination are expected. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. However, even if a vaccine does not completely protect against infection, it usually, if it's successful, protects against serious disease. And that's what I'd like to spend a moment on.
If I could have the next slide.
This is a slide that I put together several years ago in trying to describe the situation with vaccines against the standard childhood and adult diseases, as well as the difficulty we were having with developing vaccines against HIV.
And when you think about vaccines being successful or unsuccessful — i.e. a failure — you really have to look at it in multiple subsets. For example, one element of a successful vaccine — in one in which there's no illness, but there's no replication of the virus, no dissemination of the virus, and clearance of the virus. That is something that is an unusual feat for a vaccine to give truly what we call "sterilizing immunity."
Then, there's is also, within the framework of a successful vaccine, one in which there's no clinical illness, but there is replication of the virus. It doesn't disseminate throughout the body. It stays at the level of entry — be that the upper airway, the GI tract, or what have you.
Another element of a successful vaccine is one in which there might be mild illness that really does not interfere with the function of a person; that has replication; mild — very mild dissemination, but ultimately the virus is cleared.
You have a failure of a vaccine when, actually, you get frank disease. In other words, you haven't prevented the disease caused by the virus or the pathogen in question. In this place, you get substantial replication; you get substantial dissemination; and unless you have a lethal virus that kills the patient, ultimately the virus is cleared from the body.
So what we're talking about when we talk about infection after vaccination, which is clearly being discussed now in the context of the Delta variant — by no means does that mean that you're dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine. The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness. So let's just look at that very briefly.
These are the data that I've shown you multiple times about the efficacy of the Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna: 95 and 94 percent respectively. Note: It is not 100 percent effective.
The same holds true for the J&J, which, in the United States, is 72 percent effective against clinically recognizable disease — not 100 percent effective.
And so, if you go to the last slide, what we're really dealing with is effectiveness against serious disease leading to hospitalization and, in some cases, death.
And since the Delta variant is, as Dr. Walensky said, now 83 percent in this country, it's the one we're dealing with. So even though we are seeing infections after vaccination — referred commonly to as "breakthrough infections" — the effectiveness against severe disease is still substantial, which is, yet again, another argument which all of us say continually, "Get vaccinated. It offers good protection against disease."
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