The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
11:12 A.M. EDT
DR. JHA: Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining us. My name is Ashish Jha, and I’m the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
Today I’m joined by Secretary Xavier Becerra, to my right, and Dr. Fauci and Walensky remotely.
In addition to providing our perspective on the state of the pandemic, we are going to focus today on a major milestone — a major milestone we marked heading into the Labor Day weekend. The FDA authorized and the CDC recommended new updated COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans 12 and above. This makes us, the United States, the first nation with new vaccines that match the version of the Omicron variant that is currently dominant — dominant both here in the U.S. and around the world.
For the first time since December of 2020, these vaccines — our vaccines — have caught up with the virus. And as Secretary Becerra and I will discuss, the Biden administration has been preparing for this moment in close partnership with state and local health departments, with pharmacies and community health centers, rural health clinics, physicians and other healthcare providers.
This is a moment when people can keep themselves healthy and safe as they think about the road ahead.
So we have worked extremely hard to make sure we have ample supply of these new updated vaccines available for the American people. And these vaccines will continue to remain free.
Now, we have been working over the weekend to get these vaccines out to tens of thousands of convenient, trusted locations around the country. And before we get into talking more about the vaccines, the vaccination programs, let me first turn to Dr. Tony Fauci — everybody knows Dr. Fauci — to discuss the importance of this milestone.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Jha. I’d like to take the next few minutes to walk through certain aspects of where we are now with COVID-19 vaccinations.
It is becoming increasingly clear that, looking forward with the COVID-19 pandemic, in the absence of a dramatically different variant, we likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population.
However, some — particularly vulnerable groups — may continue to need more frequent vaccination against COVID-19.
Let us review what we know about the safety and efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the benefits we expect from the recently updated vaccines.
First, safety. More than 600 million doses of mRNA vaccines have been administered in the United States alone, with billions more given to people globally. Through robust safety monitoring systems, we now have an extensive body of safety data as good or better than what we have for any prior vaccine. In addition, in clinical trials, more than 1,700 people have received bivalent mRNA vaccines with no additional safety concerns.
Regarding effectiveness, data from the pivotal COVID-19 mRNA vaccine efficacy trials in 2020 showed a remarkable 94 to 95 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease.
We later learned through real-world evidence that vaccine protection, particularly against infection, wanes over time but that additional doses enhance protection particularly against severe disease leading to hospitalization or death.
Now, what should we expect from our recently updated vaccines? Data from Moderna and Pfizer have shown that vaccines containing sequences from both the original SARS-CoV-1 virus and the Omicron BA.1 variant induced higher antibody titers against Omicron than did the original vaccines.
These bivalent vaccines also induced higher antibody titers against all SARS-CoV-2 variants than did the original vaccines. In addition, the bivalent vaccines induced even higher levels of neutralizing antibodies in individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.
And so we fully expect that the updated bivalent vaccines containing BA.4 and BA.5 sequences will offer better protection against currently circulating strains than the original vaccines, although it is difficult to predict at this point how much better that protection will be.
In conclusion, we know that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe. We know that receiving the recommended vaccine dose is critical to maintaining optimal protection against severe COVID-19, particularly for the elderly. And we expect that the updated vaccines will offer better protection against the SARS-CoV-2 subvariants that are currently circulating.
And so my message to you is simple: Get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you are eligible in order to protect yourself, your family, and your community against COVID-19 this fall and winter. I certainly will do so.
Back to you, Dr. Jha.
DR. JHA: Great. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. I want to pick up where Tony left off.
For the last two years, this virus has continued evolving while our vaccines have stayed the same. But now we have a vaccine that matches the dominant strain out there.
By the way, let me be very clear — achieving this was no small feat, but what it means is this: It is reasonable to expect, based on what we know about immunology and science of this virus, that these new vaccines will provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmission, and ongoing and better protection against serious illness.
And, importantly, as Dr. Fauci said, this also marks a significant progress in terms of our ability to protect people and manage the virus moving forward.
So, barring any new variant curveballs — we’ve seen curveballs — but barring those variant curveballs, for a large majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That’s an important milestone.
Now, let me be clear: For our highest-risk individuals — and here, I’m thinking about my elderly parents, for instance, who are in their 80s, or one of my close friends who recently had a liver transplantation — individuals like that may need more than annual protection, and we will ensure in this administration that they get whatever protection they need.
Now, I know over the past 18 months figuring out what you need and when you need it hasn’t always been super simple. That all changes. These new vaccines make it easy for us to think differently.
So here’s the simple version: If you’re 12 and above and previously vaccinated, it’s time to go get an updated COVID-19 shot.
Now, here are a couple of caveats, because there are always a few caveats. If you got a recent infection or were recently vaccinated, it’s reasonable to wait a few months. Now, we expect millions of people to get the shot this month as folks get back to school, get back to work, and get back into their regular routines after the summer.
And as the annual flu vaccination campaign kicks into high gear later this month and into early October, we expect millions will choose to get their COVID-19 shot at the same time, or over the course of the fall when people go in for routine checkups.
The good news is you can get both your flu shot and COVID shot at the same time. It’s actually a good idea.
I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot.
But our goal for this fall is we will make sure — we, the administration, will make sure that vaccines are free, that they’re widely available, and they are easy to access for everybody.
But we’re also focused on taking targeted actions to reach those at the highest risk to ensure we’re meeting those individuals where they are.
We will put special efforts to reach older Americans, those living in congregate care settings like nursing homes, and others who are particularly vulnerable.
The pandemic isn’t over. And we will remain vigilant, and of course, we continue to look for and prepare for unforeseen twists and turns.
But this week marks an important shift in our fight against the virus. It marks our ability to make COVID vaccines a more routine part of our lives as we continue to drive down serious illness and deaths and protect Americans heading into the fall and winter.
So, now, let me turn the floor over to Secretary Becerra to provide an update on the specific efforts.
SECRETARY BECERRA: Dr. Jha, thank you very much.
Right now, we are working hard to ensure that these new, updated vaccines are widely and equitably available to all Americans.
We are engaging trusted partners and messengers to help spread the word. We’re launching a national coordinated effort to collaborate with national, regional, and local community-based organizations to help meet people where they are.
We want to make sure that the work that Dr. Jha, Dr. Walensky, Dr. Fauci — that all of us are doing is clearly having an effect. So we’re going to ramp up to get updated COVID-19 shots nationwide to all Americans.
Immediately after the FDA authorized our team to begin the process of packing and shipping millions of pre-ordered doses of tens of thousands of these locations nationwide, we started to act.
Doses should start arriving — in fact, actually, I think as of this past Friday they started arriving. And by the end of this week, over 90 percent of Americans will live within five miles of these new updated vaccines.
Americans can start to visit Vaccines.gov to find a location near them with new updated vaccines.
CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacy partners began making appointments over the weekend, and we expect appointments to be widely available within the next week or so.
As we work to deliver vaccines equitably, our focus is on reaching the highest-risk Americans, particularly people ages 50 and up.
We’ll be ramping up our education and outreach efforts this month as we head into October, when we expect more people to get their updated shots, potentially together with their flu shot, as Dr. Jha has mentioned.
And heading into Thanksgiving, we’ll emphasize the importance of getting an updated shot.
So, for example, in the coming weeks, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will reach out to the more than 16 million people who will receive Medicare emails to share information on these updated vaccines, including when and how to get them. And we’re engaging trusted partners and messengers to help spread the word.
To date, we’ve closed rates of disparity throughout the country. We have closed a 10-point disparity gap in our nation’s vaccine rate between white Americans and Black and Latino communities.
We’ve engaged well over 1,000 organizations that have reached over 26 million people and held hundreds of community events.
And we launched the COVID-19 Community Corps, a national network of nearly 20,000 community leaders and volunteers who serve as trusted voices.
Finally, we’re launching a national coordinated effort in collaboration with national, regional, and local community-based organizations to help meet people where they are.
So, in September, the local chapters of the national PTA — the Parent Teacher Association — will host “Shots to Go” vaccination clinics throughout the month.
Organizations with strong reach among racial and ethnic minority communities, including the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Montague Cobb, and the National Hispanic Pastors Alliance, will host community health expos and vaccine drives throughout America in various cities.
Faith-based groups, such as the Women’s Missionary Society Foundation, will host a series of vaccine events at AME churches in several states.
And groups with strong reach across rural communities, such as Healthy Trucking of America, will host pop-up clinics.
We have an — have another opportunity to get ahead of this pandemic, and the Biden-Harris administration will continue working with — with you, with all Americans every day to get everyone protected from COVID.
Dr. Jha, I’ll pass it back to you.
DR. JHA: Mr. Secretary, thank you. And thank you for your leadership.
And let me just take one minute to highlight a point that you made, sir, which I think has been not adequately appreciated, which is the administration’s commitment to ensuring that all Americans have equitable access to these vaccines. The fact is that when you look at our booster rates, when you look at vaccination rates, we have closed the gap based on race and ethnicity. And that has been proactive work by this administration and through your leadership.
So I just want to say, Mr. Secretary, thank you for centering equity in this effort.
Let me take a moment to zoom out and provide a bit more perspective on the state of the pandemic.
And I will ask Dr. Walensky for the data around that, but let me underscore a couple of key points. First, we are clearly in a far better place today than where we were when the President — when President Biden took office 19 months ago or over — or even 9 months ago.
This summer, we demonstrated that we know how to manage fluctuations in COVID-19 and move forward safely. We did a briefing here early in the summer about the BA.5 subvariant as it became dominant.
And while it did drive rises in infections, we had far lower rates of hospitalizations and deaths than we did with Delta last summer or Omicron this past winter.
We know that there is a potential for an increase in infections this fall, in part due to waning immunity from vaccines and prior infections, but really because what we know is that as the weather gets colder, people spend more time indoors, and we know respiratory viruses like COVID-19 spread more easily.
The good news here is that we go into this fall with a whole host of capabilities. We have a matched vaccine. We have great treatments that save lives. We have widespread availability of testing. And we have been working diligently with organizations around the country — schools, offices, buildings — to make large improvements in indoor air quality that many, many places have — have invested in.
Obviously, we have much more to do on all of those fronts, but we are clear at a point — we are at a point where in most instances we can prevent serious illness and death, we can keep businesses and schools open and running, and we can get people back to a more normal set of routines.
But as the President has said from day one, everyone has a part to play.
So, today, we’re calling on all Americans: Roll up your sleeve to get your COVID-19 vaccine shot.
If you don’t think you need it because you are healthy, do it for your grandmother, do it for your vulnerable uncle or for your friend.
And to state and local leaders and employers and school leaders: Please help your communities get vaccinated this fall.
Vaccines are not partisan. They are not political. We want everyone in your community, in your business, in your school to stay healthy and safe without disruption.
And to our friends in Congress: You have been such great partners for so much of this pandemic; it is now critical that you step up and provide additional COVID-19 funding so we can stay ahead of this virus and help Americans get back to their lives with less suffering and less disruption.
Because to protect the progress we have made and to keep moving forward safely, we need everyone to step up.
And with that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Dr. Jha. And good morning, everyone. It’s great to be back with you today.
As always, I’d like to start with walking you through the latest data. As Dr. Jha has mentioned, Omicron continues to be the dominant circulating variant with the BA.5 sublineage accounting for over 88 percent of circulating viruses and BA.4 sublineages accounting for over 11 percent of the remaining circulating viruses.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 4,500 per day, a decrease of about 14 percent over the prior week.
Since April, we have seen a greater increase in hospitalization rates in older adults relative to other age groups. For the week of September 3rd, over 63 percent of hospitalizations are in those 60 and older, and about 46 percent of hospitalizations are in those 70 and older.
The seven-day average daily deaths are still too high, about 375 per day — well above the around 200 deaths a day we saw earlier this spring and, in my mind, far too high for a vaccine-preventable disease.
Data have repeatedly demonstrated that being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccination provides protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19, especially for those most at risk, including those over the age of 50 and others at high risk of severe disease.
Additionally, a recent JAMA article also demonstrated that healthcare workers who received one, two, or three doses of vaccine were less likely to have long COVID compared to those who were not vaccinated.
Last week, following FDA’s emergency use authorization, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended Pfizer-BioNTech updated COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 12 and older and Moderna updated COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 18 and older.
CDC and ACIP recommend that everyone, regardless of the number or type of previous COVID-19 doses, receives a COVID-19 bivalent vaccine this fall. You can receive an updated vaccine dose at least two months after your last COVID-19 vaccine dose.
As 99 percent of circulating viruses in the United States are BA.5 or BA.4, updating our COVID-19 vaccines to match the circulating variants helps us to better be protected against these variants and future variants that might be closely related to Omicron.
Getting an updated vaccine this fall will help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination. And laboratory data suggests that the addition of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components may help broaden the spectrum of variants the immune system is ready to respond to.
Finally, modeling projections show that an uptake of updated COVID-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations, 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical cost.
The benefits of being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines are clear. If you are eligible, I strongly encourage you to get your fall COVID-19 shot. And remember, if you’re so inclined, it’s perfectly safe and similarly effective to get your flu shot at the same time.
Thank you. And now I’ll turn it back to you, Dr. Jha.
DR. JHA: Great. Dr. Walensky, thank you. Let’s go ahead and open it up for questions.
MR. MUNOZ: Thank you. First, let’s go to Adrianna Rodriguez at USA Today.
Q Hi, thank you so much for taking my question. Now that there’s, you know, so many di- — an array of vaccine bottle caps, labels, and doses, on expiration dates and dilution requirements with, you know, the new vaccines, plus the old vaccines that we’ve been having, there’s some concern that this has probably led to some errors and is likely to lead to more with the new vaccines. Is there anything that federal officials or agencies can do to reduce the confusion and ensure that everyone gets the proper dose?
DR. JHA: Yeah, I’m — I’m happy to start. I don’t know if — Dr. Walensky, I know this was some conversation on this — about this at ACIP as well.
Look, FDA — let’s just take a step back here. FDA, when it comes to regulatory agencies, is the gold standard in the world. And ensuring safety of products is its number-one goal.
So FDA scientists are — I know have been engaged on this topic very closely, continue to make sure that people get proper — pharmacists get proper education — not just pharmacists; obviously, other people who administer the vaccines as well — and continue to work with companies to identify and create strategies to make sure that the bottle caps and the bottles are all such that people can get the right vaccination.
We have not seen any evidence of wide-scale mistakes or people getting the wrong vaccine. I am confident that the system is continuing to work effectively, but I know the FDA continues to monitor this very closely.
I don’t know if anybody else — Dr. Walensky or Secretary Becerra or if anybody else wants to add to this.
I wish we had Dr. Califf or someone else from FDA here. But I do know we’ve spoken about this. This is ongoing work the FDA is very engaged and aware of.
DR. WALENSKY: And maybe I’ll just add, Dr. Jha, that this is a concern that has been raised. And one of the things that we’re actively working to do is taking close pictures of those bottle caps, doing all of that education that is needed, minimizing the amount of product that is on the shelf to minimize confusion, but recognizing that we are doing an extraordinary amount of education for those who are administering the vaccine for exactly that reason.
DR. JHA: Great. Kevin?
MR. MUNOZ: Let’s go to Alex Tin at CBS.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. Following up on Dr. Fauci’s opening remarks, can you address why the primary series wasn’t updated as well, as well as shots for younger kids? When do you expect that to happen?
And then, separately, can you address what you’re hearing from the early jurisdictions and pharmacies that are now rolling out the shots, in terms of demand? Thanks so much.
DR. JHA: I’m happy to start. Dr. Fauci, I don’t know if you want to talk at all. Why don’t you — yeah, let me just start off very quickly saying: We know FDA is working on both updating the primary series and making booster shots for kids under 12 — the bivalent. But that work is ongoing.
Obviously, in every one of these decisions, FDA looks at the totality of the evidence, and the FDA scientists make an independent decision. What I’m aware of is that they’re looking at the evidence, they’re making assessments. I expect that there may be updates on the booster for kids under 12 at some point down the — later in the fall. But I don’t have any specific timeline or specific thing to offer.
Dr. Fauci, any — anything else you want to add to that?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. You know, Alex, I think what people need to appreciate: Although it’s very important that we are now matching the new updated vaccine with the circulating, that the original ancestral strain vaccine created a very broad degree of coverage that did very well against many of the variants, as you know, from the D614G to the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and even Omicron.
So we don’t want to deprive the population of getting that broad coverage at the same time as we give them the added benefit of a variant-specific that’s circulating.
So I think it’s a very positive thing that when you get people to get their primary vaccination, you give them the benefit of that initial broad coverage. So there’s a good reason to do that.
DR. JHA: That’s a great point, Tony. Thank you.
MR. MUNOZ: Let’s go to Betsy Klein at CNN.
Q Thanks, guys. Dr. Jha, as you mentioned, we learned last week that the administration is re-upping its request to Congress for COVID response funding down just a hair from that $22.5 billion request earlier this year to $22.4 billion. Just wondering if there have been any meetings or communication over the recess that would indicate there’s any new appetite for this in Congress.
DR. JHA: Yeah. What I can say — and, again, Mr. Secretary, you may have more to add on this — is that we are obviously in constant dialogue with our colleagues on the Hill — both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.
And so they’re — I think they know that this request was coming. The request has critical pieces of our response. Look, we are in a much better place because we’ve been able to respond effectively. Congress is aware that if we do not continue to fund the response, we can easily go backwards. That’s what we are committed to making sure doesn’t happen. So, yeah, those conversations have been ongoing.
Mr. Secretary, I don’t know if you want to add anything to that.
SECRETARY BECERRA: I will simply add that Congress has been a very responsible partner in this whole effort. The fact that we are today able to give Americans access to a vaccine that now can go after this latest variant is a sign of what happens when you have a partner that gives you the resources you need.
We obviously need more resources. We want to continue work with a good partner in Congress to make that happen. And we want to make sure that we could tell the American people we’re looking around the corner to what comes next. And with the help of Congress and the resources that they’ve provided in the past, and hopefully will continue, we’ll be able to tell Americans, “We’re going to keep you safe. We’re going to stay ahead of this.”
DR. JHA: Kevin.
MR. MUNOZ: Let’s go to Alex Nazaryan at Yahoo.
Q Thanks. Thanks, everyone. Just a question broadly about how we avoid playing catch-up to new variants or subvariants of the vaccine. Because unlike the flu, we’re probably not going to have the kind of indication we get from the southern hemisphere of the variants, or at least not a very — or at least not an indication with any kind of useful lag to develop those vaccines.
So are we just hoping that the new subvariants continue to have spike protein mutations that allow this new bivalent vaccine to work against them? Or is there going to be some — I mean, can we expect some curveballs just because of what this virus tends to do?
DR. JHA: That’s a great question. Let me start, but I would love Tony’s thoughts on this as well.
So, we — you know, the line that we use is “hope is not a strategy.” So we’re not planning or hoping on any one specific outcome. Obviously, we all hope that the viral evolution slows down. But here’s the way I’ve been thinking about this — I think we’ve been thinking about it inside the administration:
First of all, right now we have a vaccine that exactly matches the variant that’s out there. We may see more evolution of this virus. To the extent that that evolution comes off of BA.5, this updated vaccine will continue to provide a very high degree of protection.
One of the things that we’ve been thinking about — and you’ve heard me talk about it, we held a summit here at the White House on this — is that we need to get to a point where we have variant-proof vaccines, we have mucosal vaccines. We need to play the long game against this virus.
That is going to require additional resources from Congress. So part of what’s in the request to Congress is funding for that next generation of vaccines that’s so critical if we’re going to be able to ultimately get this virus behind us.
So I remain confident that the bivalent vaccine we have right now will provide a high degree of protection with, you know, some durability. But in the long run, we’re going to need a different game in terms of much more durable vaccines.
DR. FAUCI: Well, just to underscore what Dr. Jha said about the long game: We totally agree; we want to get a pan-coronavirus type of a vaccine with either a different platform or a better immunogen to do that, hopefully even with mucosally administrated. But that’s the long game. I believe, Alex, you’re asking the short game question, like in the next year or so.
Now, one of the defining aspects of what we’ve all said is: Barring the out-of-left-field curveball, I mean, there’s nothing we can do about that, except know that we have vaccine platforms that will allow us to quickly move to address that.
But let’s say we don’t get a real big difference over the next year. You would expect that BA.5, if it stays with us, in the sense of being the dominant one for a considerable period of time, or if there is a minor drift from it, the BA.5 updated vaccine that we’re talking about very likely would hold a substantial degree of protection against a minor sublineage change from BA.5.
So that’s what we’re talking about. If we can do that, at the end of each year, for most of the population — and again, to underscore what we said, for those who have underlying conditions, immunocompromised, we may need to do it more. But for the bulk of the population, we can look at it on a yearly basis and see, are we still close to what we’re doing now where we match pretty closely? If so, good. If not, then you’d want to make the modification.
DR. JHA: Great. Kevin.
MR. MUNOZ: All right. Let’s do a few more questions. Let’s go to Zeke Miller at the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, all, for doing this. I just wanted to follow up on the projections Dr. Walensky was referring to earlier about the modeling showing a decline in cases and deaths this winter if there’s significant uptake of these updated boosters.
Can you elaborate on sort of how — what level of population coverage you need to get in order to achieve those — those unnece- — the sort of production in unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses?
And then, sort of, what is the general outlook that you’re looking at for — now that we have these boosters — for the fall? What is the range of disruption, serious illness, and death that Americans should be preparing for over the coming — coming seasons?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you for that question. This was a — not a CDC-based modeling study; it was a modeling study done by others. But it was critically important, and it does demonstrate if we can get uptakes similar to a flu vaccine uptake — similar to what we get every single year from a flu vaccine — we could avert over 100,000 hospitalizations.
In terms of projections, we, of course, know where we are with around, you know, 4,500 hospitalizations right now. And many of these projections anticipate what we might see, as Dr. Jha indicated, with respiratory viruses in leading to more cases and potentially more hospitalizations. But those projections very much depend on everyone going out — going out and doing exactly what we’re recommending, which is getting your updated COVID-19 vaccine now, which can avert all of the challenges that we, you know, otherwise might anticipate.
DR. JHA: And let me — let me just add one more thing to this because I think it’s really important and builds on Rochelle’s points.
If we think back to where we were two years ago, compared to where we are today, we have a virus out there that’s still circulating, still killing hundreds of Americans every day. We now have all of the capability to prevent, I believe, essentially all of those deaths. If people stay up to date on their vaccines, if people get treated if they have a breakthrough infection, we can make deaths from this virus vanishingly rare.
And as I think about the fall and winter ahead — you know, many people are predicting that flu is going to be back after two years of being largely away because of all the mitigation — we are looking at an opportunity to prevent lots of people getting infected, lots of people getting sick, stressing our healthcare system at a point where healthcare workers are exhausted.
If people go out and get their annual COVID shot, that is the opportunity in front of us.
And I think we all as Americans have to pull together to try to protect Americans this fall and winter and do what we can to get our healthcare system through what might be a difficult fall and winter ahead.
MR. MUNOZ: Let’s go to Lauren Gardner at Politico.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. This was addressed a little bit a couple questions ago, but I kind of want to get a finer point on it. You know, versions of Omicron have been dominant now for nine months or so, give or take, in the U.S. So can you explain maybe in more detail for Americans — you know, given the length of time we’ve had with this lineage of the virus — how does that make you confident enough to say that you think we’re heading towards that annual booster cadence for your average healthy American, given that, you know, you also just acknowledged that we never know what kind of curveball we’re going to get with this virus and what it can develop into at any given time?
DR. JHA: Yeah, let me — let me start, and then I’d love it if, Tony, you could sort of chime in and fill in the critical details here.
We have watched Omicron over the last nine months. We’ve watched it evolve. It has taught us a lot about this virus and how it is evolving right now.
What we have also seen is — again, taking those high-risk individuals off the table for a second — if you’re an average-risk person and if you have stayed up to date on your vaccine, your risk of getting into serious trouble against this virus is really pretty low, if you’ve stayed up on your — again, if you stayed updated on the vaccine. I think that gives us a lot of confidence.
Now, on the issue of the curveball, you know, variant, I always remind people: We have an annual flu vaccine that holds us in good stead when people get it. We know that there could be some curveball pandemic flu that shows up in February. We always know that that is a possibility. It is a possibility we’re going to get some crazy curveball, but it is not that — I think what — you know, we plan for what we think is the median, the most likely scenario. But we’re always watching for that unusual event, and if that happens, we will address it and we will adjust to it and we’ll account for it.
But I think the most likely scenario is we’re going to see ongoing evolution off of BA.5. And we believe that these vaccines should continue to provide a high degree of protection.
But, Tony, do you want to either expand, change, edit any of that?
DR. FAUCI: No editing or changing but just — Ashish — but maybe to expand a little.
Lauren, it relates to a little bit what I said before and what Dr. Jha has just mentioned: If you look at the original introduction of Omicron in November of last year, we’re almost a year now — almost a year of Omicron sublineages. And the boosts that we’ve had — the first and second boost — have done pretty well in reconstituting the waning immunity even against the evolution of the different sublineages of Omicron.
So, again, you’ve got to put the wildcard of a way-out, out-of-left field variant coming in. If that happens, all bets are off, and we change.
But if we continue to have an evolution of what we used to call and still do call an “influenza adrift” — not a major change, but just sort of drifting along to BA.5 sublineage — I believe that that would fit in well with what we’re talking about the likelihood that we’ll get into a cadence that on a yearly basis for most people we’ll be able to cover what is out there as the dominant variant.
DR. WALENSKY: And if I might just add: You know, one of the very for this bivalent vaccine is not just because it keeps the great protection of the original strain and because it improves the protection against the BA.5 variant, as laboratory data suggests, but also that it — the laboratory data suggests it will improve protection against other variants as well. So it gives us that breadth of protection that we might anticipate should another variant come through.
DR. JHA: Great, thank you, Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci.
Okay. Kevin, back to you.
MR. MUNOZ: Last question. Let’s go to Cheyenne Haslett at ABC News.
Q Thank you. I wanted to go back to the funding quickly. Collectively, you’ve all warned again and again that we wouldn’t have enough bivalent boosters for everyone because Congress didn’t allocate more COVID funding during the last request. But they now do seem to be widely available to everyone who’s eligible.
So can you explain if the calculus has changed there, or if people should still be concerned that there are not enough for everybody?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so let me start off. And I suspect, Mr. Secretary, you may have some thoughts on this as well.
I had warned that we did not have funding for enough vaccines. We found ourselves in a — what I would say is an impossible situation of looking at the fall and winter and asking, even though Congress has failed to act, can we really go into the fall and winter without having vaccines for Americans, watching Europeans watching others have access to these bivalent vaccines? And we thought that was unacceptable.
And so we have gone and pulled resources out of critical public health efforts. We had planned on having an adequate stockpile of PPE, of personal protective equipment, should there be another surge. We will not have that stockpile.
We had to shut down COVIDTests.gov, a wildly popular program, where two thirds of American households had ordered tests — shut it down because we do not have enough tests in our stockpile. We do not have the ability to continue.
We will not have enough tests in our Strategic National Stockpile should we see another Omicron-like event. We had promised the American people we would make sure that we did not get into that. But with — but we needed Congress to step up; Congress has not stepped up.
So we are constantly making what I think are impossibly difficult decisions. But our commitment is to absolutely make sure that vaccines and treatments are widely available, easily accessible, and free. And that’s where we are. And that is a set of decisions we’ve made.
We’re — we think this is the right set of decisions, but it certainly has not been easy ones.
SECRETARY BECERRA: Dr. Jha, I’ll just add that the actions we execute today are meant for tomorrow, so the announcement of today was really executed far earlier. And so we’re constantly trying to stay ahead of this. And we forecast based on the resources we have and what we see coming at us from Omicron itself. And so we are trying to constantly stay ahead of this. We’re trying to be able to look around the corner. It gets tougher and tougher as you get fewer and fewer resources and have fewer and fewer resources in your pocket.
But what we’re announcing today didn’t get executed today. It got executed far — far in advance. And what we’re suggesting now is that to be able to continue that, we need the resources that we’ve requested from Congress.
And so, while we may have the vaccines today for folks, for this fall vaccine effort, we don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know what the next generation of vaccine will look like if we don’t have the resources to continue that research going.
And so, it’s all a matter of preparing. And what we don’t want to do is act today — execute today for today. That would put us way behind. We’re going to keep our weight on our front foot as much as we can so we can be ready to see around the corner.
DR. JHA: And let me just add one last thing on this point. You know, one of the things that we learned — we’ve learned throughout the pandemic — we certainly learned this during the Omicron wave of last winter — is that it is always more expensive to be responding than it is to be prepared.
And one of the things that we have wanted to do — we thought it was responsible and important — was to build up that stockpile so that if we do get a surge, that we can get these tests out.
Let me be clear: If we get another surge, Congress likely at that point will step up. It will cost the American taxpayer twice as much and will be less effective. One of the reasons to be prepared and to be on the front footing, as the Secretary said, and to be looking around the corner is it’s much more effective and it’s much more cost efficient. And that’s one of the reasons we’re back at Congress this fall saying, “You’ve got to continue supporting this. You’ve got to allow us to continue preparing for what’s next for the American people.” Thank you.
MR. MUNOZ: That was the last question.
DR. JHA: Okay. Great. Well, I want to just finish off by saying thank you — thank you to my colleagues on the screen. Tony Fauci — Dr. Fauci, thank you for joining us. And, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director, thank you. Mr. Secretary, always a pleasure to share the stage, and thank you for your leadership in this.
I want to remind us it has been two years — more than two years. We’re heading into the third fall winter since this pandemic began. We are in a totally different place because of the leadership of this administration, of the President, and because of what we know — now have in front of us: We have a vaccine that matches the variant that’s out there.
It’s critical that Americans protect themselves, protect their families, protect their loved ones. And if people step up and do what is necessary, we can get through this fall and winter with far less suffering, far less death, far less disruption. And that should absolutely be our priority and goal; it is in this administration. And I hope everybody joins us in that effort.
Thank you all for joining us today.
11:56 A.M. EDT
We’ll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.
Opt in to send and receive text messages from President Biden.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500