tv White House COVID-19 Response Team Holds Briefing CSPAN November 30, 2021 12:37pm-1:15pm EST
concern, not a cause for panic. we have the best vaccines in the world, the best scientists and we are learning more every single day and we will fight this variant which -- with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed. not chaos and confusion. from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children. one year ago america was >> and live now to the white house covid-19 response team briefing. we are expecting to hear about the biden administration's approach to the omicron variant. jeff: this new variant is cause for concern but not panic because we now have the tools we
need to confront this variant and continue to make proimpress in the war against the virus. we have vaccines for everyone ages 5 and up. boosters that provide the highest level of protection. significant genomic sequences and testing capacity to detect cases early. and lifesaving therapeutics. so we have more tools than ever before. we are prepared and will continue to be guided by science and stay vigilant to keep people safe. now over to you dr. fauci. dr. fauci: thank you very much, jeff. i want to talk a little bit about the details of this omicron variant. so if i could have the first slide, just to put it in some perspective, this is a list of the variants of concerns we had to deal with, what their designation is, and what the earliest documented samples were. and, of course, today, we'll be
focusing on the latest, namely, the omicron variant we're dealing with. next slide. let's take a look at some of the characteristics and what has emerged over the last several days to weeks. quickly, it was first reported in bostwana on november 11 and south africa on 11/14. the thing that got everyone's attention was the large number of mutations, around 50. much larger than previous variants. and some, according to the molecular configuration, were anticipated to impact transmissibility and antibody binding. there are cases that increased particularly in the gauteng province, but is present in all the south african provinces. confirmed cases as of yesterday was 205 in 18 countries and just this morning, that's gone up to
226 in 20 countries. and i think you're going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly. importantly, it's not yet been detected in the united states. it's been called om conby the w.h.o. and named as fifth of the sars-cov-2 variant of concern. so let's look at the mutations. you heard from many sources but just to underscore, there is a very unusual constellation of changes across the sars-cov-2 genome with greater than 30 of them in the important spike protein which is the business end of the virus, particularly in its receptor binding domain where there are about 10 mutations there. this mutational profile is very different from other variants of interest and concern, and although some mutations are also found in delta, this is not delta. it's something different. and these mutations have been
associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion while other mutations have not yet been characterized as their functional capability. next slide. so let's take a look at what we're looking at and then we'll get back to some of the properties. so the c.d.c. -- and you'll hear from dr. walensky -- is implementing their surveillance program. we have ongoing communitication multiple times and information sharing between our scientists and public health officials and the south african government. and kudos to them for their helpful and transparent information sharing between us. so the in vitro neutralization data with vaccine sera, convalescent mrasa, mono
cloenl -- plasma, monoclonaal anti-bodes and oral anti-viral treatments anticipated in two to four weeks. that's when they get to individual investigators at the c.d.c., the n.i.h. and other countries for them to prepare that to be able to make a determination. pending these data, the effect of this variant on transmission, severity of, and how treatments work remain speculative, regardless of what we're hearing in the press. next slide. so what about these potential properties? let's look at what we know and what we don't know. first, with regard to transmission. when you look at the molecular configuration, it suggests strongly there's increase transmission. compared with the original pandemic virus. but it is difficult to infer what the relationship between
this and delta. although you can suggest it might be more, we do not know until we see the dynamicings on how -- dynamics on how this evolves. what about vaccine effectiveness? there is reductions in neutralizing tighter possible and we say -- titer possible and we say that because it suggests immune evasion. but remember, as with other variants, although partial immune escape may occur, vaccines and particularly boosters give a level of antibody that even with variants like delta, give you a degree of cross-protection, particularly against severe. so there's every reason to believe, as we talk about boosters, when you get a level high enough, that you are going to get at least some degree of cross-protection, particularly against severe. and what about severity? again, these are estimates. and with the small number of cases, it is very difficult to
know whether or not this particular variant is going to result in severe. although some preliminary information from south africa suggests no unusual symptoms associated with variant, we do not know and it is too early to tell. next slide and final slide. how do we address omicron? we said it over and over again and it deserves repeating. if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated. get boosted if you are vaccinated. continue to use the mitigation methods. namely, masks, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, choose outdoors rather than indoors, keep your distance, wash your hands, test and isolate if appropriate. those are the things we have been doing. we need to keep doing them. i'll stop there and over to you, dr. walensky. dr. walensky: thank you, dr. fauci. and good afternoon, everyone. as i said before, this virus is
unpredictable. we must remain ready to be proactive through data, science, and new variants evolve. one thing that has become clear, we can't predict the future but we can be prepared for it and we have been doing exactly that, preparing for this moment. today, i want to walk through with you what we've been doing at c.d.c. to prepare for emerging covid-19 variants and what we're doing currently to address the new threats of the omicron variant. to be crystal clear, we have far more tools to fight the variant today than we had at this time last year. today, we have increased our protection through vaccination for everyone 5 years and up, and we have vaccine booster doses for all adults to optimize that vaccine protection, as dr. fauci just said. compared to earlier this year, when we were sequencing about 8,000 samples per week, we have increased our genomic sequencing
capability and we are now sequences approximately 80,000 samples per week. about one in every seven p.c.r. positive cases. that's more than any other country. and we have increased our nation's testing capacity, including expanding rapid testing for quick detection of cases. we have worked to address spread infection through travel, during travel, through masking, vaccination, and predeparture testing for international passengers. and we are continuously working closely with our public health partners here in america and around the world to understand the evolving science of covid-19 infection. let me express how grateful we are to the south african government and to their expert scientists who have been open in their communication and willing to share their data with c.d.c. and the entire world. their collaboration has allowed us to make imminent-based
decisions quickly and to ensure we can protect as many people as possible from covid-19. we are actively looking for the omicron variant right here in the united states. right now, there is no evidence of omicron in the united states. the delta variant remains the predominant circulating strain representing 99.9% of all sequences sampled. throughout the pandemic, as noted, c.d.c. has continuously monitored variants and vastly expanded genomic sequences over the past nine months. we have received specimens from the 50 states, guam, northern mariana, puerto rico, and the district of columbia. we're sequencing samples from these jurisdictions and from geographically diverse areas around the country, collaborating with state labs, academia and industry partners. and our variant surveillance system has demonstrated we can
read this. from the outset of covid-19 through delta in the past summer. we will make detection and sequencing even faster. as we have done throughout the pandemic, c.d.c. is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible. including predeparture testing, closer to the time of flight, and consideration around additional postarival testing and self-quarantine. c.d.c. is expanding a surveillance system with express check to j.f.k., san francisco, newark. this program allows for increased covid testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with covid-19 on arrival to the united states and enhancing our surveillance for the omicron variant. thanks to our updated travel
policies earlier this month, we are also actively working with the airlines to collect passenger information that can be used by c.d.c. and local public health jurisdictions to enhance contact tracing and postarrival follow-up should a case be identified in the traveler. as we have done throughout the pandemic, we are holding regular, even daily calls with local, county, and state health officials, and our public health partners. these calls include state, county, and city health officials, state epidemiologists, state laboratory directors and state organizations and we are conveying the knowledge we have at c.d.c. to these partners and we're relying on their local expertise to provide information back to us. c.d.c.'s efforts throughout the pandemic to understand and address variants such as delta have provided us a unique experience in planning, preparing, and strategically
responding to new variants as they emerge. we have the tools and surveillance in place to identify the omicron variants. we also have the tools to prevent omicron from increasing the strain on our society and our health care system. evidence has repeatedly shown that prevention strategies work. with over 80% of our nation's counties still in substantial or high transmission, c.d.c. continues to recommend wearing a mask in public, indoor settings in these areas, washing your hands frequently and physical distancing. these methods work to prevent the spread of covid-19 no matter the genetic sequence. and as c.d.c. said yesterday, all individuals 18 and older should get boosted to strengthen that protection. for the 45 million unvaccinated adults, now is the time to get vaccinated. we also know that vaccination helps protect you, your loved one, and your community from covid-19. and we fully anticipate this
protection, at least in part, will be beneficial against omicron. we don't know everything we need to know yet about the omicron variant, but we know that vaccination is a big and effective way to protect yourself from severe illness and complication from all known sars-cov-2 variant to date. thank you. i'll now turn things back over to jeff. jeff: well, thank you, doctors. from the start, this virus has been unpredictable, and that's why we've been preparing for all scenarios, following the science, and acting aggressively to protect the american people. vaccines remain our most important tool in our fight against the virus. as dr. fauci said, while it will take a few weeks to have a definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and our characteristics of the new variant, existing vaccines are likely to continue to provide a degree of protection against severe illness.
today, nearly 60% of all americans are fully vaccinated. we now have a vaccine to protect our kids with hundreds of thousands of children getting vaccinated each day. and importantly, we have boosters available to all adults for free at 80,000 locations across the country. more than 100 million adults are now eligible for a booster shot but have not yet gotten one. we're working with governors, pharmacies, community health centers, and other partners to get these eligible individuals their booster shots. our message is simple. if you are fully vaccinated before june, go get a booster shot today. getting boosted will give you the highest level of protection from covid and this new variant. if you're unvaccinated, or if your children are unvaccinated, the best thing you can do is get
yourself and your kids their shots. it's the right thing to do for your own health and safety and for everyone around you in your community. the significant progress we've made on vaccinations and boosters puts us in a much stronger position to face omicron. we believe the current vaccines provide some protection against this variant and that boosters strengthen that protection significantly. in the event that additional measures are needed, we will be prepared. we're working with pfizer, moderna, and j avsh j -- j avsh j -- j&j to develop modifications to boosters if needed. and we'll make sure that c.d.c. reviews them as fast as possible while maintaining the rigorous protocols. the president has been clear that we will spare no effort to protect people.
we have significant testing capacity to detect cases and based on their preliminary review, the f.d.a. believes the high-volume p.c.r. and widely antigen test will be widely effective in detecting the variant. we also have therapeutics to treat those who do get covid and our medical team is actively evaluating the efficacy of these against the new variant so we are prepared. since the emergence of omicron last week, public health officials and experts across the federal government have been working closely with the world scientific community. we're learning more every day and we'll share that information with the public. and later this week, the president will release a strategy outlining how we plan to fight covid this winter, building on the progress we have made. let me close with this. we are working around the clock
to ensure we're doing everything we can to understand this new variant and protecting the american people and continue our -- on our path out of the pandemic. we need each of you to do your part as well. so if you're one of the 100 million individuals who are eligible for a booster, get your booster. if you have kids, get your kids vaccinated. and if you're still unvaccinated, get your first shot now. with that, let's open it up for questions. kevin. kevin: thanks, jeff. i know there are a ton of questions today. please keep your question to one question. especially first today. cnn. reporter: thanks. two quick ones for you. one, has your definition of fully vaccinated changed? if not, do you expect that it will? and secondly, several of you have said the travel restrictions put in place today is to buy time to study this new
variant and study it. what specifically are you doing with that time that you're buying to make sure you're using it wisely? jeff: so fully vaccinated definition, dr. walensky. dr. walensky: thank you for that yes. the definition of fully vaccinated has not changed. after your second dose of pfizer or moderna vaccine or single dose of johnson & johnson vaccine, we are encouraging those who are eligible for a boost six months after those mrna doses suggest your boost but we are not changing the definition of fully vaccinated right now. thank you. jeff: and dr. fauci, how are you using the time to learn more about the variant and prepare? dr. fauci: thank you, jeff. thank you, caitlyn. well, one of the things you do is you get the virus and you grow it or you put it into a modified form called a pseudovirus. when you do that you can get
convolessent plasma, monoclonal anti-bodies to see if they -- antibodies to see if they neutralize the virus. that will give you a pretty good idea of what the level is. -- level of immune evasion is. as i said in my comments, it can give you a suggestion of immune evasion but that's one of the things you can do is take a look what the antibodies actually do. that process will take likely two weeks or more. perhaps even sooner, depending upon how well the virus grows and the isolets we get. second, you can do what dr. walensky said, surveil and get a feel of what the situation is in the united states. in those countries in which there are a lot of countries like south africa, the computational biologists are getting a good feel as to what the competition of this virus
would be with delta. those are just a few of the things that will take a couple of weeks to a few weeks to learn. and when we do find that, we'll have a much better picture of what the challenge is that's ahead of us. thank you. jeff: the only thing i'd add, caitlyn, it's an important for those that have not gotten a booster, the 100 million americans, to get a booster and for parents to get their kids a first shot or second shot and for those who -- adult who has yet to get vaccinated for them to get their first and second shots. so operationally we want to make sure that people are doing all they can to protect themselves. next question. kevin: going to aaron. -- going to erin. reporter: hi. thank you for taking my question. are americans getting tested? home testing is not getting to the labs.
is it hurting our surveillance? the messaging is confusing that the virus may evade our current vaccines or immunity from previous infections. can you clarify why getting boosted or vaccinated with the vaccines currently available would potentially be protected against omicron? jeff: ok. dr. walensky on the first question about testing and surveillance and then dr. fauci on the protection of the vaccines. dr. walensky: yeah. so we are doing, you know, about a million and a half p.c.r. tests every week. and, of course, those rapid tests are really helpful from a public health standpoint. many of those that test positive are confirmed by p.c.r. so given that we have all that testing going on, those tests now -- the p.c.r.'s, we're doing about one in seven genomic sequences so a broad amount of surveillance that's happening from a genomic sequencing standpoint. and there's really an important role of those rapid antigen
tests so people can screen themselves and protect themselves. jeff: dr. fauci. dr. fauci: that's an excellent question. so let me explain. the vaccines that we use are directed against the original, what we call ancestral strain or the wuhan strain. so you get a certain level of antibodies that are specific against that strain. then, we have the evolution of variants, including, for example, the very problematic delta variant. so if you look at the mutations on the delta variant and you look at its function, you actually diminish somewhat the protection that is induced by the vaccines. however, when you get a high enough level of antibody, and it's not only antibody. it's other elements of the immune response, particularly when you boost it, you get a level so high that even if the mutations of various variants diminish that level of
protection, you are still within the range of some degree of protection. . that's usually most manifested in protection against severe disease that leads to hospitalization. when we say that although these mutations suggest a diminution of protection and a degree of immune evasions, you still from experience that we have with delta commit the reasonable conclusion that you would not eliminate all protection against this particular variant. that's the reason why we don't know what that degree of diminution of protection is going tofnlt we know when you boost somebody we elevate level of protection very high. we are hoping and i think with good reason to feel good that there will be some degree of protection. therefore as we said if you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated. if you are vaccinated, get boosted. jeff: next question.
>> abc news. reporter: thanks for taking my question. dr. walensky, you talked about how much our surveillance program improved. there is still work to be done. is there a reason to be concerned other countries have detected omicron and the u.s. has not. or is it possible it's not here? for jeff, you talked about this a bit. companies said it will take less than 100 days for variant. three months. can you clarify how much longer we should be saying the f.d.a. and c.d.c. process would make that whole process? dr. walensky: we have a really robust surveillance right now. certainly this has been detected in other countries. other countries also have different policies for international travelers. one of the things that's really robust here in the united states is our international travel policy where we have
predeparture testing, both for people who are unvaccinated, but also for people who are vaccinated. i do believe with all of our international travel policies that have helped keep americans safe, as well as our robust surveillance system, genomic surveillance system, we do have detection mechanisms that we need in place in order to find it. should it occur. jeff: on the question about preparing for the possibility, the contingency plan of a potential modification of the vaccine. the vaccine manufacturers are working on possible modifications to the vaccine and have been since late last week. these are if needed basis. our doctors and scientists across the government are already in discussions with the three manufacturers on this scenario. and this includes conversations about the most appropriate regulatory pathway for review and authorizations, discussions about the test that would be
most appropriate to study the vaccine effectively and efficiently. these conversations are happening as we seek. in the spirit of being prepared for any scenario. we will remain in close contact with the drug manufacturers to the days ahead as we learn more about the variant. the companies currently estimate it will take a few months to prototype and manufacture a modified vaccine or booster. that does include, to your question, the time for f.d.a. and c.d.c. to do their evaluation. the estimate of a new months is all inclusive. next question. >> josh wingrove. reporter: thank you, kindly. dr. fauci, can you address the question of severity of disease from the case that is we know -- cases that we know and shouldn't widely said we shouldn't overinterpret what have been seen as mild cases because some of these might be in younger
people or early on in the case as a progression? is that your view as well? what do we know so far. what clues or bread crumbs do we have about how severe these cases we are seeing. dr. fauci: that's a good question. be careful about bread crumbs. it may not tell you what kind of loaf of bread you have. you really don't know. there have been as you mentioned correctly some actic dotal reports out of south africa that the physicians, mostly privacies fans -- physicians, who have been seeing patients are seeing they appear to be less of a severity of illness. you said quite correctly, most are younger individuals. we believe that it is too soon to tell what the level of severity is. dr. walensky and i specifically asked our south african colleagues that on the most recent zoom call that we had. they agreed with us that it's too early to tell. they are hoping that it is going
to across the board give a lower level of severity. they don't know that right now. so they agree with us. we agree with them. it's just too early to make a definitive prediction about what the severity will be. we will know, though, because they are really looking at this very carefully. that gets to the two to four weeks i was talking about on one of the slides. we should have a much better idea within the next few weeks. jeff: next question. >> shannon, nbc. reporter: hi. thanks for taking my question. i wanted to follow up on the timeline question one of my colleagues asked a moment ago. i understand the pharmaceutical companies say it would take several months for them to come up with a new vaccine, if that worst case scenario occurs. under this scenario where people would need to get another
booster, another vaccine, what does the timeline look like for how long it would take to have enough doses to revaccinate the 300 million some americans who are already vaccinated? what's some of your planning for how that would work, how that worst case scenario would work. jeff: the few months estimate i discussed not only includes the prototype, the f.d.a., and c.d.c., authorization and recommendation, but also time to manufacture enough doses for the american public. that's an estimate. we are planning in that scenario not only for supporting the manufacturers through that process, if needed, but also for how would we rapidly get shots in arms. we know how to do that given the insurance we have had over the last year. that is lessons learned about how we deployed the federal
pharmacy program, set of mass vaccination sites, go to community health centers and rural clinics. all that type of planning is part of ours so we could get shots in arms efficiently and effectively. next question. >> we have time for a couple more questions. zeke. reporter: thanks for doing this. jeff, update on the duration of these travel restrictions south africa anti-countries in the region. what metrics are you looking at? the answer to the question before given what we have seen through the vaccination campaign of the last year, that people don't just get -- one, people don't get vaccines unless they are forced to, why isn't the c.d.c. taking a step of changing the definitionation -- definition of fully vaccinated to prevent against delta but
also omicron. jeff: in federals of the -- terms of the travel restrictions we'll learn more as we were discussing about the last half-hour about transmissibility, severity, vaccine effectiveness. we'll learn that across the short period of time. and based on the data and the science the medical team will make a recommendation any changes to international travel policy. dr. walensky. dr. walensky: what i would say, we are continuing to follow the science in this area. certainly our recommendations, our boosters was updated yesterday is related to dr. fauci's comments more mutations you have, the more you would like to bolster your immunity. as that science evolves, we'll look at whether we need to update our definition of fully vaccinated. jeff: last question.
>> to jeff wraison at reuters. mason at reuters. reporter: thank you very much. this question is for jeff and dr. fauci. president biden yesterday referenced the fact that before the u.s. can be fully protected, the rest of the world need to be protected. i am well aware of how many vaccine doses the u.s. is donating. my question for you, jeff, is what more is the united states going to do to get more vaccines to the rest of the world? and for dr. fauci, do you think the u.s. is doing enough? jeff: dr. fauci, do you want to go first? i'll follow. dr. fauci: the question directly to me. the word enough is a very, very unusual word because it really compared to are we doing a lot? uary doing a lot. we are doing more than all the other countries of the world combined. that's really very important. we have promised on giving
1.1-plus billion doses, 275 million have been given to 110 countries. one of the frustrating aspects of this is that the logistic capability of getting vaccines into people's arms in southern african countries and other low and middle income countries is really very difficult. in fact, many of the doses that have been shipped have not been used and other african countries on the african continent have actually told us not to ship any more vaccine because they have not been able to adequately utilize it. again, enough is a tough word r we doing a lot? we are doing an awful lot. back to you. jeff: let me pick up there. we have sent the 275 million doses to the world. as dr. fauci said that's more than all other countries in the world combined. this includes 94 million to africa, as a continent.
and 13 million to southern african countries. i think the shots in arms piece that dr. fauci talked about the last mile, if you will, is really important. and the u.s. state department and usaid are leading the administration's efforts to turn vaccines into vaccinations. they have helped train health workers to administer vaccines around the world. run local media campaigns to answer questions and increase vaccine confidence. launched mobile vaccination clinics, the type we have here in other countries. specifically usaid has supplied nearly $1.6 billion in countries in sub-saharan africa to fight the pandemic. including more than 61 million to south africa alone. this involves field hospitals, training health workers, and supporting national campaigns. national and local exaints to build -- campaigns to build vaccine confidence.
around the world usaid is building data systems to track vaccine deployments. they are providing training to health care workers and setting up vaccination sites. they'll continue this vital work. it is increasingly important as there are greater and greater supply of vaccine around the world. i think just overall stepping back the united states is doing just what the president said we would do, which is leading the effort to vaccinate the--the world. by supplying the 1.2 billion doses to the world with no strange attached. all donated. we'll continue to share more and more doses. we'll continue to help scale manufacturing both here and in other countries. we are going to do all we can to get the world vaccinated because we know we are not safe here until the world is vaccinated. it's the right thing to do. thank you for today's briefing. we look forward to briefing later in the week.
-- [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy visit ncicap.org] >> this morning a three-judge panel before the d.c. appeals heard more in the case with the january 6 committee's request to get president trump's call logs and other records surrounding the capital attack in 2021. watch tonight ghing at 9 p.m. eastern on c-span. online at c-span.org. or watch full coverage on c-span now our new video app. wednesday, the supreme court hears the case on the constitutional it of a mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. live coverage of oral argument at 10a.m. eastern on c-span3, online at c-span.org, or coverage on c-span now our new video app. continues. host: our next guest thomas hoenig has served as the federal reserv