Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday he welcomes the positive news about an additional COVID-19 vaccine announced in the past 24 hours, calling the results “really encouraging.” And he added that the Biden administration hoped to be able to start vaccinating children by late spring or summer.
At a briefing with other federal health officials, Fauci said while the overall efficacy of the vaccine made by Janssen, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson, is lower (72%) than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the findings that it prevented all hospitalizations for serious disease make it a valuable tool in fighting the pandemic.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an adviser to President Biden on COVID-19, spoke at the second of what the White House says will be briefings three times a week. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that the CDC continues to recommend that K-12 schools “be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”
Walensky said that accumulating data suggest “school settings do not result in rapid spread of COVID-19 when mitigation measures are followed.” These include “masking, decreasing density and proper ventilation,” she said, noting that many communities currently lack sufficient resources to make this happen.
Both Fauci and Walensky expressed concern about the spread of coronavirus variants in the U.S., with the latest example being a mutation first seen in South Africa that has now been reported in two people in South Carolina.
Fauci said this finding makes the case even stronger for as many people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of this and other variants from other countries – as well as new variants arising in the U.S., which he said are occurring in high-prevalence areas such as Los Angeles and the state of California.
Fauci said he was optimistic that scientists could counter these variants with new vaccine formulations, as is done with the flu vaccine each year.
“We will have to be nimble to adjust and make vaccine against whatever mutant is prevalent at the present time,” he told reporters.
Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 response team, said that the rise of the variants further pointed to the need for masking and social distancing.
“Let’s not be quite such polite hosts to this virus; let’s turn the tide and do like other countries who do everything possible to shut out the growth of this virus and make sure it is not welcome,” Slavitt said.
In the past week, Walensky said, an average of 1.2 million shots per day were given out. Also, all packages of the Pfizer vaccine now getting shipped out contain low dead-volume syringes to maximize the number of doses that can be obtained from each vial, Slavitt said. Each vial now officially contains six doses, he said.
Fauci said that studies are underway on vaccines in children, and said the administration hoped to be able to start vaccinating children by late spring or summer. Biden has said he wants to reopen most schools in his first 100 days in office — or late April.
Slavitt also said the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday released a new rule that allows recently retired nurses and doctors to give out the vaccine, and that vaccinators can now work across state lines. He encouraged people to sign up as volunteer vaccinators if they’re qualified.
Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued stronger COVID-19 safety measures for workers this week, Slavitt said.
NPR’s Joe Neel contributed to this report.