tv HHS Assistant Secretary Levine Discusses COVID Vaccinations CSPAN July 31, 2021 4:31pm-5:01pm EDT
contact information for members of congress and the biden administration. go to c-span shop.org. >> health and human services assistant secretary dr. rachel davino talked about covid-19 vaccination efforts at an event hosted by the washington post. this is about 30 minutes. >> good morning, i am a. senior writer at the washington post. today. we will talk about the troubling rise in cases from the delta variant and vaccination challenges with dr. rachel,, assistant secretary for health at the department of health and human services. dr. levine, of warm welcome to washington post life. -- live. asst. sec. levine: thank you, pleasure to be here. karine: wonderful to have you here when we need to understand so much more. there was a change in guidance this week from cdc resulting
from new science about the delta virus including maxing -- masking for people who are vaccinated. what is the plan behind that change? asst. sec. levine: we know and have been discussing for months that the delta variant is different. the delta variant has been shown to be more transmissible. it is at least twice as contagious as previous forms of covid-19 we have seen at approximately two months ago, the delta variant was 1% or 2% of the percent of covid-19 cases we were sitting in the united states. now it is more than 80% of the cases we are seeing. so, because of this more contagious variant, cdc has changed its guidance, in terms of masking. it is recommending if you live in an area with moderate to high
spread, community spread of covid-19, that when you're in public, you wear a mask. frances: so that is the broad picture but scientists this week were wanting to see the data and so are the public. i believe that we may see more of the data later today. why change the guidance without giving scientists a really good sense of what is behind it? asst. sec. levine: the cdc will be releasing more data today and its weekly mmwr, weekly more about -- weekly mortality and morbidity report. frances: also returning in some parts of the country, do we need to be masking up? at our mask mandates the way to go? -- and are mast mandates the way to go? asst. sec. levine: mast mandates would not be done federally. there are some local or state health to parts it may choose to do that. we do recommend if you are in areas with moderate to high
community spread covid-19, you are a mask when you're in public. if you're in other areas of the country, other communities that do not have that, it would be more of a personal choice whether you want to take that extra level of safety and wear a mask. frances: we understand, historically, state and local government, and for a long time in pennsylvania on the state level, have taken the lead in these issues or can -- or can see the need to have differing mandates or recommendations in different parts of the country. but should there be greater federal oversight at this point on these issues that are causing so much frustration with people perceiving a change back and forth about masks? asst. sec. levine: the change, in terms of our recommendations, is because there has been a change in what we are seeing in the country. so we have to adapt our
recommendations, according to the data on the ground and what we are seeing. and we are seeing the spread of this more transmissible delta variant. as you said, i was previously the state health official in pennsylvania. what we really need is very close collaboration and coordination between federal public health officials, state public health officials, and local public health officials. that collaboration is how will be most successful. frances: thank you. i have a viewer question. do you advise masks in crowded outdoor events, touch as concerts and airshows -- such as concerts and airshows? asst. sec. levine: the covid-19 virus and even the delta variant is less likely to be transmitted outdoors.
it is much more likely to be transmitted indoors. if you were in a very tightly packed outdoor setting, it would be reasonable to wear a mask. and it is really personal choice about the level of protection you would like. frances: so, i would like to ask about, president biden announced federal employee should be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. his weekly testing sufficient to slow this particularly now that we have the delta variant? asst. sec. levine: as you said, yesterday, president biden issued a directive, in terms of federal government employees. so federal government employees be asked to assess -- attest to their vaccination status. if someone does not attest they have been vaccinated, or if they have not been vaccinated, they will be required to mask, no matter where they are located. the recommendation is to test once or twice per week, and to
socially distance, and generally not be allowed to travel for work so we are taking these measures to protect the federal workforce. frances: another puzzling aspect of this may vary is the sudden drop in cases is via handwritten -- in both india and britain. how do you explain that and you expect strange behavior from this virus that may not be related to human behavior or how we are responding? asst. sec. levine: we will have to get more data about what is happening in those other countries. so we will continue to collect data from throughout the united states. and we did get reports and data of other countries particularly , from great britain. has that data is analyzed, we will use it to inform our decision. frances: you're working in
pennsylvania but you're also a pediatrician by training. i think some of the questions now are about vaccinations for children. when do you expect to see vaccines become available for the under 12? asst. sec. levine: thank you. i want to emphasize, first, about the importance of our vaccination efforts. our vaccinations against covid-19 are safe and effective. they are more important than ever to protect us from the spread of the delta variant. you know the pfizer vaccine is , authorized right now for use in adolescence 12-17, in addition to adults 18 and older. there are studies going on right now in younger children, 5-12. and there are clinical trials being done from six months to five years of age. pfizer is ahead of the curve in terms of, they are working to
complete those studies. the moderna vaccine is sort of on its heels. we hope to have the completed clinical trials by the end of the year. we'll be looking at the science. it's hard to put a date on when scientific studies will be completed. we are hoping to have data by the end of the year for those younger folks. frances: that's encouraging, though it seems a long time away as well. are you hearing of any evidence of negative side effects for these younger groups? asst. sec. levine: no. again those clinical trials are , proceeding as we speak. but we would not expect to see a , different safety profile than what we saw in teens for example. dashboard teens, 12-17. but we'll await for the results of the clinical trial. frances: until we get this younger group vaccinated, we all interact with younger children, will we be able to reach herd
immunity? and is that goal even relevant now that we are talking about this highly transmittable virus? asst. sec. levine: herd immunity is when there are enough people in the population that have immunity to the virus so it does not spread. that immunity could be from our safe and effective vaccines. it could be from people who had the virus and developed their own immunity. of course, the level of protection that you need depends upon how contagious the virus is. so the amount of the population , that would need to be immune would be higher, given the higher transmissibility of the delta variant. it is more contagious so you need a higher population.
we don't know that number so we'll observe the data. the key point, however, is that it really depends upon our safe and effective vaccine. so we need people take that step and roll up their sleeve and get vaccinated and complete the series of the vaccinations. of course the pfizer and moderna , vaccine do remember two doses. people need to do that to protect themselves. but also to protect their children. as we have been discussing, we do not have a vaccine for children under 12. so to protect their children, families, and communities we need people to step up, roll up their leaves and get their vaccinations. frances: i'd love for you to talk as a pediatrician. parents are worried about their you know thatparents are worried about their children. own children. -- their own children. how do you address those concerns? the parents looking to sending their kids back to school this coming fall? asst. sec. levine: sure. we really do want children to be back in the classroom this fall. we feel it is very important in terms of their education, but also the physical and mental health of children to be back in
school. sical and mental health of children to be back in school. the ease of getting children safely back to school is our vaccination program. the more teens that are vaccinated that are 12 through 17, the more that their parents are vaccinated, the more their community is vaccinated, the safer it will be for those children as they enter school. but we do want children in k through 12 classes, as well as the teachers and staff, to wear masks given the transmissibility of this delta variant. frances: this was a change because at one point c.d.c. said they shouldn't have to wear masks. now that's changed, too. do you think that's going to be a consistent message now going ahead knowing what you do about the delta variant? secretary levine: we'll always have to change our messaging and
guidance depending upon what we anticipate with this delta variant that that message will be consistent for the foreseeable future. frances: "the washington post" published numbers showing a triple, i think, in the number of cases in the last month. a tripling of the number of infections. what does that suggest to you about what the fall will look like? secretary levine: it will depend on the success of our vaccination program. we are seeing an increase in the number of people who are rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated. as we have talked about this delta variant is extremely dangerous. it is significantly more contagious, more transmissible than the previous forms of the virus. and there is evidence that it
asst. sec. levine: whenever the virus has significant immunity spread in transmission, there are lots of cases, then you can see the development, the variant that has to do with how the virus evolves. so the way to actually decrease the amount of variants that we would see would be to increase our vaccination program in the united states and increase the vaccination programs across the world. i think it should inform people about the importance of getting vaccinated now. we have a tremendous safety record with these vaccines.
almost 350 million doses of the vaccines have been given in the united states. and countless millions more across the country. they have a remarkable safety profile. we know that they are effective against the delta variant in terms of people getting very sick, in terms of being hospitalized, etc. so, now is the time for people to get vaccinated. that's the best way to protect against the development of these variants. frances: are vaccines really the only way we'll stop this thing from spreading? asst. sec. levine: there are three tools in our public health toolbox. since the beginning of the pandemic, i have been saying this in pennsylvania and now nationally. the first is containment. containment means significant rates of testing. and then notification of those
that are positive. and then, contact tracing, finding out who they are contacts are, and isolation and quarantine for those who are positive. that's the way to contain the virus. the second tool in our toolbox is mitigation. mitigation includes, for example, the masking recommendations that we just came out with. previous recommendation that is limited the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings, etc. mitigation is very challenging for people, but it can be very effective. and the third are medicines. one is the most important is our safe and effective vaccinations. the other i'd like to emphasize are actually medicines such as monoclonal antibodies for the virus itself. we have safe and effective monoclonal antibodies that can be given to people who have the virus. it needs to be given early. especially for those who might be more susceptible to getting very, very ill from the virus. seniors are those who are immunosuppressed, those who have
other medical conditions. for example, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, etc. so those are the three tools. , containment, mitigation, and medical countermeasures so to speak. so those are the tools that we have to battle covid-19. frances: i'm glad you raised the medical community. i have a question about the use of medicine and the role of physicians in getting people vaccinated which i think is growing. is there more the medical community with its authority should be doing to move us ahead and to counteract this enormous spread? asst. sec. levine: there are several different ways that we partner with the medical community. we have regular communications with the medical community, as well as our state, local, and other public health officials throughout the country. one is that, our medical community are on the frontlines. they are nurses and doctors and other medical providers that are seeing patients in doctor's
offices and clinics and doing testing as well as seeing , patients that are very ill and in the hospital. they are medical heroes. i think it's also really important for the medical community to be talking about the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines, and to be giving vaccinations. we are working with more and more members of the medical community to be giving vaccinations, doctor's offices, clinics, hospital clinics, pharmacies. our pharmacists have been giving millions and millions of doses of vaccinations. the other point i would like to emphasize is that other people on the frontline who deserve our respect and support are our public health officials. they are on the front line, too. local public health officials, state public health officials, the epidemiologists, the public health workers that are working tirelessly at all levels to protect our health. they deserve our thanks, our respect as well.
frances: the biden administration put enormous emphasis on getting people vaccinated. it was clear early on there would be early adopters and then a slowing of this of the uptake. could you talk about innovative measures the biden administration is looking at or have adopted to reach the people who are sometimes hesitant and i think sometimes hostile to the vaccine? asst. sec. levine: i think it is important to recognize that we have seen progress over the last six or more months under president biden's leadership. there have been administered totally almost 350 million vaccinations. 160 million americans are fully vaccinated. including 80% of seniors, and approximately 69% of adults. but this delta variant is different.
and it requires us to be innovative. one thing we are doing is the president has recommended calling on state and local governments to use funding that they have received, including funding from the american rescue plan, to offer $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated. a financial incentive. soa financial incentive. , other states have lotteries, etc. i think that those are very innovative. they are not sufficient, but they are innovative approaches. we are working across the nation to make sure that there are tens of thousands of vaccination sites throughout the united states. 90% of people have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live. we are looking for people to get vaccinated at pharmacies, to get vaccinated at clinics, at doctor's offices, at hospitals. and we are asking schools now, to work with their local and state health departments to have
school pop up vaccination clinics, at least one but many school pop-up vaccination clinics. so we want local and state health officials, as well as pharmacy program partners to work with school districts to host these clinics. so, we are working in different ways to try to make it more accessible for people to get their safe and effective vaccines. frances: you mentioned how public health officials are on the front line perhaps as never , before. there has been a legislative backlash across the country in many states against the perceived overreach of governors and public health officials. how do you address that? again, you saw this at a state level, are you working at a federal level. are we making ourself more vulnerable with the potential surge this fall, and even to the next pandemic whatever that may be in the future by rolling back on some of this legislation? asst. sec. levine: i think it has been very challenging really throughout the course of
, the covid-19 pandemic, that often this has been politicized. i think the politization of this public health crisis has made our public health response more challenging. this is not a political issue. this is not an issue of freedom of expression or freedom of speech. this is a public health issue. so we all have a collective responsibility to ourselves, to our families, to our communities, and to our nation to work with medical and public , health officials throughout the country to stem the spread of this dangerous virus and now this even more covid-19 delta -- even more dangerous covid-19 delta variant. so any type of political actions , which limit the ability of public health to do its job are counterproductive. frances: coercion and incentives all can have a backlash and the republican governor of south carolina recently said
that pressuring people seemed like bad policy. does he have a point? asst. sec. levine: we want to offer whatever incentives we can. the most important thing is to provide accurate information about covid-19, about the delta variant, about its significant risks to our communities, the risks to our children, especially as they enter school, and we hope that providing that accurate information, that is actually the best way to convince people to get our safe and effective vaccines. we have to counter andwe have to counter disinformation. disinformation in social media, for example. and our wonderful surgeon general has had a campaign over the last two weeks emphasizing how important it is for us to counter that misinformation and for us to transmit accurate information that can lead to the best outcome.
frances: let me read you a tweet from texas congressman crenshaw. he said, addressing the president, how about you don't knock on my door? he's talking about vaccinations. are you not my parent, you are the government. how can you counter that sense that the government is intervening in parts of people's lives that they feel are private? asst. sec. levine: so, we are not actually knocking on doors. it was -- the statement was to describe that we want to engage people throughout the nation in terms of the accurate information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. so, that is what we are going to try to do. we are going to talk with local, state, federal public health officials. we want to work with community members. that is the purpose of the community corps. the covid-19 community corps.
so, local respected community members can speak to their communities about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines so people make the right decision to get vaccinations. again for themselves but also for their children, their families, and their communities. frances: doctor levine, during this covid-19 epidemic we have seen a drop in life expectancy, rises in anxiety and depression, and also in drug overdoses. how can you address those factors which are clearly to do with covid but also beyond them, are we neglecting other problems as we focus on covid? asst. sec. levine: it is critically important to know that actually local, state, and federal public health officials are really -- our offices are dealing with the entire spectrum of public health issues we
have always dealt with. in terms of mental health and substance use disorders, that's a very, very important point. cdc data indicates that in 2020 we had the highest rate ever of deaths from drug overdoses. 93,000 deaths in drug overdoses. i think that is related to the significant mental health issues that have been triggered by covid-19 and the pandemic. so, we are going to address that head-on, at the department of health and human services with secretary becerra's leadership. he has reinitiated our behavioral health coordinating council. i'm very pleased to co-chair that with the assistant secretary for samhsa. we have communities that will be looking at substance use and overdoses. we'll have committees look at how to expand treatment, for example, the integration of physical and
mental health in health clinics and doctor's offices and hospitals. the importance of telemedicine now in terms of behavioral health and substance use treatment. we are going to be looking at all of those different factors to be able to address the significant mental health issues that we are seeing now and we are likely to see in the future. frances: and how about the rise in homicides across the country? asst. sec. levine: we are seeing a rise in homicides. the president has spoken out about that in terms of firearms and firearm safety. so, i'll leave that to the president. he has spoken out about the importance of -- and the significance of -- firearms from a public health perspective. frances: doctor, before we finish i would like to ask you about your own personal story. you are the first openly transgender person to hold such high office in this country. you have been in this job for four months. how has it been? asst. sec. levine: it is going very well, thank you. as you can see, i am in my office in washington. we certainly have been very
busy. i'm focusing, of course, covid-19, and all of the issues that we have been discussing. i am also focusing on the mental health and substance use issues that we have been talking about. as i mentioned, i am co-chair of the behavioral health coordinating council. that's been a long-standing focus of my career. health equity in general is a crosscutting issue we'll be focused on. i'm a member of the covid-19 equity task force, we are meeting today, this afternoon. but health equity prospects -- affects everything we are doing. we are going to form a new office and this office is going to be focusing on climate change and health equity. and environmental -- for example, the issues of heat, of the severe heat we are seeing in the united states.
of course impacts some communities more than others. it is a significant health equity issue. we'll be forming a new office to focus on that. frances: assistant secretary levine, i am so pleased you were able to join me today. thank you so much. asst. sec. levine: thank you so much. it was a pleasure to be here. frances: i think we all learned a lesson. i love ending on that note about health equity. that's all we have time for. if you want to hear about future programming, please go to washingtonpostlive.com, where you'll see an exciting lineup of upcoming programs. thanks you for joining us today. i am frances sellers. [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] >> today on the communicators, the future of the tech agenda. >> priorities dominating congress now, you see the pandemic to cover early in the air and infrastructure now. there are a lot of big tech topics that in the last year or so have attracted interest that are just not front and center and that includes the section
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