Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said on Sunday that the Biden administration will eventually “allow” people who have been vaccinated “more and more privileges to take off that mask.”
Zients, who made the remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper, was confronted by Tapper over numerous issues related to wearing masks, including the message that President Joe Biden sends to people when he wears a mask in a room full of vaccinated people.
“I think one of the reasons why journalists are annoyingly harping on this, and some health experts are, is because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and President Biden being able to take off his mask in a room full of journalists and White House staffers, all of whom are fully vaccinated, is a demonstration that the vaccines work,” Tapper said. You and I are both vaccinated, and you and I are in a room together talking, and I have no fear that I’m going to get the virus from you, and I assume vice versa, and I think the concern is that, by being overly cautious, the signal is going out to the public that there isn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Zients responded by saying that everyone is tired of wearing a mask because they are “a pain” and added that the Biden administration would eventually give people some of their “privileges” back if they get vaccinated.
“And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter. Let’s keep up our guard. Let’s follow the CDC guidance,” Zients said. “And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.”
W.H Covid Coordinator Jeffrey Zients: “CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask” pic.twitter.com/gtGBLc3zx6
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) May 9, 2021
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CNN:
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Joining me now, the White House COVID response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients. Jeffrey, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.
JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Well, thank you, Jake.
Can I start just by wishing all the moms out there happy Mother’s Day?
TAPPER: Of course. Happy Mother’s Day.
ZIENTS: Well, but I also want to plead with all moms to ask for one present from their loved ones, which is that they get vaccinated.
If a mom’s not vaccinated, give yourself a present and get vaccinated. And happy Mom’s Day to my mom and to my lovely wife.
TAPPER: Both of whom are vaccinated, I assume.
ZIENTS: A hundred percent.
TAPPER: So, six weeks ago, Dr. Fauci said that we were at the corner in the pandemic. Since then, the U.S. has vaccinated more than 60 million people. Daily cases fell almost 40 percent in the last month.
Has the United States turned the corner?
ZIENTS: I would say we are turning the corner.
We now have, as of this morning, 58 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot, over 110 million Americans fully vaccinated. The president has set a goal of 70 percent of Americans being vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4. We’re at 58 percent today. So, we have got a path ahead of us, which will involve getting people even easier access to the vaccine, people — making sure that people build their confidence, those who have questions about the vaccine, that we answer their questions, and making sure that we do what we have done from the beginning, which is do this in a fair and equitable way.
TAPPER: So, let’s talk about the fact that the pace of vaccinations is slowing down. Some of that is because of access, as you [note], but some of it is because of vaccine skepticism. It’s now at 2.1 million doses a day, down almost 40 percent from its peak last month.
Who are the key groups of Americans you’re focusing on targeting right now? Young Americans, Republicans, rural Americans? And how are you targeting them?
ZIENTS: Well, it’s sort of all of the above, Jake.
I mean, what’s happened is, we have gotten to 58 percent faster than we expected. So, we’re entering a new phase, where access is really important and building confidence is really important. So, that’s what we’re focused on. And I’d say it’s all of the above.
We want everyone to get vaccinated. We have enough supply for all adult Americans to get vaccinated. We just want to make it easier and easier for people to get vaccinated. And for those who do have questions about efficacy or about safety, the three vaccines, the three authorized vaccines, are all very safe and very effective.
So, we want people to be able to turn to their — to their trusted leader in their neighborhood, their doctor, their faith leader, to get information about the vaccines to build vaccine confidence, so all Americans get vaccinated.
TAPPER: In retrospect, was it a mistake to put a hold on the J&J vaccine, in terms of confidence? Did that make your task harder?
ZIENTS: No, not at all. I mean, the FDA is the gold standard in the world. And the FDA is constantly monitoring for safety. And doing the pause was the right thing. That builds confidence, that people know that the FDA and the CDC are monitoring.
TAPPER: Not necessarily. I mean, it should build confidence.
ZIENTS: It actually shows — the research showed, after the pause, that confidence overall in the vaccines increased after the pause.
TAPPER: With the pace of vaccinations slowing, and so many Americans still hesitant, is it possible that the United States will never achieve herd immunity?
ZIENTS: Look, we don’t know exactly what herd immunity is. And that’s not an area that I know much about. I look to Dr. Fauci and the other medical experts.
What the experts do say is reaching 70 percent will continue to — a pattern of decreasing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and take us down to a sustainable low level. If we look to Israel, where they have achieved that level of vaccination, their deaths, hospitalizations are much, much lower than they were. And they’re at a very low, sustainable level.
TAPPER: How concerned are you that the U.S. could face another surge of the virus in the fall because of unvaccinated Americans going back indoors or because of these variants?
ZIENTS: Look, what we’re focused on right now is getting people vaccinated, with the 70 percent goal the president has set for July 4.
We will continue to get people vaccinated after July 4. What all the doctors, all the experts say is, when people get vaccinated, we get safer and safer and closer and closer to a more normal lifestyle.
TAPPER: Take a listen to what President Biden had to say about wearing a mask indoors. This is just on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why do you choose to wear a mask so often when you’re vaccinated and you’re around other people who are vaccinated?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I’m worried about you. No, that’s a joke. It’s a joke.
Why am — why am I wearing the mask? Because, when we’re inside, it’s still good policy to wear the mask.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Is it really necessary for a fully vaccinated person to wear a mask at a limited indoor gathering, if everyone there is vaccinated?
ZIENTS: Well, the CDC has given guidance that, when you’re with family and friends that are vaccinated in small groups, you don’t need a mask.
TAPPER: So, why does President Biden, in a room full of vaccinated journalists, with everybody in that room vaccinated, why does he need to wear a mask?
ZIENTS: The president is going to continue to follow the CDC guidance.
We — it’s just a matter of a few weeks ago when all states made vaccines eligible for all Americans. So, there still are Americans who want to get vaccinated, who may just have their first shot and are waiting for their second shot, or who haven’t had an opportunity yet to get their first shot.
And we want those folks to get vaccinated. And the July 4 deadline is a really good — or goal — is a really good goal that the president has set of 70 percent of all Americans with at least their first shot by July 4.
TAPPER: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that the CDC could consider lifting indoor mask mandates right now. And, in fact, he is suggesting that that will be a sign of confidence to show that everything is science-based and that there is an end of the tunnel. There’s…
ZIENTS: We’re going to look to the CDC.
The president from day one has said we’re going to look for — we’re going to rely on science and facts. And that’s what we will do. The CDC has, across the last several weeks, given guidance for vaccinated people to do indoor gatherings with other vaccinated people, as I talked about earlier, to not wear masks outside, except when you’re in a very crowded place.
And we look forward to further guidance from the CDC about what the advantages are of being vaccinated.
What is clear is, anyone who’s not vaccinated should get vaccinated.
TAPPER: No, I agree.
But I think one of the reasons why journalists are annoyingly harping on this, and some health experts are, is because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and President Biden being able to take off his mask in a room full of journalists and White House staffers, all of whom are fully vaccinated, is a demonstration that the vaccines work.
You and I are both vaccinated, and you and I are in a room together talking, and I have no fear that I’m going to get the virus from you, and I assume vice versa.
And I think the concern is that, by being overly cautious, the signal is going out to the public that there isn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel. Do you understand why people are…
ZIENTS: Well, I think everyone is tired, and wearing a mask is — it can be a pain.
But we’re getting there. And the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter. Let’s keep up our guard. Let’s follow the CDC guidance.
And the CDC guidance across time will allow vaccinated people more and more privileges to take off that mask.
TAPPER: A new CNN poll shows that four in 10 vaccinated Americans — OK, these are all vaccinated — 40 percent still say they do not feel comfortable returning to their routines.
Would you like to see more vaccinated Americans embrace their immunity and resume their routines, if it’s safe, if everybody in their…
ZIENTS: We all want to get back to a normal lifestyle.
ZIENTS: I think we’re on the path to do that.
But stay disciplined. And let’s take advantage of the new privileges of being vaccinated and not wearing mask outdoors, for example, unless you’re in a crowded place. And as we all move toward that 70 percent goal, there will be more and more advantages to being vaccinated.
And if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not protected.
Both Pfizer and Moderna say that booster shots of their vaccines will likely be needed.
It’s been six months since the first shots in the U.S. Could Americans be getting booster shots as soon as this fall?
ZIENTS: Look, we’re going to look to Dr. Fauci, the FDA as to the timing and necessity of a booster shot. If boosters are necessary, we will certainly be ready, as we have been for all contingencies, and we will have sufficient supply.
TAPPER: So, you’re focused on the virus and the vaccine, not on the economy. I get that.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge you were the former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, and there’s some developments in the economy. I’d love to get your thoughts. I realized that this is not — I’m not going to go into detail.
But I do want to ask you. Friday’s jobs report, only 266,000 jobs were created, instead of the one million expected. President Biden has repeatedly cited a study estimating the U.S. would create seven million jobs this year under the American Rescue Plan.
So far, it’s fewer than two million. Do you still think that seven million is…
ZIENTS: So, look, Jake, my 24/7 focus is…
ZIENTS: … fighting this pandemic. And that’s key for the economy. It’s not only key for us returning to a more normal lifestyle, but it’s also key for us building back better, for people to get vaccinated, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
You know, the president across the first 100 days created more jobs than any president in history. One of the things I did learn as NEC director is not to pay too much attention to any one data point in any one month. If you look past across — if you look back across the last three months, we have averaged 500,000 jobs. That compares to 60,000 jobs created per month in the prior administration during their last three months.
So, we’re headed in the right direction. But it’s a long path out of the — out of the difficult period of time that we have had because of the pandemic.
TAPPER: I know that it’s a complicated issue, but there are governors now who are going to go off the enhanced federal unemployment insurance because they think it’s a disincentive for people to go out to work.
As somebody with opinions about disincentives and incentives, do you think that that’s possible, that the enhanced unemployment insurance, while obviously well-intentioned, is creating a disincentive for some Americans?
ZIENTS: Look, people want to work. And, in fact, labor force participation, those people who are looking for jobs, went up last month.
There are still difficult hurdles for people working, including health concerns around the pandemic, childcare. So, the American Rescue Plan was a really important piece of legislation, a historic piece of legislation to help us recover and build back better.
TAPPER: Lastly, President Biden set this goal of 70 percent Americans vaccinated by July 4.
What about beyond July 4? Where do you hope to be by Labor Day, assuming you get to 70 percent by the 4th? By Labor Day, do you want to be at 80 percent, 90 percent?
ZIENTS: We just want more and more people to get vaccinated, so 70 percent first dose by July 4. Everyone should get their second dose, if it’s a two-dose regimen, as soon as they’re scheduled to do so, three weeks after their first dose of Pfizer, four after Moderna.
And after July 4, we will continue to vaccinate as many Americans as we can.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zients, thank you so much for being here.
ZIENTS: Thank you for the opportunity.
TAPPER: Happy Mother’s Day to your wife and your mom.
ZIENTS: And back to you.
ZIENTS: Thank you.