Federal health officials discuss vaccine progress, new at-home test

▶ Watch Video: COVID-19 vaccines, the threat of new variants, and plans for rapid at-home tests

Washington — Members of the White House COVID-19 response team and federal public health officials held a press briefing on the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic Monday, as President Joe Biden and a group of Senate Republicans are poised to meet to discuss a COVID-19 emergency relief package.

Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, announced that the first in-home COVID-19 test is coming online, able to test within 15 minutes at 90% accuracy. The test, from a company called Ellume, is expected to cost roughly $30. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated once a person’s turn arrives. Not only will getting vaccinated slow the spread of the virus and protect individuals, but it will prevent the emergence of additional COVID-19 variants. 

“When the vaccine becomes available to you, please get vaccinated,” Fauci urged. 

Fauci tried to instill confidence in the efficacy of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which has a roughly 70% efficacy rate — lower than the Pfizer and Moderna efficacy rates, but still an incredibly useful tool in fighting COVID-19. The vaccine will bring down hospitalizations and the rate of serious illness, and since it’s a single dose, it might be more useful for some populations, Fauci noted. 

Slavitt said the Biden administration worries some health care providers are holding back doses for second shots when they don’t need to be. That doesn’t need to happen and shouldn’t happen, Slavitt said, assuring Americans that there will be enough supply for the second dose. 

January was the deadliest month of the pandemic, and the death toll from COVID-19 stands at more than 441,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Biden administration projects another 90,000 Americans will die in the next four weeks.

While Mr. Biden has taken steps to ramp up distribution of vaccine doses to the states, he continues to urge Americans to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. New coronavirus strains detected in three countries, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, have been reported in the U.S., and Fauci warned last week cases of the new variants could outnumber cases of the earlier strain.

Mr. Biden has put forth a $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic and boost testing and vaccine distribution. The cost of the president’s plan, however, has been met with skepticism from Senate Republicans, and a group of 10 GOP senators are set to meet with Mr. Biden on Monday evening to discuss their own proposal.

The plan from the Republicans totals $600 billion, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told Fox News in an interview Sunday, and includes more targeted direct payments to Americans. Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, are preparing to take the first step this week in a legislative process that would allow for Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief package to pass without Republican support.

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