Psaki on Vaccinated White House Staffer’s COVID Infection: Vaccines Are ‘Not Foolproof’

Melanie Arter | July 20, 2021 | 3:52pm EDT
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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing on February 17, 2021, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing on February 17, 2021, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

( - A White House official who was vaccinated against COVID-19 and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both tested positive for breakthrough infection after having contact with a group of Texas Democrats who fled the state and traveled to Washington, D.C, to avoid a vote on a GOP-backed voter integrity bill.

Six of those lawmakers, who have been fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the White House aide’s diagnosis.

When asked what that means for the prospects of the Texas delegation having a sit-down with President Joe Biden at the White House, she said, “Well first, let me confirm that yesterday a fully vaccinated White House official tested positive for COVID-19 off campus. 

“In accordance with our rigorous COVID-19 protocols, the official remains off campus as they wait for a confirmatory PCR test. The White House medical unit has conducted contact tracing interviews and determined no close contacts among White House principals or staff or the president. The individual has mild symptoms,” the press secretary said.

“We know that there will be breakthrough cases, but as this instance shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild. The White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccinations against severe illness or hospitalizations, and of course, we wish our colleague a speedy recovery,” she said.

“In terms of a meeting, there has not been a meeting planned, and there hasn’t been change to that, so I wouldn’t say it has an impact on that,” Psaki said.

Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy asked, “More than 10 percent of the traveling party with these Texas Democrats now claim to have a breakthrough case. Is there any concern that this trip that was intended to advocate for voting rights is now a super spreader event in Washington?”

“I would say that’s not a characterization we’re making from here. We certainly understand there will be breakthrough cases. Even vaccines that are incredibly effective are not foolproof. They’re not 100 percent effective. We’ve seen that,” Psaki said.

“Here’s the good news though. We know that these vaccines, that these individuals I think if I’m correct have been vaccinated. It means that it protects from death, protects from serious illness. It protects for the most part from hospitalization, so that is a good sign,” she said.

“Now that COVID-19 after contact with those Democrats has reached the White House, what is your message to these Texas Democrats?” Doocy asked.

“Our message continues to be, thanks for standing up for voting rights and the rights of Americans to have their voices heard at the voting booth, and we appreciate their efforts in that regard,” Psaki replied.

When asked by NBC White House Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell whether there have been other breakthrough COVID cases among the White House staff and whether the press secretary is committed to publicly confirming cases in the future, Psaki said, “There have been. 

“I will say that according to an agreement we made during the transition to be transparent and make information available, we committed that we will release information proactively if it is commissioned officers. We continue to abide by that commitment,” she said.

Commissioned officers refers to assistants to the president, deputy assistants, and special assistants.

Psaki couldn't provide details on how many other breakthrough COVID cases there have been at the White House.

She explained that the White House protocols “are in alignment with the highest standards and the guidance of our public health experts.”

Psaki detailed the protocols, which include “regular testing of those surrounding and meeting with the president.”

For those who have close proximity, they are tested more regularly than those who have less proximity; ensuring those interacting with the president are following the CDC guidance regarding mask wearing and distancing; actively monitoring the health of our campus and the larger community in collaboration with public health and medical experts.

We have a robust infrastructure to ensure compliance with these protocols, and we are asking staff to also monitor themselves for symptoms and stay off campus if they develop symptoms.

So the news today is that while breakthrough cases will happen, the vaccines are effective and prevent against serious illness and death. We’ve seen that statistically across the country with 99.5% of cases in hospitals being for individuals who are not vaccinated, and we will continue to abide by CDC guidelines.

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