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Chaos in the White House over COVID messaging: Biden advisor Jeff Zients insists they are NOT exploring national vaccine mandates 'at all' - after president said it is 'still a question'

 The White House is struggling with its messaging on COVID vaccines after President Joe Biden said his administration is exploring a mandate but an adviser quickly walked that back. 

The confusion comes as the White House COVID team - consisting of adviser Jeffrey Zients, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky - have not briefed the public in over a week. Their last briefing was July 22nd.

The trio have made individual appearances in the media and Walensky held a press conference on Tuesday, the day the CDC changed its mask guidelines to ask those fully-vaccinated in high infection areas to wear face masks again. 

But the changing guidelines and significant percentage of Americans still unvaccinated has led to questions about a national vaccine mandate. 

About 67% of eligible US residents have received at least one dose, and the rate of new vaccinations has fallen drastically since the spring. From a peak of 3.4 million shots per day in April, the number of daily new injections is down to around 600,000. About 60% of the country is fully vaccinated. 

President Joe Biden said his administration is exploring a vaccine mandate

President Joe Biden said his administration is exploring a vaccine mandate

COVID adviser Jeff Zients quickly walked it back

COVID adviser Jeff Zients quickly walked it back

Biden said on Thursday it was still 'a question' as to whether a national vaccine mandate would be legal but said the Justice Department was looking into it. 

'I had asked the Justice Department to determine whether that is -- they're able to do that legally, and they can. Local communities can do that. Local businesses can do that. It's still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don't know that yet,' he said.

But Zients went on CNN later that night to clarify the matter. He said the DoJ wasn't exploring a national mandate but whether employers can mandate the vaccine. 

'That's not an authority that we're exploring at all. But I think what the president was referring to is his Justice Department has said that it is legal for employers to require vaccination,' he said. 

Biden also said on Thursday that areas with high vaccination rates do not need to wear masks if individuals are fully vaccinated - which is not quite the CDC guidelines.

'Like in my home state of Delaware, where I lived in New Castle County, where I was yesterday in Pennsylvania. Because people got vaccinated. They got vaccinated. They don't need a mask when the majority, the vast majority of the people got vaccinated,' the president said.

But the CDC mask guidance is based on the level of transmission and COVID case rate in an area, not specifically the rate of vaccination.

Some places with high vaccination rates, like Vermont, also have low levels of transmission. But other areas with high vaccination rates, like Washington D.C., has a high rate of transmission and is re-instituting face mask wearing for everyone. 

The messaging and confusion comes as more data is to be released on Friday to explain why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reissued its mask policy. On May 13 the American public was told they no longer needed to wear masks indoors if vaccinated.

An internal federal health document obtained by The Washington Post claimed that the Delta variant was as infectious as chickenpox or Ebola - with each infected person passing the virus to eight or nine others, on average. That infectivity is known as R0.

The original lineage was about as transmissible as the common cold, with each infected person passing it to about two others, on average.  

Walensky said that the new data coming out on Friday showed that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant carry tremendous amounts of the virus in the nose and throat.

'I think people need to understand that we're not crying wolf here. This is serious,' she told CNN. 

She told The New York Times that the data suggest that even fully immunized people can be unwilling vectors for the virus - a change from the previously-held belief that vaccinated people were unlikely to increase the spread of COVID-19.

COVID cases are on the rise in the United States, mainly due to the highly-contagious Delta variant. 

On Wednesday, the country recorded 68,771 new cases with a seven-day rolling average of 63,842, which is a 322 percent increase from the 15,126 average recorded three weeks ago. 

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