Hoo boy: WH says CDC chief was speaking in her "personal capacity" when she said schools could reopen without vaccinating teachers

For cripes sake. Rochelle Walensky, the new CDC director, said what she said about teachers not needing to be vaccinated at a White House briefing!

Remember that time Trump humiliated his own CDC chief, Robert Redfield, by “correcting” him during a press conference? Redfield had testified that the vaccines wouldn’t be widely available until sometime in the middle of 2021. Trump didn’t like that because he was hoping to parlay vaccine optimism into some extra votes on Election Day so he accused Redfield of having been confused about the timeline.

What’s the difference between that and what Jen Psaki’s spent the past few days doing to Walensky? Walensky told reporters yesterday — again, during a White House briefing — that schools could be made safe for teachers without vaccinating them. Which, I thought, jibed with Biden’s own policy. Sleepy Joe wants gobs of money for schools to improve safety measures in his new COVID package because he knows it’ll be months before all of America’s teachers are vaccinated and we don’t have months to get kids back to class. His own administration has said it wants K-8 open for business within his first 100 days. That’s what the money’s for, to convince reluctant teachers and their union reps that schools have the financial ammo they need to protect them in class.

So why does Psaki keep embarrassing Walensky by accusing her of having gotten out over her skis? Here she was yesterday:

During a press briefing later Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki walked back Walensky’s comments, saying that they were not “official guidance” from the CDC.

If Walensky were here, she would say “that they have not released their official guidance from the CDC yet on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools,” Psaki said.

And here she is today, being a little more condescending about it:

Psaki also said that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky wasn’t discussing official CDC guidance but rather new data as she’s repeatedly said in recent days that teachers don’t need to be vaccinated for schools to reopen in person.

“Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity. Obviously, she’s the head of the CDC. But we’re going to wait for the final guidance to come out so we can use that as a guide for schools around the country,” Psaki said. “[Biden] believes that even with vaccinations for teachers or for any American, that there are a number of other mitigation steps that are important to take … the wearing of masks, social distancing, ventilation, these are all factors that are important for… the reopening of schools.”

She spoke in her “personal capacity” at … an official briefing? Does Psaki also get to walk back inconvenient things she says during official briefings by claiming later that she was merely speaking in her “personal capacity”?

It must be that the Democrats’ union patrons called Psaki or Biden to complain about Walensky’s vaccination comments at some point yesterday and the White House is now stuck doing damage control. They don’t to be pressured to absorb any risk to do their jobs the way cops and firefighters routinely do even though it’s a staple of union rhetoric that teachers are among the most essential workers known to human civilization. Here’s a question for Psaki: If the official CDC guidance (which hasn’t been set yet) ends up contradicting Walensky by insisting that teachers *do* need to be vaccinated in order to be safe, then why is Biden adding all of that money for safety to his COVID bill? If nothing short of vaccination can truly protect adults in schools then chuck that money and make vaccinating teaches en masse an urgent federal priority. You can’t have it both ways. Either Walensky’s right and we need the money to be appropriated or she’s wrong and we don’t. Choose.

Any by the way, it does seem like the CDC institutionally is on the same page as Walensky:

One nice thing for Team Biden about Psaki trying to counterprogram Walensky, though, is that it ends up drawing attention away from the slow-footedness of the FDA in approving new vaccines. That’s not a “Biden problem” specifically, as you’ll recall there was grumbling in December about Trump’s FDA also moving too cautiously to approve the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But read Jim Geraghty’s post today about “tens of millions of doses” of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine sitting in a warehouse right now as people die by the thousands because the FDA can’t move more quickly to greenlight it. The Oxford vaccine, which has been in use in Europe for weeks, is also bottled up due to the FDA wanting to review its phase three data more closely. I appreciate the federal bureaucracy not wanting to cut corners, but with daily death tolls still north of 3,000 and dangerous new foreign variants already circulating here, we’re in a national emergency. The FDA doesn’t seem to be acting like it.

Here’s another Psaki soundbite from today’s presser. You can understand why she’d want Americans to take precautions even after being vaccinated. People aren’t fully protected until a few weeks after their second dose and the data isn’t conclusive that being vaccinated means you can’t transmit the virus to other people. (Although it’s promising.) But telling those who’ve been vaccinated that they shouldn’t relent from the tedium of pandemic life even after being immunized will end up deterring some fencesitters from getting the shot at all. “If I have to still wear a mask afterward, what’s the point?” The White House needs better messaging about this.