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COVID Variants; President Biden Marks 50 Million Vaccine Doses Administered. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 25, 2021 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being here.

Any moment now, a worthy celebration. President Biden and Vice President Harris are hosting an event at the White House -- listen to this -- to mark the 50 millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine under their administration, huge deal this afternoon.

This is happening as the CDC is reporting the number of second doses has now outpaced the number of first doses for the very first time over the past week. So, as soon as we see that happen, we will bring you those live pictures.

And, though any increase in vaccinations is certainly helpful, researchers have found this new COVID variant in New York City and also other parts of the Northeast, and this variant carries with it mutations that help it evade the body's natural immune response, as well as some treatments.

Plus, President Biden may be facing the first big defeat of his term. His nomination to head the OMB, Neera Tanden, is now hanging by a thread. Senators on both sides of the aisle are hesitant to confirm her because of some of her harsh tweets she wrote in the past while head of a progressive political group. So we will talk about what this means moving forward for the Biden administration.

Also today, CNN has new reporting that Donald Trump is already planning to run for president again in 2024. Plotting revenge against his critics, he is preparing to deliver this nationally televised speech at CPAC. That's the annual conservative conference.

But how will the Republican majority, how will they handle this Trump resurgence? That's the question we're asking. We will get into that just a little bit.

But, first, I want to begin with what we're about to see at the White House.

Our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is there. And Kaitlan is this an event really just aimed at persuading people to get the vaccine?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that that has kind of been what they have been highlighting all day.

You saw the vice president earlier go into a pharmacy talking about the hesitancy that they have seen of people trying to get it.

But, also, they're trying to highlight the fact that they are halfway to President Biden's goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. Of course, we're only on day 37. They were pretty much on track to meet that when they took office. And so that's where they're going. Now, of course, they will likely surpass that.

And so what we were told, though, about this event is that it's going to be like less of a celebration, more of a somber moment, given what is still going on in the country, though they are trying to keep the focus on how they're ramping up vaccines, how they're becoming available, when they expect that time line to actually happen.

So, I think that's what you will see from the president when you see him shortly.

BALDWIN: Great. We will look for that.

Let's talk about the confirmation clashes down the Hill from you there up on Capitol Hill regarding Neera Tanden. Where is she missing votes right now?

COLLINS: Well, so here's the issue.

A key senator, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, has said he's not going to vote for her. So that means that they have got to find at least one Republican who will support her. But they're still waiting on a few Democrats to also say yes, you have got our votes locked in, so you can focus on getting that one Republican.

I don't think we have heard from Bernie Sanders yet say, yes, he is going to vote yes on Neera Tanden. We haven't heard from another key member, Kyrsten Sinema, who is on the committees that will actually be voting to advance her nomination forward. She has not said which way she will vote.

And the indication that -- yesterday was that she wasn't ready to decide, because they postponed that vote. And so, basically, the White House is kind of sitting back, still trying to get that last Republican they believe who could actually help pull her over the finish line, but they're not there yet.

And the White House has been pretty clear-eyed that they're still pushing for her. They're not withdrawing her nomination yet. And you saw the chief of staff, Ron Klain, come out last night saying they're fighting their guts out to get her confirmed because they want her in this position.

But it does seem they're developing a backup plan if that doesn't happen. He says they're not going to try to put her in some kind of acting position, Brooke. Instead, they will just put her in another position in the administration that does not require Senate confirmation.

BALDWIN: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much, and we will look for the president in this big event momentarily.

On the point of vaccines here, vaccine distributions are trying to keep pace with the growing concern about homegrown variants here in the United States. Health experts say they could ignite a mid-March case surge.

New York and California are already detecting highly transmissible mutations. Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are trying to get ahead of that spread, developing potential boosters.

CNN's Amara Walker is inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That is one of the city's large mass vaccination sites.

And so, Amara, how's it going there?


I would say pretty steady. The lines have been steady throughout the day, although I'm told it's Fridays and the Saturdays that are the busiest here. But, on average, the Fulton County Board of Health has been vaccinating about 1,000 people a day.

And I just got to tell you, speaking to some of the people who've been waiting in line to get their vaccines, they're so excited. A woman told me that she felt like she just won the lottery.


So, overall, there's been a lot of positive news. More and more people are getting vaccinated. We're seeing downward trends in cases, deaths and hospitalizations. But experts say there is one very big concern, and that would be the variants.


WALKER (voice-over): In the battle against the spread of COVID-19, new variants of the virus making the race to get Americans vaccinated all the more urgent.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: Today, what we're seeing is a barrage of these new variants coming forward.

WALKER: Experts are increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants, including new homegrown variants found in California, New York and the Northeast.

OSTERHOLM: While we need to be concerned about what we're seeing in New York and California or in other places around the world, we can't take our eye off, to me, what I think is the single most important variant right now in our headlights, and that is this B117, or the U.K. variant, which is rapidly spreading now throughout the United States.

WALKER: At least 45 states have confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants, according to the CDC. The seven-day daily average has ticked up to more than 72,000. In the last month, daily COVID deaths dropped 30 percent, and hospitalizations have decreased by 51 percent.

A new CDC forecast released Wednesday projects the daily COVID-19 death rate will continue to slow in the coming weeks, but they're also preparing for all scenarios, including the possibility of another surge.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: What we don't know is a perfect view of how the vaccines will handle the variants.

WALKER: Vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are testing out new strategies to get ahead of these variants. Pfizer and BioNTech announced this morning they're testing how well a third vaccine dose targets new coronavirus variants, and Moderna announced it was producing a version of its vaccine to protect against mutations found in the variant first identified in South Africa.

The company said the formula will be tested as a booster shot and a primary vaccine against the strain for individuals who have yet to be vaccinated.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We might ask that you consider waiting, so that others who don't have any immunity could get vaccinated before you.

WALKER: But if you have already had COVID-19, the CDC director is also asking people who've already been exposed to wait for others to get the vaccine first, although it's not officially a CDC guideline.

And with more than 20 million Americans having been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the U.S. is one step closer to having a third vaccine to distribute, after a vaccination like Pfizer and Moderna do.

The White House adding you should get any vaccine that's available.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: The sooner we get vaccine into the arms of individual, whatever that vaccine is, once it gets by the FDA for an EUA, if it's available to you, get it.

WALKER: The FDA could sign off on emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as Friday, but getting shots in arms still moving slower than hoped. Georgia this week opened four mass vaccination sites around the state, but they're not seeing the numbers they had planned on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't think we're going to get quite there because we're just not getting the turnout in some of our places.


WALKER: And that Georgia emergency management official, Chris Stallings, referring to low turnout in Albany, a mass vaccination site, there about three hours Southwest of Georgia. He said the turnout was so low that they actually had to take most of the vaccine doses and redistribute them to the other three mass vaccination sites.

It will be interesting, Brooke, to see if and how the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, reacts to this low turnout and if that will change how vaccines might be administered in this state. He will be holding a news conference in about 20 minutes from now at the state capitol regarding vaccine distribution. We will see if he does address that issue at all -- back to you.

BALDWIN: Talk about a clarion call for Georgians. Listen, if you're in those top tiers, get out, roll up your sleeves, and let's go

Amara Walker, thank you so much in Atlanta.

Dr. Seema Yasmin is a CNN medical analyst and former CDC disease detective. She's also the author of "Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them."

So, Dr. Yasmin, good to see you.


BALDWIN: I want to start with this New York COVID variant. How worried should we be?

YASMIN: So, the thing that worries me, Brooke, is that we did see this New York variant back in November, but not very much of it. Fast forward to the middle of this month, and 27 percent of cases in New York are people who are infected with this newer variant.

And the reason that worries me, Brooke, is, because viruses evolve and mutate all the time, that many of those variants, they just kind of fizzle out, because they didn't give the virus any advantage. When we see a variant start to become a lot more common, even become dominant, that's usually a sign that this is a variant that has many advantages that might be more contagious.

For example, and, in fact, what we learned last week from researchers at Caltech and Columbia University is, they found two specific mutations within this New York variant, one that could help the variants sidestep the vaccine the vaccine and another mutation that could help the virus latch on to our cells a lot tighter.


And, of course, neither of those are good news. It doesn't mean that vaccines will suddenly stop working or anything like that. But it does mean that we could be needing to develop more vaccines specifically to fight the variants. So we have to keep an eye on this. It could be that this New York variant is more transmissible, and that's definitely a cause for concern.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about that, because I want to talk about those vaccines. And it almost feels to me almost like a chicken and egg situation.


BALDWIN: Because you have these vaccines. You have Moderna and Pfizer. They're out there working hard trying to get out ahead of at least some of these new variants with their vaccines. How is that possible? And is this not just going to be this never-ending battle, because these variants just continue to emerge?

YASMIN: So the reason that variants continue to emerge, though -- this is a really important point -- is the more a virus is allowed to transmit and replicate, that's when the virus is able to introduce mutations.

You have a virus in a petri dish, and it just can't make more copies of itself, it can't mutate. And so that's why, Brooke, I get this question a lot, like, oh, should I even bother getting vaccinated now, if you're saying the vaccines aren't going to be so great? And I'm like, no, this is a more incentive to get vaccinated as soon as possible, especially as we learn that the vaccines could make you less contagious.

That's amazing news, because that really puts a stop to the vaccine, just -- sorry -- to the virus -- replicating and mutating and kind of evolving to become bigger, faster and stronger. So, if you have the opportunity to get vaccinated, get vaccinated now--

BALDWIN: Take it.

YASMIN: -- because that does help us, yes, slow down the emergence of newer viral variants.

BALDWIN: Listening to you very, very, very carefully.

Dr. Seema Yasmin, thank you so much, as always, for your expertise. Good to see you.

YASMIN: Thanks, Brooke. You too.

BALDWIN: Coming up: plotting his return and revenge. Multiple sources are now telling CNN that former President Donald Trump's appearance at CPAC this weekend is going to make it crystal clear that he's not going anywhere.

Plus: The tax records Trump fought so hard to keep secret are now in the hands of New York prosecutors. How is that factoring into his political plans?

And, tomorrow, the U.S. House is finally set to vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. But are Democrats taking a big risk by including a lot of money for things that have nothing to do with the pandemic? We have got to talk about that.

You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin.





BALDWIN: All right, so we're going to stay on these pictures.

But I also -- I want one eye on these folks being vaccinated there at the White House and my other eye, Sanjay Gupta, on you, our chief medical correspondent, as we're sitting here really watching history unfold under the Biden administration, officially marking now 50 million COVID vaccinations under his watch, under his administration, the president they're standing by.

How significant a moment is this?


I think one thing that is sort of lost sometimes in this is that, no matter how you look at it, this is one of the largest sort of vaccination efforts sort of we have ever done as a country. I mean, people are talking about, was one million shots a day an audacious enough goal? Fair question, given that we're in a public health emergency.

But I think it is a good reminder, Brooke, that this -- it is a large undertaking, no matter what. We're 35 days in, 50 million shots, as you mentioned, so well ahead of the goal. Some will say that's great. Others will say you under sort of -- you're underpromising and a little bit in terms of what is possible.

So, I don't want to take away from the significance of this moment; 50 million shots is a big deal. But in order to get to some of these -- the herd immunity sort of statistics that people talk about, faster is better, as long as you can do it safely and reach people who are the most vulnerable.

BALDWIN: So, you're in Atlanta. I'm from Atlanta. Obviously, I have been bugging my parents about getting vaccinated.

I was just talking to Amara Walker, who was at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, saying, listen, the issue there has been, there are all these leftover vaccines.


BALDWIN: What is the issue? Because, I mean, as we have been hearing, you have been saying and all these top docs saying, half the battle is making sure the vaccines is manufactured. The other issue is making sure it gets in arms. What's up?

[15:20:08] Right.

Yes, I know. And I think, overall--


BALDWIN: Oh, hang on second, Sanjay. Here's the president.


BIDEN: Thanks for your leadership. Thanks for being here.

Two weeks ago, I spent some time with you and Dr. Francis Collins -- excuse me -- the director of the National Institute of Health, NIH.

He gave me a tour of the Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And it's the place where our top scientists spend years researching and developing vaccines and treatments of all kinds and for all kinds of viruses.

The brilliant team there made possible the rapid deployment and development of COVID-19 vaccines. And they're truly remarkable. And this administration will follow the science to deliver more breakthroughs.

You know, we are doing that to beat COVID-19 and other diseases like cancer, which is something that is so personal to so many families, including me and Kamala's and many viewers.

We have asked Dr. Eric Lander, a renowned Harvard MIT scientist, to serve as my science adviser and head of the Office and Science and Technology Policy and co-lead the Presidential Council on Advisory Science and Technology.

These are the White House offices that bring together the country's top scientists to address our most pressing needs. And they will be part of the work to develop a DARPA-like advance research effort on cancer and other diseases, just like we do DARPA in the Defense Departments, which develops breakthrough projects to secure our national security.

And, relatedly, I'm delighted to see five of the nation's leading cancer centers are joining forces today to build on the work of the Cancer Moonshot I was able to do during the Obama/Biden administration to help break through silos and barriers in cancer research.

We're making progress. There's so much we can do, so much progress within our reach. And that's why I'm thankful to the folks here today for getting their vaccine shots.

Gerald Bunn (ph), who -- and Cory Hamilton (ph), both D.C. firefighters. I said to Cory, you know, that told expression, god made man. Then he made a few firefighters. Thank God we have them.

And Linda Bussey (ph) is a manager at a Safeway grocery store in Bethesda, Victoria Legerwood Rivera (ph), who is a local school counselor, and Elizabeth Callaway (ph), who is a registered nurse who administered these shots.

And the more people get vaccinated, the faster we're going to beat this pandemic. That's why one of my first goals in office when I -- just before I was sworn in, I indicated that my goal was to get 100 million COVID vaccine shots in people's arms in my first 100 days as president.

At first, critics said that goal was too ambitious, no one could do that. Then they said it was too small. But the bottom line, though, is that America will be the first country, perhaps the only one, to get that done.

And, today, I'm here to report we're halfway there, 50 million shots in just 37 days since I have become president. That's weeks ahead of schedule, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storms which devastated millions of Midwestern cities, towns, and also the same in the South.

We're moving in the right direction though, despite the mess we inherited from the previous administration, which left us with no real plan to vaccinate all Americans. And every time we administer another 50 million shots, I'm going to use that milestone to report to the American people on our vaccination program and on our overall fight against this pandemic.

The good and the bad, I will tell you, the success and the failures. And here's the deal. Here's the deal. The story of this vaccination campaign is like the story of everything hard and new America does, some confusing and setbacks at the start, and then, if we do the right things, we have the right plan to get things moving.

That's what we're seeing right now. Weeks before I became president, the previous administration saw six million shots administered in the last week. This coming week, we will administer over 12 million shots, double the pace in just six weeks that we have been in office.

Other milestones, we have increased vaccination distribution to states by 70 percent. Nearly 60 percent of people over the age of 75 have now received at least one shot. It was 14 percent six weeks ago.


And close to 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have at least one shot now. It was 8 percent six weeks ago. It's important, because people over 65 account for 80 percent of all the COVID deaths. Additionally, about 75 percent of the people who live in long-term facilities have gotten their first shot. And those cases are at the lowest levels since reporting began in may.

Here's how we have been doing it. It starts with increasing the supply. My team has worked very hard with vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna to ensure we have enough supply for all adult Americans by the end of July.

When we discovered the vaccine manufacturers weren't being prioritized when it came to securing supplies they needed to make the vaccine, we fixed the problem. I used the Defense Production Act to speed up the supply chain for key equipment, which has already helped increase vaccine production.

Last week, I toured the Pfizer facility, manufacturing facility, in a plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's incredible, the precision, the safety, the pride, and the sense of purpose everyone involved in that process and project has.

We have all seen the news about Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. The idea of a third safe and effective vaccine is very promising. The Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, is viewing the data and review recommendations from outside committee of experts that will be meeting tomorrow.

Now, let me be clear. We are going to do this the right way. The FDA will decide on emergency use authorization of a vaccine based on science, not due to any political pressure from me or anyone else, no outside factors.

What I will say to the American people is this. If, if the FDA approves the use of this new vaccine, we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it. We will use every conceivable way to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, and we will make even more rapid progress on overall vaccines in March.

I will have more to say about this in the days after the FDA review.

Look, we have been laser-focused on the greatest operational challenge this country has ever undertaken, administering shots in the arms of hundreds of millions of Americans. We're increasing the number of vaccinators. One -- we found was, you may have the vaccine, but not enough people to put the vaccine in someone's arm, like you just saw.

We brought back retired doctors and nurses. We have already deployed more than 1,500 medical personnel you see during national disasters from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. And we commissioned our Commission Corps from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department, including the National Guard, supplying vaccinators.

We're lining up thousands more to do the vaccinations. We're also setting up more places for people to get vaccinated. As of today, we have provided $3.8 billion to states, territories, and tribes to create hundreds of new vaccination centers and ramp up the existing ones that are there already.

We're working with governors across the country in red and blue states to bolster their efforts to stand up hundreds of vaccination centers, from stadiums, to community centers, houses of worship, large parking lots. We're providing personnel and equipment and covering the cost for the states, including for the use of their National Guard, which have been -- they're incredible.

Today, Jill and I -- or I should say, tomorrow, Jill and I will travel to Houston, Texas, to tour one of the first federal mass vaccination centers and to thank everyone involved. This is an example of the kind of partnership between federal, state

and local governments and public and private partners that's going to get this job done.

We also sent millions of vaccines to thousands of local pharmacies all across America to make it easier for folks to get the vaccine shot, like they would their flu shot, going to a familiar place, familiar folks that they can trust and know to get the shot.

And for folks who didn't live near -- don't live near a vaccination center or pharmacy, we're deploying mobile units. These are special vehicles and pop-up clinics that meet folks where they live and where they don't have transportation to get the shots, to get to the places to get the shots.

We have also started to send vaccines directly to community health centers to help the hard -- the hard-to-reach folks.