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Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Doses Shipped, Injections Begin Tomorrow; Senate Could Begin Debate on $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill This Week; Trump Delivers Speech Filled with Debunked Lies at CPAC. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2021 - 10:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So then on Friday, something strange happened. After ODNI, the Office of Director of National Intelligence put out the report saying that MBS was responsible. They listed 21 names of men who were also complicit. Then they quietly switched out the report and removed three of those names and didn't explain why until I asked them about it. And they told me that those three names have been erroneously included on that list.

We haven't been told what roles, if any, that those three men played in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We are expecting more details from the Biden administration today. But the fact remains, no direct punishment for MBS. Jim and Poppy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Good to keep asking the hard questions, Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Well, a very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Happening right now, there is a third coronavirus vaccine being shipped out across the nation. That is great news. The White House says 3.9 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be delivered to people as early as tomorrow. This joins, of course, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but with key and potentially game changing differences. This vaccine is only one shot, one dose, not two. It can also, Jim, be stored in a normal refrigerator, which is a huge deal in terms of the logistical challenges.

SCIUTTO: Yes, two big differences there, it's a positive step.

Another big step in this health crisis as an economic crisis continues to loom so large for so many Americans, the Senate is set to take up President Biden's $1.9 trillion package after the House passed it with unified Democratic support, but not a single Republican vote. More an where the bill stands in just a moment, particularly the timing.

But, first, let's begin with the medical news. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, more on this Johnson & Johnson vaccine, how effective and how quickly will it become available to folks watching right now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is a very effective vaccine. I mean, it is the numbers so great, not as great as Moderna and Pfizer but still really terrific. It is being shipped out, we are told that it will be received at various locations as early as tomorrow.

So let's take a look at those efficacy numbers. According to Johnson & Johnson's U.S. clinical trials, the vaccine is 72 percent effective at preventing COVID, whether it is moderate COVID tor severe COVID, the range is 72 percent effective, 85 percent effective against severe disease.

Now, I know that is confusing seeing those three different numbers, so let's go over them again. 72 percent effective at preventing COVID, basically abroad range of COVID, but 85 percent effective against severe disease, in other words the kind of disease that could lead you to getting -- to being hospitalized or could possibly even lead to killing you. And that is the number that many doctors will say is the most important one. What vaccines should do is really prevent you from getting so, so sick that your life is in danger.

So that is a really great number, not as good as Moderna and Pfizer but still a great number.

Now, two advantages to this vaccine that you already mentioned but definitely worth repeating, one is that it is a single shot, much easier to get people to come in for one shot and then they're done. Also it doesn't need to be frozen and so it is much easier to ship, much easier to store. This could be particularly helpful in rural and sort of far-reaching parts of the world. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Elizabeth, thank you very much for that update.

Let's go to our Pete Muntean. He is at a big UPS facility in Louisville, Kentucky, where the J&J vaccine is being shipped out right now. It is a huge undertaking. What can you tell us?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, we're standing by for trucks carrying the Johnson & Johnson to arrive here. This is the UPS mega hub known as World Port here in Louisville, the first stop on getting millions of doses of that vaccine out the door.

Right now, it is all being packed up at a distribution facility run by a company called McKesson just down the road in Shepherdsville. Then the trucks come here and then begins the big sort, packages unloaded by hand, sorted by machines, 150 miles of conveyer belt long enough to go from D.C. to Philadelphia, all of those packages bound for cargo planes here, which will take vaccine coast to coast.

3.9 million doses in this initial Johnson & Johnson first wave of this vaccine, 20 million by the end of the month, according to Johnson & Johnson.

UPS has a lot of practice with this. It has shipped tens of millions of Pfizer and Moderna doses. It already has a lot practice monitoring these shipments, which is so critical especially this time of the year, each individual package is able to broadcast its position in real-time back to a command center here at World Port. UPS was able to see where those packages where when delays -- deliveries were delayed, when World Port had actually to shut down for a day, operations had to cease for a day, the first time in World Port history.


UPS said all of that technology made it easier to get those delayed shipments moving again.

It is a really massive operation here, Jim and Poppy. It all begins right here in Kentucky.

HARLOW: Pete, we're glad you're there. Thank you very, very much. Jim?

SCIUTTO: All right. Let's talk about this big week on the vaccine front with the chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Alex Gorsky. Mr. Gorksy, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

ALEX GORSKY, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Hey, Jim. It is great to be with you here today.

SCIUTTO: All right. So a big step but in terms of supply, an incremental step this week, 3.9 million doses. That said, your goal is ambitious, 100 million by summer, 1 billion worldwide by the end of year. Why should folks watching now be confident you're able to meet those targets?

GORSKY: Well, Jim, again, thank you very much for having us. And I tell you this is a really proud and humble day for Johnson & Johnson because our team members, our scientists, physicians, engineers have been working for the last 13 months to make this possible and we've made tremendous progress.

I mean, consider that 12 months ago, we were literally getting genetic sequencing information in an email, and today, this vaccine has been dosed in more than 50,000 patients, the fact that we're literally real-time getting ready to move 3.9 million doses here in the United States and ramping up to 20.

We've developed an extensive partnership here in the United States and Europe and other places around the world and we're very confident in our ability to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and 100 million doses in the first half of the year en route to a billion doses by the end of this year.

SCIUTTO: The efficacy numbers here, and I know that they could seem too simplistic, but, as you know, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in their trials show efficacy above 90 percent, this one in the U.S. around 72 percent. And I know the timing of the trials makes a difference. There are more variants out there now. But for people watching again who have questions about this, is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as good, as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna ones? GORSKY: The short answer is yes. And consistent with Dr. Fauci's comments, Dr. Peter Marks, other members of the FDA, all of these vaccines are very safe and they're very effective.

And, Jim, as you pointed out, I think one of the most important items to highlight regarding many of the numbers, which can be confusing and then, frankly, a bit overwhelming, is that our trial was done really starting in September and October of 2020, just when the incidence rate across the United States, let alone around the world, was really starting so surge.

Secondly, if you look at our clinical trial, it was a very extensive global trial where we had about 45 percent of the patients in the United States, approximately 40 percent in Latin America and about 15 percent in South Africa, 90 percent of whom were infected by that South African variant that has been probably one of the most challenging.

And so when you look at all of those results to see that 85 percent of the time you're preventing severe disease and 100 percent of the time thus far, we're keeping patients out of the hospital and from dying, are really impressive. And, again, it is going to add a critical tool for health care systems around the world to take on this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I get that the numbers at that extreme end, right, keeping people out of the hospital and thankfully keeping people alive, those are encouraging. But the fact is, as you note, variants are harder to prevent, for any of these vaccines.

And I wonder as a practical matter, do these vaccines have declining efficacy over time that you have to address?

GORSKY: Well, we're going to see as time goes on. We're very encouraged by some of the data that we're seeing. And there is probably a couple of schools of thought out there at least. One would suggest that every time this virus replicates, and that is why it is so important for us to get shots as soon as we can to prevent these replications, because it can mutate, it can turn into a new variant and, therefore, make it more challenging.

The other school of thought, however, is that this virus is getting close to reaching its fittest point and that if we could all get vaccinated, we stand a good chance to basically really being able to control it.

So time is going to tell. We're going to learn a lot. But, look, know that the data that we've seen so far, I think, is very encouraging. All of the companies are already working on the next generation for some of these variants. And so, look, I'm confident that all of this is going to make a big difference.

SCIUTTO: To your question, the variants aren't going anywhere and nature of science, right, there will be more of them. Do you already have plans, are you making plans for a booster shot to deal with variants going forward? GORSKY: We are, Jim. And while we're encouraged and we're confident in the current vaccine that we have, you always have to be preparing for the future and, frankly, for the unknown.


So we're doing that as we speak.

SCIUTTO: Given the federal government's role in getting these vaccines out and into people's arms, these 3.9 million doses that you have out, they're going to the federal government, so they could then distribute them. I wonder, do you see a difference in your dealings with the Biden administration versus the Trump administration? I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking purely as a practical issue here, more organized, more responsive in your view or have you not seen a difference.

GORSKY: No. I can tell you that we've been engaged for a long time, but particularly during these last several weeks and months as we've gotten ready for this important day. There is rarely a day that goes by where people on our team are not talking to the people involved in distribution, logistics, throughout the process.

I couldn't be more thankful for the partnership that I'm seeing with us and expanding and accelerating some of our supply network, let alone on the distribution side. And this public/private partnership that I'm seeing is certainly something that I hope can continue into the future because I think it's going to make a big difference not only in the United States but around the world.

SCIUTTO: You're doing trials on adolescents ages 12 to 18. What is the status of those trials? Are you finding that it is safe for young people?

GORSKY: Well, right now, we're only approved 18 and over. We're in conversations with the FDA, as we speak, on the specific trial designed for the 12 to 18. And we intend to go younger once we gather more information. We want to go to pregnant women, find out would be working.

One of the big advantages, Jim, is, remember, our platform, this vector platform, has been used in more than 200,000 patients around the world. And many of these included young, old, with co-morbidities, pregnant woman, and so it gives us, again, a lot of optimism to reinforce the safety profile. But, of course, that needs to be validated in some additional clinical trials, which we'll be starting very soon and we should find out much more on the backend of this year.

SCIUTTO: As you know, the sad fact is that there are equity issues so far with the distribution of vaccines in this country that people of color are less likely to get them, and there are a lot of issues there. And the sad fact from a science perspective, right, is that these are oftentimes the most impacted communities here. What is the company doing to address that, to make sure that this is widely available regardless of means? GORSKY: Well, look it started from the very beginning where we said, as we go out, knowing that there are unfortunately are far too many minorities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, let alone by the health care system, that our clinical trials represented these populations. And so we really knew how they work in these areas.

And so in our case, more than 20 percent, for example, of patients globally were black. Right here in the United States, 13 percent of our population was. So we have got a good cross-section of different ethnic groups, black, African-American, Hispanics, age, young, old, men and women.

And we think that if we look across our database, we see the results that we mentioned earlier, highly effective in severe disease, stopping hospitalizations and deaths, being consistent across all of those groups.

Secondly at Johnson & Johnson, we recognize that this is going to be an ongoing challenge that we're going to have, so we've also made a commitment to say, look, what could we do around training of physicians, nurses, how can we reinforce some of the community health centers. But it is a long-term determined effort to really address some of these underlying issues.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly before I go, have you taken this? And will you and will you recommend it to your family?

GORSKY: I have not taken it yet. As soon as I qualify, based upon the criteria the government set, I'll be certain to get a Johnson & Johnson shot.

SCIUTTO: Well, Alex Gorsky, credit to you and the company, the fast work here. Everybody doing their part, right, to try to put this behind us. And we appreciate you coming on. We appreciate that work and we appreciate you coming on this morning.

GORSKY: Well, Jim, thank you very much. And, again, I encourage everyone to get as shot as soon as you can. That's going to make the biggest difference in the stopping this pandemic. And thank you very much for the time today.

SCIUTTO: And that is what the doctor say as well. Thanks you very much.

Coming up this hour, the RNC chair says conspiracy theory groups, such as QAnon, are not welcome in the GOP. Is that really the case? CNN went to CPAC to find out.

HARLOW: And President Biden today will meet with his counterpart, the president of Mexico, this is as the number of migrants crossing the southern border is surging.


[10:15:00] SCIUTTO: CNN has learned that the Senate could begin debating President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill as soon as Wednesday this week, this after the House passed it over the weekend, though with not a single Republican vote.

HARLOW: And by Thursday, the Senate could be in the middle of a marathon voting session on amendments. This is become known as voterama, if you will. The timing still in flux.

Let's go to our colleague, Manu Raju, he joins us on Capitol Hill. Explain to us where this is going to go this week.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, 13 days left, that is all that is from now until when millions of Americans will lose their jobless benefits, meaning that each day, each week is significant in order to get something through. And we're facing a brewing partisan fight in the Senate over the massive $1.9 trillion relief plan that Republicans say is unwielded (ph), they say it is not targeting and they are expected to vote in lockstep against it.


That means is that, in the 50/50 Senate, there needs to be total Democrat unanimity in order to get this through this chamber. Democrats are employing a process that allows them to approve the bill with a simple majority, 51 votes. Kamala Harris, as the vice president, could come in and break the tie. Typically, in the Senate, it requires 60 votes to overcome any objection but not under this process, which means that they need to keep everybody together in order to get this across the finish line.

But also because they're using this process, they can't include things, like the minimum wage in this, because it was ruled out of order by the Senate parliamentarian who contends that it does not meet the strict requirements under budget rules needed in order to move it under this process.

So Democrats, the Biden administration facing new pressure this morning from liberals in the House where pushing Kamala Harris as the vice president to ignore the ruling of the Senate parliamentarian and include the minimum wage in the underlying package. That, though, faces serious resistance from senators on both sides of the aisle and the White House itself is leery of that.

So, almost certainly, the minimum wage will not be included in this major package. But it does impact so many other individuals, people who are losing jobless benefits, $1,400 in relief checks for individuals under certain income threshold, money for small businesses, for schools and vaccines and the like, so a lot riding on line.

They need to get this through the Senate this week and back to the House for final approval next week if they want any chance of landing this on Joe Biden's desk by March 14th. Guys?

HARLOW: Okay. Thank you, Manu, very much for all of that. And White House officials say that they are still meeting with Republican lawmakers, still they say trying to find some sort of common ground on this relief bill that has gotten zero Republican support. It is possible maybe even probable that at least one Republican will vote in favor of the final version. I'm not sure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We'll see. CNN's John Harwood is live at the White House.

Listen, this something that is not popular with Republican lawmakers but is popular with Republican voters. I have to imagine the White House is targeting Republican senators up for re-election in purple states in 2022.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure, they are. But I think expectations are low, which is why I put the emphasis on the possible rather than the probable there. As you indicated, Jim, 70 percent of the American people spoke favorably about that COVID relief package, including, depending on which poll you look at, anywhere from a third to a half or even more than half of Republican rank and file voters around the country, not a single Republican vote in the House.

Now, in the Senate, you have got 50 Republican senators, maybe it makes a difference that the minimum wage comes out because of the parliamentarian's ruling, maybe that is a difference when the bill comes back to the House. But I don't think anybody is counting on that because what you have with the Republican Party is a party that is -- however office holders feel about Donald Trump, they're heeding the call that he made in January, which is fight like hell, you're not going to have a country any more. That is because their base, I wrote a piece about this this weekend, the base among conservative white Christians feels the country is slipping away. They want their elective representatives to fight regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the issue.

And it is one of the reasons why, you know, in state capitols around the country, we've talked about the big lie around the election, where, obviously, Joe Biden won the election, and most Republicans who are not white evangelical protestant Republicans, most of them accepted Biden won. But three-fourths of white evangelicals say that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected, that same sentiment to take on the Democrats is applying to the COVID relief bill and it will apply to the rest of Biden's agenda. It's going to be a very big challenge for Joe Biden to overcome that impulse to fight on behalf of the part of the Republican Party.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it is just amazing how persistent the big lie is deliberately with enormous ramifications. John Harwood at the White House, thanks very much.

Former President Donald Trump used his return to the stage to repeat false claims of voter fraud, the big lie, has big consequences. It's fueling Republicans and state legislatures nationwide to change election laws, many critics even within the Republican Party calling it straight up voter suppression.


SCIUTTO: We are not making this up, but followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory now believe that former President Donald Trump is going to return to office this Thursday.

HARLOW: That is right. We're not making it up, millions of people believing this. It is the latest outrageous claim from a group that Republican officials are saying now has no place in the party.


RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We passed a resolution unanimously from the RNC members three years ago saying we condemn white supremacy, anti-Semitism and KKK, and I'm going to add QAnon to that. They are not welcome in our party.


HARLOW: Our Donie O'Sullivan has been really covering QAnon from the start. He joins us from Orlando. Of course, you're there because that is the site of this year's CPAC.


You heard what Ronna McDaniel just said there, that QAnon, the conspiracy theories have no place in the party.