Return to Transcripts main page


NIH Launching $1 Billion Initiative to Study Long COVID; ADL Says, White Supremacist Propaganda Hit Record High in 2020; Biden Says, Putin Will Pay a Price for Undermining 2020 Election. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 11:30   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Given to people who are sick, and that this variant is not responding as well as some other types of coronavirus to that particular treatment.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: There's also, as we're talking about, the significant jump in cases. There's a rise of COVID cases in 14 states right now. Perhaps the most concerning, Elizabeth, is likely in Michigan, right?

COHEN: That's right. So, Kate, we've all been sort of relieved to hear that the cases came down from where they were at the post-holiday high. But, unfortunately, there's a chunk of states where they are going up. So, in green, what you're seeing is states where it's going down. In yellow, you're seeing where the rates are holding steady. And then the orange is where it's going up, and then Michigan is in dark red because the rates are going up at a particular high rate, more than 50 percent when you look at seven-day averages.

So now let's take a look specifically at Michigan. The cases came down to a low in mid-February and have been climbing since. Now, there's more than 2,000 new cases a day there.

Now, we don't know quite why. Michigan seems to be having this trouble. One of the reasons might be is the variants that we were just talking about. Michigan has more cases of the U.K. variant than any other state, except Florida, and we know that that variant spreads more quickly and can be more deadly. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thank you very much.

There is also a puzzling phenomenon that doctors and scientists are now racing to understand better, long-haul COVID. What we're talking about are people who have been infected with COVID and seemingly recover from it. Yet they continue to face months of symptoms, like persistent and severe fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and brain fog, as they describe it, just to name a few.

It can range from mild to debilitating problems that just won't go away, again, lasting weeks or even months after recovery from COVID.

Listen to how one long-hauler has described it.


ABBY GRESKO BARCLAY, COVID LONG-HAUL PATIENT: I'm almost nine months into this nightmare that I'm living. I've seen 40 doctors. I've been to the E.R. five times. I've been hospitalized twice. And I still don't have answers.


BOLDUAN: Now, NIH has launched a billion dollar study to hopefully uncover some answers about this, to get to the bottom of some of the big question, like even as small as how many people are even suffering from this, and, two, who is most likely to fall victim to long COVID.

Joining me right now is the director of NIH, Dr. Francis Collins. Doctor, Director, thank you for coming on. I've been really wanting to talk to you about this.

You launched this study in February. And long COVID, I mean, it's really a mystery. It's obviously early on. But what can you tell us about the study so far and why it's so important to get answers here?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, It's very important. We didn't really expect that on top of all the other miseries that COVID-19 would create, there would also be this problem of people who just don't get better after a couple weeks of illness. Most respiratory viruses, you can get pretty sick. But when you get better, you get better and go back to where you were. At least for a significant fraction of people infected with COVID-19, that doesn't seem to be the case.

So we have organized, with additional support from the Congress, of the most major kind of cohort analysis you can imagine to try to understand who gets into this long COVID syndrome situation. Are there predisposing factors that put more people at risk for this? And what exactly is the cause of it? We don't think these are people who are still chronically infected with the virus. You can't find the virus anymore, but they're still quite ill.

You mentioned the symptoms, the brain fog, the fatigue, the shortness of breath, sometimes G.I. symptoms and just sometimes the inability to get back to normal life experiences because of this exhaustion, which sounds a lot like chronic fatigue syndrome. And maybe there's an overlap here as well.

Is this the immune system that got fired up by COVID-19 and hasn't been able to get back to normal? Is it because of the blood clotting issues that we know COVID-19 can cause? We have to sort all that out and do so as quickly as possible so that we can both figure out how to prevent this and also help people who are affected, which may be hundreds of thousands of people now in the United States, because this is not a rare syndrome at all.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it's really a mystery. I mean, I look forward to all of the work that comes from it.

In the midst of all of this, you're also at the forefront of the vaccine rollout and getting more people to get vaccinated in this country. And I'm struck by how polls are showing that vaccine hesitancy breaks down along political lines these days, Republicans far less likely than Democrats to want to get a vaccine.

Joe Biden was actually asked about how do you get politics out of vaccine talk, Doctor.


I'm going to play for you what he said.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I, honest to God, thought we had it out. I, honest to God, thought once we guaranteed we had enough vaccine for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal, but I just don't understand this sort of macho thing about, I'm not the going to get the vaccine.


BOLDUAN: This macho thing he says. Doctor, do you think it's possible that as a nation we don't reach herd immunity because of vaccine hesitancy?

COLLINS: Oh, I certainly hope not. It is our best hope forgetting beyond this really awful global pandemic, and the vaccines have come along very quickly in record time with amazing characteristics of safety and efficacy, and based upon rigorous data that anybody who wants to look at it can actually see for themselves why we are saying this is such a great opportunity.

And yet there's all this overlay, and some of it is politics, and some of it is social media conspiracy theories, and some of it is just distrust of anything that the government has anything to do with. We have a long way to go to try to overcome that. And I'm kind of a little astounded as well that we haven't gotten further in overcoming that hesitancy.

I was part of an event last night at the National Cathedral here in Washington trying to encourage church leaders to take a larger role in spreading the word about why this is really a love-your-neighbor opportunity that everybody would want to take part in because that's another place where there are credible voices that aren't the government that could begin to turn this around.

But I've got to say, the political part makes the least sense at all. How could it be that what political party you're in allows you to decide whether based up on rigorous objective data whether this vaccine is good for you or not? This doesn't seem like a sensible framework, and yet it seems to be where we are.

And it's rather unfortunate commentary on our nation and where we're going, if we can't, even for a medical situation like this where the data is so clear-cut, set aside those political considerations and do the right thing.

BOLDUAN: I did think that event that you took part in last night, we're just showing you some video of it, the kind of the intersection of faith, religious and science and vaccines, I think, was really important. I was really impressed at how it was all organized and you took part in that.

AstraZeneca, all the reports are they will soon be applying for review and authorization here in the United States. Do you think the actions by the European countries that we've seen in pausing the use of the vaccine over concerns regarding clotting has jeopardized its chances of being authorized here in the U.S.?

COLLINS: Well, certainly everybody wants to know exactly what is the evidence based upon that concern about clotting. Everything I have haired so far, but we're waiting for the European Medicines Agency report tomorrow, would indicate that this is one of those things where clotting is a very common medical problem.

When you have 17 million people getting a vaccine, some of them are going to have various medical problems just because that was going to happen to them anyway. And to try to draw a cause and effect would require much stronger evidence than some coincidences of those experiences. But let's see what the data looks like.

I will tell you the FDA is going to look with great care and stringency at what AstraZeneca's trial has resulted in here in the United States. And we do expect in the next little while having that information will start to be revealed and the company will go to FDA with their requests for emergency use authorization.

That will take some time though for FDA to go through the data. Then there will be a public meeting where all the data will be out there and a whole day of discussion will happen for anybody who wants to watch. This is our system, and it's a really good system. So everybody will know what the pros and cons were and they'll be able to look and see what was the safety data here in the U.S. for a very rigorous trial of 30,000 people.

BOLDUAN: Did you think the reaction from those countries was overblown considering, yes, we do know there are risks with some vaccines?

COLLINS: I was a bit surprised that so many countries decided to put pause on the administration of the vaccine, especially at a time where the disease itself is so incredibly threatening in most of those countries. But, again, I don't have access to any of the primary data that might have caused them to be alarmed.

One of the things that's been mentioned, this is a particular kind of blood clot on the brain, called a cerebral sinus thrombosis, which is less common to happen. Maybe they're looking back to try to see is this possibly connected. I mean, it seems, at the present time, fairly unlikely that this is something that has been, in any way, caused by the vaccines. Let's see what EMA says tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Let the science drive it, as you have long, long said and your life's work shows.


Director, thank you for coming on. Thank you for your work.

COLLINS: Glad to be with you. Ask me any time.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up, a disturbing new report showing white supremacist propaganda has nearly doubled in just the past year. Coming up next, the head of the Anti-Defamation League coming on with what is behind this new report that they have on the sharp rise in hate.


BOLDUAN: A new report from the Anti-Defamation League found that there were more incidence of white supremacist propaganda across the country last year than ever before. According to the ADL, there were over 5,100 cases of racist, anti-Semitic and hateful messages reported in 2020. That is nearly double the year before, which saw just under 3,000 reported incidents. And on average, about 14 incidents were reported every day. This marks the highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents that the ADL has ever reported.

Joining me right now is the CEO and National Director of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt. Thank you for coming in, Jonathan.

I saw this report and it's so saddening, though not surprising. And I'm wondering from this, are existing hate groups more emboldened, are there more of them, is it a combination of both? Tell me what you found.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well, it's a great question. I appreciate you giving me the chance to be here today to share what we've seen. As you sort of alluded to, ADL, we're the oldest anti-hate group in the world, and yet what we've seen in the past year is unlike anything we've ever tracked before.


So, indeed, we saw at least 30 different hate groups spreading thousands of messages, and I'm talking about offline activities, pamphleting, leafletting, fliering, dropping banners, flash mobs, demonstrations, you name it. This happened all over the country in 49 states. The only one that was exempt was Hawaii.

And we have indeed seen not only this surge over the past year but it fits into this bigger pattern, which gets to your question. These white supremacists, they don't just feel, if you will, emboldened in this environment. I would say they feel energized, because you had elected officials at the highest level repeating their rhetoric, right, spreading around their scapegoats and stereotypes. It was unmistakable.

There's never been a moment before in our nation's history where you had the president of the United States, when given the opportunity, told a white supremacist group to, quote, stand back and stand by in a presidential debate. And you had other aides orbiting around the Oval Office who were repeating these things.

So we should not be surprised that across the board, these groups exploited the moment and they leveraged the pandemic and the fear that it caused. The presidential election in the way the candidate tried to discredit our democracy, and they flooded to that vacuum to spread their toxins.

BOLDUAN: Jonathan, I mean, I think we need to name it, name him. I mean, we've seen Donald Trump since he had taken office and throughout his term, his refusal to speak against white supremacy, his dog whistles, his bull horns appealing to these hate groups where he would ignore or feign ignorance when called out. Is he the main reason behind this jump?

GREENBLATT: I think it's fair to say that hate existed before Donald Trump and will persist after Donald Trump. White supremacy wasn't only a problem on his watch. But it is unmistakable that the willingness of his White House to credential white supremacist media to cover events, right? Again, for him to tweet out their messages from the presidential social media feed, and on top of that, the relentless demonization of his opponents, the discrediting of institutions, delegitimizing of our democracy and its core processes, these fed into an environment where, again, these people felt energized.

And we're still, I would say, sifting through the rubble of the wreckage of his remarks and his rhetoric, because right now, we're dealing with a surge of anti-AAPI hate. And the demonization started a year ago and we're seeing it play out today in horrible and terrifying ways.

BOLDUAN: I did want to ask you about that, following the killings in Atlanta. We do not know the motive there yet. They held a press conference earlier, just moments ago, and said that it is too early to say what it is.

Regardless, we do know that the fear in the Asian-American community is very real, facing hate speech and violence especially since the pandemic began. What are you seeing here?

GREENBLATT: I think you're absolutely correct. I mean, we don't know, as you said, the shooter's motives. And yet, let's acknowledge the Asian-American and Pacific Island community has been terrorized over the past year-plus since the president started talking about the Wuhan flu.

And unlike past presidents from the Republican and Democratic side, right, instead of saying we recognize our Asian-American and Pacific Islander citizens, right, we're all part of one American family, there was none of that. There was on divisiveness, right? And why that's important today in this moment is, according to stop AAPI hate, there have been 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian racism, harassment, vandalism and violence over the past year. And groups like Asian-Americans Advancing Justice are dealing with the impacts on the ground through their chapters across the country.

So whether or not the shooter intended, the effect is still the same. There's anxiety and fear in that community.

And, look, I'm a white Jewish American, and I still stand with our Asian-American brothers and sisters, because we're all in this together. An attack against them is an attack against me.

BOLDUAN: Jonathan, thank you for coming on.

GREENBLATT: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden says President Putin will pay a price after an intelligence report shows that Russia tried to interfere in the 2020 election.



BOLDUAN: New this morning, President Biden vowing that Russian President Vladimir Putin will face consequences for his efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Listen to this.


BIDEN: He will pay the price. We had a long talk, he and I, and I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off, I said, I know you and you know me. If I established this occurred, then be prepared.


BOLDUAN: A major U.S. intelligence report was just released from the office of the director of National Intelligence that said Russia engaged in a massive disinformation campaign in 2020 and it points the finger directly at Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Kylie Atwood, she's covering this for us. She's got all of the details.

Kylie, layout for us what the report says.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this report, Kate, looks at a number of countries that were seeking to influence the U.S. election in 2020. I want to focus in on Russia because the report says that Russia was trying to denigrate Joe Biden and support President Trump. So it was -- its efforts there were twofold. And it was doing that not only to support Trump but to also undermine public confidence in the electoral process in the United States, to sow division in the U.S., which we have seen Russia do time and time again. This is part of their playbook.

But this report lays out in more details the fact that President Trump and his allies were not only supportive of that effort, somewhat, but they were also a part of it.

Now I want to read you a line that really details that, saying, quote, a key element Moscow's strategy this election cycle was its use of proxies linked to Russian intelligence, to push influence narratives, including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden to U.S. media organizations, U.S. officials and prominent U.S. individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.


So this report really does layout just how influential Russia sought to be. They didn't impact the vote tally. They didn't try to impact the vote tally, but they were influential. And the Biden administration is now saying that Russia will face consequences.

Now, I also want to point out on Iran. The report says that they sought to undercut President Trump but they didn't actively seek to support Biden. So that is important. And then on China, they thought about getting involved but they didn't, that is completely at odds with what Trump and his allies, those in his administration were saying in their final months. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you very much for that report. We'll be right back.