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Further Rejection Of AstraZeneca In Europe; A Soldier's View; Fleeing The Myanmar Military He Served; First U.S. Diplomatic Mission To Asia Seeks To Send Tough And Consistent Message; Green Passport Blues; The Complications For Travel; 2,800 Brazilians Died On Tuesday From COVID; More European Countries Suspend AstraZeneca Vaccine; U.K. Plans to Boost its Military and Global Influence; Intel Report: Russia Tried to Help Trump in 2020 Vote; Japanese Court: Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live around the world. Hello, I'm John Vause.

And coming up this hour. Science and data appear to be losing out to group think and hysteria.

More countries suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine even though E.U. regulators are the latest to publicly plead the benefits far outweigh any yet to be proven risk.

Refusing to kill. A small but growing number of police officers in Myanmar defying direct orders to open fire on unarmed civilians, many fleeing the country now in fear.

And North Korea rebuffs a U.S. offer to renew talks. With the latest intelligence showing what appears to be preparations for a new possible weapons test.

The head of the European Medicines Agency is the latest to make the case for the continued use of the AstraZeneca vaccine arguing there is no scientific basis for suspending the rollout, and the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID 19 far outweigh the yet to be proven risks.

Still from Europe to Africa to Asia, government officials in defiance of fact, evidence and science continue to order a halt on the use of the vaccine.

Claiming to be acting out of an abundance of caution because 37 blood clots were reported among the 17 million doses were administered worldwide, a rate no higher than what occurs in the general population.

Europe's Medicine Agency has now scheduled a news conference later Wednesday for an update on the investigation. A final verdict on the vaccine's safety still expected the next day.


EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: While the investigation is ongoing we are currently -- we are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risk of these side effects.


VAUSE: Still right now, at least 15 European countries, all the areas shaded in red on that map, have ordered a full or partial suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine; Sweden, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Latvia among the most recent to join the list.


ANDERS TEGNELL, CHIEF EPIDEMIOLOGIST, SWEDISH PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY (Through Translator): It's still uncertain whether there's a link to the vaccinations or if this is a random event, and therefore, we're now carefully following the investigation taking place at the European Medicines Agency.


VAUSE: Regardless, the end result is almost 8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine now sitting idle, as the rate of infection is surging once again across parts of Europe.

And this is on top of an already depressingly slow vaccine rollout, all adding to the number of people whose deaths from COVID-19 could have been entirely preventable.

In the coming hours, the European Commission will reveal what is effectively a vaccine passport, what might just be a financial lifeline to a tourism industry decimated by the pandemic.

Officially, it's called a digital green certificate and would allow unrestricted travel during the northern summer. While many have welcomed the idea, the World Health Organization opposes any mandatory proof of vaccinations as a prerequisite for international travel.


DR. MICHAEL RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION EMERGENCY HEALTH PROGRAMS: We have to be exceptionally careful because right now we're dealing with a tremendously inequitous situation in the world where the likelihood of you being offered or getting a vaccine is very much to do with the country you live in, very much to do with the level of wealth, the level of influence that you or your government has on global markets.


VAUSE: Live now to CNN's emerging markets editor, John Defterios in Abu Dhabi.

So, John, this is a program I guess which is meant to simplify the travel process in the E.U., make it safe, make it easy, but is there a risk of exposing national differences here?

Because the countries who are -- the warmer countries, they're really pushing for this right now.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Yes, those who are dependent on tourism are pushing for a solution, John. That's why this debate has moved forward here to mid-March.

Yes. It's to rally around a common platform but I think it does risk showing the fissures within the European Union and national priorities versus priorities coming from Brussels.

Now you heard in that sound byte there, clearly the priority is not to discriminate so this program, the green certificate pass, would cover this idea if you were vaccinated, yes it would show that, if you're negative PCR, if you couldn't get a vaccination and also, if you've had COVID-19, whether you have antibodies.

It would also clear you to go because of the delays in the vaccine program.

Also, there is a common platform to work with, that's good, this green certificate. But the gray areas are -- let's take Hungary, for example, which has cleared vaccines for Russia and China, not cleared by Brussels and the European Medicines Agency, right? So that creates a challenge.


Would the Hungarian be able to travel in this E.U. bubble of 27?

And then finally, you have to raise the question, they are allowing member states to have bilateral agreements with the U.K., for example, not a member of the European Union, with Switzerland. I'm thinking even of Russia which has the Sputnik V vaccine; it's a big travel market but, again, only cleared by Brussels, right, John.

You could see the resistance that could come. Russia's a big market for the Greeks and the Italians, for an example.

Then there's the interface with IATA, the trade body for the airlines which has an international pass that it's created. What would take priority if you're a traveler?

Here's the director general talking to CNN.


ALEXANDRE DE JUNIAC, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: What we do is that we have provided the tool for that. To certify that either you have been tested, vaccinated or you are immune and then the IATA travel pass. We think it's a key instrument as a complement of the testing and vaccination that the government has to ensure that traveling is safe and that air travel is safe.


DEFTERIOS: So this is a huge question going forward. And Mr. De Juniac did tell the "Financial Times," because of the problems, John, that has happened with the rollout of the European vaccines the in- fighting amongst member states, the clash with the U.K. over the vaccines coming from the U.K. market and those being blocked, they have not built confidence that this European-wide solution for the green certificate, will work.

And then you have to think about the interfacing that I'm talking about at the international level. Again, IATA, the International Air Transport Association, wanted to put forward a solution then you have a European-wide solution.

So it's still early days yet, you don't want to shoot it down, it's going in the right direction. But you can see the challenges, the hurdles, that they do need to cross.

VAUSE: It was interesting to see Delta (ph) said it's only a matter of time before this vaccine passport comes into play for international travel. But, as you say, they're moving in the right direction. We'll see what happens.

John, thank you. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi.

DEFTERIOS: Yes. You bet.

VAUSE: To Southern California now, and Jeff Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Jeff, thanks for being with us.

This is one of those issues where there seem to be valid compelling arguments on both sides here, for and against. Let's start with the big picture, the benefit of a vaccine passport.

Summed up quite nicely, I think, by Joan Costa-Font at the London School of Economics.

She writes, "Vaccine passports can be used as an incentive to change behavior. They not only provide some direct benefits but they signal what society expects from individuals. They exemplify a social norm that individuals are expected to comply with"..

Some countries have long made entry conditional on receiving certain vaccinations, kids have to be vaccinated to attend schools, records are kept of -- is a vaccine passport, in theory, any different?

JEFFREY KAHN, DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS BERMAN INSTITUTE OF BIOETHICS: It's a really good question. I think part of the challenges is that not everybody can get vaccinated yet.

So using vaccination as a passport to open up a society, restore liberties feels unfair, at the moment. But I think, as you just quoted, it's really a way to get people

incentivized to get vaccinated so that we can re-open society and return to something like normalcy.

So I think the devil's going to be in the details as with a lot of what's happened during the pandemic.

VAUSE: Yes. And let's talk about the inequity here because that's obviously the downside, you touched on this.

And for that, we head to "The New York Times" editorial pages where they argue the inequities in vaccine distribution would be reflected in who gets a passport.

They write this: "This evokes an uncomfortable image; professional class white people disproportionately allowed into shops, baseball games, restaurants where people of color and members of the working class is disproportionately kept down.

If workplaces require proof of vaccination it could tilt employment as well."

The bigger picture, (inaudible) seems to be don't kill off the passport but fix the problems with the health care system.

KAHN: Exactly. And fix the problems with inequitable access to vaccines.

So if it's used as a way to get people vaccinated who may be on the fence or wondering whether it's the right thing to do at this time, it's I think a really valuable tool.

But if it's a way to allow the people who got access first to reopen, be participants in a reopened society before others as you've just articulated in ways that are inequitable, that's not fair, that's not right.

So I think it's an important tool but we have to fix the equitable access to vaccines first.

VAUSE: Yes. And the Biden Administration has said there's no role for government to play here in issuing vaccination passports. So does that ease your concerns, say, over privacy but also raising concerns about how this could -- what could happen if there's no government regulation, no government involvement, no oversight?

KAHN: Yes. And I think whether governments are involved or not in the U.S., for instance, whether the U.S. governments are involved or state governments are involved, it's happening internationally.

We already know that people are employing or thinking about employing passports. And even if governments don't, businesses will.


Airlines are very interested in some mechanism by which they can assure the countries where people are traveling to that individuals won't spread illness or infection.

And so I think the private sector will take the lead here if the governments don't.

VAUSE: Beyond the ethical questions here, just other simple issues as well. Like there's more than a dozen different vaccines being used globally at the moment all with different degrees of efficacy, who decides what will be the globally accepted standard?

Who decides what will be the globally accepted vaccine passport? What does it look like?

KAHN: Yes. Well, certainly think about passports that we all carry to travel. There is a global standard and that way a passport from one country is accepted by other countries. And so one can imagine that kind of standard being created.

Who would do that is a good and open question. I think the World Health Organization is an obvious place to take some leadership.

That said, there are other ways to be immune from infection beside vaccination. So that's another issue that somehow has to be resolved.

What if individuals were infected with SARS-CoV-2 and have recovered, they probably have antibodies and therefore, they would be immune without needing to be vaccinated. So who's going to decide what the right level of antibody titer is, what test counts and who gets to decide that?

Vaccines are much more straightforward but really they're not the only way to attest to what we really want, which is immunity among the members of our community.

VAUSE: Very quickly. What about the data issue, the privacy issue with governments having that much information and using it against their citizens?

KAHN: Well, that's already happening, right? At least in the U.S. Anybody who's vaccinated, that information is reported, it's collected and it's shared.

So I'm a little worried that that horse has already left the barn. And so it really -- privacy seems to be way down on the list of concerns, at least for how these passports might be rolled out.

VAUSE: Jeff, thank you for being with us. This is going to be one of those issues I think people will be talking about for a while. We'll get new details about this passport I guess in the next 24 hours. Find out exactly what they plan to do. But thanks for being with us.

KAHN: My pleasure.

VAUSE: Once again, Brazil is reporting the highest daily death toll from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

More than 2,800 people died on Tuesday, a dramatic increase from the previous record set last week.

Despite all of that, the federal government has not ordered nor appears likely to order a national lockdown.

CNN's Matt Rivers has details now, reporting from Rio de Janeiro.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, much like his soon to be boss, President Jair Bolsonaro, the soon to be Brazilian health minister, cardiologist Marcelo Quieroga, apparently does not believe that lockdown measures are appropriate even though Brazil is right now, unquestionably, is in the worst days of this pandemic so far.

We heard from Marcelo Quieroga when he talked to CNN Brazil on Monday evening. He was asked about lockdown measures and he said, quote: "This lockdown term stems from extreme situations, it applies in extreme situations. It cannot be government policy to lock down."

This despite the fact that epidemiologists across the board, the ones that we've spoken to here in Brazil over the past week included, are basically saying that more restrictive measures need to be taken right now because of just how dire the situation here in Brazil is right now.

We've seen a huge number of new cases, we've seen record numbers of new deaths. It was on Tuesday that there was another very high nationwide death toll driven in part by a record single day total recorded in the state of Sao Paulo, that is the country's largest; 669 deaths were recorded on Tuesday in the state of Sao Paulo.

That beats the previous record from last week which was just 521. That number now brings the average daily death toll in the state of Sao Paulo to 400, the largest since this pandemic began.

That daily number is 50 percent larger than it was two weeks ago.

RIVERS (On Camera): Matt Rivers, CNN, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


VAUSE: According to the U.N., at least 149 people have been killed in clashes with security forces in Myanmar since the military seized power last month.

In the commercial capital, Yangon, security forces have again opened fire, a journalist there reporting to CNN a number of people had been wounded after protesters had set fires to barricades in an effort to force police to keep their distance.

Meantime, a panel of high-ranking monks has withdrawn support for the military.

The U.N. is reporting communication blackouts which is hampering information to gather accurate information but says hundreds of people have gone missing, presumed detained, amid reports of prisoners being tortured by the military.


RAVINA SHAMDASANI, SPOKESWOMAN, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: We are deeply disturbed that the crackdown continues to intensify and we again call on the military to stop killing and detaining protesters.


VAUSE: Hundreds of police officers and government workers have fled Myanmar in recent weeks, crossing into India to escape the military crackdown.


A policeman who is now hiding described the deadly tactics security forces have been using to disperse crowds and he told CNN he refused to follow direct orders from the military to open fire on unarmed protesters.

More details now from CNN's Vedika Sud.


(Sounds of gunfire)

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Violent scenes on the streets of Myanmar ever since the military junta staged a coup forced this police officer to flee to India.

He says he didn't want the blood of his countrymen on his hands.

CNN is not disclosing his identity for his own safety.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): When more than five protesters gather and we can't break the crowd, we have orders to shoot.

SUD: He says the orders by the military to arrest and shoot protesters were unacceptable to him. And that's when he decided to escape, leaving behind his parents and siblings.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): They provide us with 100 bullets for G- 3, a 100 bullets for M-13, a 100 bullets for 94, 50 bullets for 12 and 50 rubber bullets.

SUD: CNN cannot independently verify this officer's allegations. We called Myanmar's embassy for comment. We were asked to email questions but we have not received a response.

The officer is one of almost 300 people, mostly police officers, government officials with families who fled Myanmar and crossed into India's northeastern state of Mizoram days after the military crackdown.

Most refugees are supported by local activists. Myanmar and Mizoram share a porous border that stretches more than 500


The recent influx of those fleeing Myanmar is a growing concern, says Mizoram's chief minister, Zoramthanga. The decision of repatriation lies with the Indian government.

ZORAMTHANGA, MIZORAM'S CHIEF MINISTER: What we have to do is only to give them food and shelter because this is humanitarian point of view. Beyond that, everything depends upon the central government of India.

SUD: The officer who is currently in hiding says people back home are living in fear.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): Civilians have to guard their neighborhoods through the night. They're already facing so many issues.

SUD: But Myanmar's military says its officers have been attacked. And the secretary of foreign affairs says it has been trying to maintain law and order.

Authorities have been exercising utmost restraint to deal with the violent protests, he said.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): I want to see my family but only after dictatorship ends.

SUD: He once dreamt of serving his country but not lives in constant fear. The fear of being handed back to Myanmar.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): If we are sent back to Myanmar, our life is in danger. There are no guarantees, we might be killed.

SUD: With Myanmar in the midst of an intense political turmoil, the wait to return home could be a long one.

SUD (Voice Over): Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.


VAUSE: Well, after Tokyo now comes Seoul and a focus on North Korea. The mending fences and sending a message to China tour by two senior officials from the Biden Administration. More on that next.

Also new details on how the Kremlin tried to help Donald Trump win a second term -- he did not win a second term, he lost.



JACK FORSTER, EDITOR-IN CHIEF, HODINKEE: The IWC big pilot's watch is a modern version of a navigation watch that was made in very small numbers during World War II.

It was a kind of watch -- what's called a Beobachtungs-uhren, an observation watch, and it was designed for navigation in the cockpit.

So the modern big pilot's watch was not a reissue, not an identical reissue to the original, it had a new mechanism but it was sort of an expression of the connection between IWC and its history as a maker of aviation watches.

It's a watch that really is all about legibility and precision in the air. As a navigation instrument, there's simply no room for error.


And it remains today one of the icons of modern watch design and one of the watches that helped to really kickstart the big watch crave of the early 2000s.


VAUSE: At least eight people have been killed in a shooting spree at three massage parlors here in the greater Atlanta area.

Police have a suspect in custody and say four of the dead are Asian women.

Motive is still not known but the leading coalition addressing anti- Asian hate and discrimination released a statement calling the shootings an unspeakable tragedy.

The statement goes on to say, "This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure. Concrete action must be taken now. Anything else is unacceptable."

Two senior officials from the Biden Administration are in South Korea after a visit to Japan.

U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, will meet their counterparts in Seoul.

This as the U.S. says North Korea could be preparing for its first weapon test since President Biden was sworn into office.

CNN's Paula Hancock is live in Seoul for us.

There were some very tough words to Beijing in Tokyo. Are we expecting similar tough words for North Korea after this meeting?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We could. It's certainly possible, John. It's going to be one of the main focuses, there's no doubt about that once they're in Seoul.

Looking at what North Korea has been saying over the past couple of days, we've heard more from them than we have in quite a long time.

Now we heard from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, slamming the U.S. saying they should avoid, quote, making a stink at the first step. Saying if they want to be able to sleep easy for the next four years they have to be careful.

And we also heard from U.S. intelligence or at least officials in the U.S. who spoke to Barbara Starr on condition of anonymity.

They believe that the U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea is close to testing something. It would be the first weapons test since President Biden took office.

And also, really since about March of last year, there have not been an awful lot coming out of North Korea recently, most believe because they are dealing with the COVID pandemic.

So certainly, there is a lot to talk about. The U.S. South Korean military drills are still ongoing, they will end tomorrow. And that is usually something that North Korea reacts to although this time around they were smaller, we understand, and largely computer simulated because of COVID as well.

So there is no doubt North Korea will be the number one topic.

HANCOCKS (On Camera): The U.S. Administration also admitting that they have been reaching out to North Korea but have not heard anything and have no response as of yet. John.


VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks with the very latest in Seoul. Appreciate it.

Ambassador Chris Hill served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. He was chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea from 2005 until 2009. He is also the author of "Outpost: A Diplomat At Work." He is with us this hour from New York.

Ambassador Hill, thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: Now in tone and substance, the remarks made by Secretaries Blinken and Austin on Tuesday made it very clear that there is a new administration in the White House and it's putting Beijing on notice.

Listen to this.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: While we were focused on issues in the Middle East, China has modernized its military. In addition to that, it has engaged in aggressive and in some cases coercive behavior.

And some of that behavior has been directed against our allies in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: So apart from the strong words there, China dominated almost all of the 90 minutes of the meeting between secretary of state and Japan's foreign minister.

So what is Beijing actually hearing from all of this? These tougher words as well as the warnings and the fence mending with traditional allies, how will that impact Beijing's behavior, do you think?

HILL: Well, I think first of all, Beijing looks forward to working with the Biden Administration that has a sense of organization, a sense of purpose and a sense of sequencing diplomatic events of this kind.

This is not to say that the Biden Administration has some kind of different view of Beijing.

I think Secretary Austin made it very clear they are a very tough competitor and they've been very tough on some of our allies.

But I think in light of that, it's been very important that the U.S. sit down with those allies and make sure we're kind of singing from the same sheet of music because this is not a short-term project dealing with China, this is not something that's going to last for a couple of months.

This will probably last the entire lifespan of the Biden Administration. It's important we get it right, it's important we talk to our allies, it's important we not have mixed messages and it's important that we keep each other informed.

So I think it's a very good sequencing of first talking to their allies and then afterwards talking to the Chinese.


HILL: And there are things we've got to talk to the Chinese about. But we need to make clear with our allies what we're doing, why we're doing it and make sure we're in sync.

VAUSE: The bigger picture here. Is this the moment when two of Biden's major foreign policy ambitions intersect repairing relations with traditional allies while at the same time putting together a united front to try and deal or contain China?

HILL: I think to some extent that's absolutely right. Obviously, we have important allies in Europe and we will be working with those allies in Europe and they have some of their own issues including, by the way, dealing with China.

But I think dealing with some of these frontline allies such as South Korea and Japan, going through the list of issues we have -- a big part of it is China but we also have North Korean issues.

So I think it does show a real purpose, a real purposefulness of this trip. And just, as a professional diplomat, it's really nice to see the degree of organization. You get the sense that people know what their mission is, they know

what they're going to be doing and they know what they're going to be doing next.

So for those of us who -- in this profession, it's good to see.

VAUSE: Yes, it is reassuring on many levels. But at the same time having North Korea which appears to be ramping up its illicit nuclear missile programs -- the website 38 North, very reliable, it closely monitors the North's reports.

Its satellite images have detected increased active at the Yongbyon nuclear center as well as radiochemical laboratory and uranium enrichment plant.

And the U.S. northern military command says, "The North Korean regime has also indicated it is no longer bound by the unilateral nuclear and ICBM testing moratorium announced in 2018 suggesting Kim Jong-un may begin flight testing an improved ICBM [design]" sometime soon.

On Tuesday, we found out that a U.S. approach to the North was rebuffed. Here's the secretary of state.


ANTHONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York. To date, we have not received a response from Pyongyang.


VAUSE: Is that unusual? And is this now a case that after Kim Jong- un met one-on-one with President Trump on three separate occasions, has that set the bar now for what Pyongyang considers to be normal diplomatic relation, that talks at a lower level are just a non- starter?

HILL: Well, I think the North Koreans understand that the Biden Administration is quite seized (ph) with the issue of North Korea, this is not a question of ignoring the issue, as these early attempts at contact suggested.

But I think it's also very appropriate that the Biden Administration's reaching out to allies first and frankly, also going to be talking to the Chinese. Because I suspect the issue of North Korea will also come onto that agenda in Alaska.

So I think it's very important that the Administration start dealing with this at an early date. How the North Koreans are going to handle it is hard to guess at this point.

In the past they have fired off missiles, they've conducted tests as a kind of attention getter. It's not to be ruled out that this is what is going on down. But what I think what is very -- what is vital about how we handle

this is that we work with partners and allies. And that seems to be the thrust of what we're doing.

VAUSE: Very quickly, we're out of time, but just to bring this full circle. Is North Korea the issue which could break the ice between Beijing and Washington?

HILL: Oh, I think there are a number of issues but I think it is important to sit down and go through all these issues. This problem didn't come up yesterday and it didn't start with the Trump Administration.

This is a big major league problem to deal with the Chinese. And obviously, progress on North Korea would be helpful.

VAUSE: Ambassador, thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

Still to come. Why so many of Europe's pandemic problems are the result of a lack of union in the European Union.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Well, the controversy now surrounding AstraZeneca is just the latest setback to Europe's much delayed and deeply-troubled vaccine rollout which has struggled with a lack of supplies. And now millions of doses of AstraZeneca are sitting idle over some unfounded safety concern. Still another four European countries have suspended the vaccine's use on Tuesday pending an emergency review.

We get more details now from CNN's Melissa Bell.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): These were some of the last Italians to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Then suddenly, Italy announced that it was stopping its rollout over fears of blood clots in some vaccine recipients.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was already unsure about it because Germany had stopped it this morning. AstraZeneca, I won't do it.

BELL: On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency is expected to deliver its final verdict on the safety of the vaccines. On Tuesday, it dropped a hint on its thinking.

EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: We are looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines. At the moment, we have looked at the background rates for all the vaccines currently in circulation and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in across the world. BELL: But if the investigation is being coordinated at E.U. level,

these suspensions have been anything but. Over the last week, one by one, amid a third COVID wave and against EMA's advice many European countries have broken rank, stopping the AstraZeneca roll out unilaterally, even as countries like the United Kingdom, Thailand, and Australia have continued it.

STELLE KYNAKIDES, E.U. HEALTH COMMISSIONER: A number of member states have, as a precautionary measure, therefore decided to suspend vaccinations, which is fully in their right to do so as vaccinations are a member state's (INAUDIBLE).

BELL: Until the pandemic, all health matters were decided at member- state level. In fact, the E.U.'s deal with AstraZeneca for 400 million doses in July, which was signed three months after the U.K. secured its doses, was the first attempt at E.U. coordination on public health.

And it hasn't gone well since, with a row over delays and export ban and ultimately an apology from the European Commission president.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: We were late in granting authorization. We were too optimistic about mass production and maybe also took for granted that the orders would actually arrive on time. We must ask ourselves why and what lessons we can draw from it.

BELL: But what if the lessons of the pandemic are more for Europe than for AstraZeneca? So far, some 36 percent of the U.K.'s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. At least 21 percent in the United States. But only around 8 percent in Spain, Germany, France and Italy.

(on camera): What the pandemic provided Brussels with, it believed, was an opportunity to unite Europe around its political leadership. In fact, what the last year has shown is that countries ended up making their own decisions in terms of their borders, in terms of vaccine procurement in some cases, and in terms of vaccine safety.

In the end, what was shown was that Europe had neither the political cohesion nor the bureaucratic processes to cope with the pandemic.


DR. MARC VAN RANST, BELGIAN VIROLOGIST: I don't think they were doing the right thing. Once large and influential countries pauses (ph) this vaccination, other countries tend to become overcautious and they often seem to lack the courage to do the evidence-based thing, rather than the emotion-based thing.

BELL: Whatever the European Medicines Agency decides on Thursday, some say that the damage is already done. Not only to Europe's ambition of vaccinating 70 percent of its population by September, but to its ambition of doing that as one.

Melissa Bell, CNN -- Rome. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine and scrips research. He's with us from California this hour. Dr. Topol, it's good to see you. thank you for being with us.

DR. ERIC TOPOL, CARDIOLOGIST: John, great to be with you. Thank you.

VAUSE: you know, I think it is important to hear a little more from the head of the European Medicines Agency who actually went public with a statement on Tuesday. It was unexpected. Here she is a little bit more about those blood clots.


COOKE: I want to also stress that at present, there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions. The number of thromboembolic events overall in the vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population.


VAUSE: So Dr. Topol, hypothetically, even if there is an undeniable proof, and it's not there, but the vaccine, you know, cause blood clots, would that be a big enough issue to scrap the rollout of the vaccine in the first place? Would that be what's considered unacceptable risk?

DR. TOPOL: Right. Well, you know, it's a very thorny issue because, you know, other vaccine programs like Moderna and Pfizer have had these very rare clogging events, notably the drop in platelets cells.

And we are in this cluster, these events that you described, there are some. And in fact, in Germany, there are these seven so-called cavernous sinus thrombosis, that's a blood clot in the brain. So that's extremely rare and the fact that there is this cluster it does cause for some concern.

But on the other hand, the denominator here is so incredibly vast that the assertion that the safety and efficacy of the vaccine outweighs this extremely low risk.

So that's kind of the balance here. And normally, if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic and if we weren't in the middle of the starting of another new surge in Europe, this would be, you know, take your time, just go through all this and get all the details.

Most of these events of clotting have nothing to do with the vaccine. A few or, you know, a limited number may have something to do with the vaccine. But still the data are far in favor of the vaccine. The issue here though is that at least this crisis or compromise in confidence in the vaccine. That's what's really troubling.

VAUSE: Yes. I want you to listen to Professor Marc Van Ranst, he's Europe's version of Dr. Anthony Fauci, talking about the consequences of the suspension of the rollout. Here he is. DR. VAN RANST: If you do this, it has grave consequences and it has

grave consequences for the health of the Europeans.

I'm sure everybody tries to do the right thing, but you can be overcautious. And I think that is what is happening here in Europe today.


VAUSE: So I guess the question is, is this an overreaction? What will be the impact on trust and confidence, you know, in all COVID vaccines?

And think about the AstraZeneca vaccine. It was cheaper, it was easier to store, and it was widely being used in Africa, and this will definitely have some kind of impact.

DR. TOPOL: Well John, that's really true. And not only but this is a world story, because this is the number one vaccine that's been ordered throughout the world. It's the least expensive. And indeed we were relying on it.

So it's really important that this vaccine succeeds. This, unfortunately, is you know, getting in the way. Hopefully it's very short term. But it would be good and hopefully in the next few days to see all the details of each of these patients who experienced a clotting event, just so that everyone is comfortable.

Because if the medical community is comfortable, that will help, you know, get over this hump so that, you know, all the people -- the clinicians, the doctors can help reassure patients in these various countries where there's been this temporary hold.

VAUSE: Should we be more worried about headlines like this one on Tuesday? "AstraZeneca vax flops against South African variant in early trial?

DR. TOPOL: Well, that's another chapter. Today, there was a "New England Journal" paper on about 2000 people in South Africa that had that variant, the B1351, that is known to have this kind of immune evasion feature, and the AstraZeneca vaccine didn't work against placebo.

And that's the same group of patients with the same variant where two other vaccines -- Johnson & Johnson and Novavax -- have worked. So there is some softness to this vaccine for efficacy to the South African variant. But that's different. That's a very different matter than the issue about the blood clotting events.


VAUSE: Yes. It just seems to be more realistic or something to be looking at it and actually could cause concern, as opposed to the blood clots which seem so incredibly rare.

Dr. Eric Topol, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it. DR. TOPOL: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: The U.K. has announced a massive increase in defense spending which will increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons. It's part of a new foreign policy which seeks to strengthen the military to help expand U.K. influence globally and to deal with security threats.

Bottom line, defense spending will increase by $33 billion over the next four years to finance an increase in nuclear warheads to 260 and sending more troops on more overseas deployments.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The first outcome of the integrated review was the government's decision to invest an extra 24 billion pounds in defense, allowing the wholesale modernization of our armed forces, and taking forward the renewal of our nuclear deterrent.

The new money will be focused on mastering the emerging technologies that are transforming warfare, reflecting the premium placed on speed and deployment, and technical skill.


VAUSE: The security review reaffirmed Britain's relationship with the United States. Said the U.K. would remain committed to its NATO allies to deter regional threats, especially from Russia.

It turns out China, hey was not the biggest threat to U.S. election security, as Donald Trump had said. A new report from the U.S. intelligence community finds Russia was the main culprit with a not so secret campaign to try and help Donald Trump be reelected. He wasn't, he lost.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has details.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is the most comprehensive report that we've seen so far about the 2020 election from the U.S. intelligence community and it details the extent of Russia's major influence campaign to try to hurt Joe Biden's campaign and help Donald Trump's.

The report goes farther than what we've heard before from the U.S. intelligence community, clearly stating that people close to then President Trump and the administration were being targeted by Russian intelligence at the behest of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

This was one of the report's key findings. "We assess that Russian President Putin authorized and a range of Russian government organizations conducted influenced operations aimed at denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S." Now that is generally the main goal of these influence operations. Divide Americans, to pit voters against one another. But Russia went farther, according to this report, saying a key element of Noscow's strategy this election cycle was to use its 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 President Trump and his administration.

Now, they don't name the Americans who were targeted and who are close to Trump, but they do name Andrii Derkach, a familiar name to many, a Ukrainian lawmaker who's in contact with President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And Vladimir Putin, according to this report, had purview over the activities of Andrii Derkach.

Now this report goes on to talk about Iran's multi-pronged covert influence campaign to hurt Donald Trump and to sow division probably, they say, approved by Iran's supreme leader.

Very interestingly, China, who Trump and his allies had said were working to get Joe Biden elected, didn't deploy any influence efforts in the election, according to this report. China didn't feel that it was worth risking the U.S.-China relationship to get caught meddling in the election.

This report from ODNI also makes clear that on the technical side of voting, foreign actors did not impact the actual votes. They write, "We have no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 elections, including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results.

The foreign operations, in particular those from Russia and China, according to the U.S. intelligence community, were all about influence operations.

Alex Marquardt, CNN -- Washington.


VAUSE: Coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM, a district court in Japan overturns a ban on same sex marriage, ruling it unconstitutional. We are live in Tokyo with the very latest.



VAUSE: A court in Japan has ruled "I do" to marriage equality. It's an historic decision with the judge finding the government's refusal to recognize same sex marriage was unconstitutional.

CNN's Blake Essig is following the story for us in Tokyo. Blake, this is an important day for marriage equality in Japan. But is this ruling the final word on this? BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. You know, again, this is a

landmark decision, but you are absolutely right. This is a district court decision and the reality is that decision doesn't have the ability to actually change the law here in Japan.

Now, a Japanese court, district court for the first time has ruled that same sex couples not being able to marry is unconstitutional. It is a decision which could usher in a new era of marriage equality in Japan.

And while the plaintiffs here were denied compensation, the verdict could set a precedent which could impact same-sex related cases moving forward and there are about five total cases including this one around the country right now, which are moving through the court system which again, the goal being to change the current law.

Now, this lawsuit against the government was filed in 2019 by three couples living in Sapporo -- after the government denied their marriage application because they were a same-sex couple.

Now, this is one of, as I said, five similar cases moving through the country. And while the constitution doesn't specifically ban same sex marriage, there is wording in the constitution that refers to quote, "the mutual consent of both sexes".

So the interpretation of that is what has led us to where we are today. Now their cases claim that the Japanese constitution guarantees marital freedom and equality under the law, but again, right now, Japan is one the -- is the only G7 country not to recognize same sex marriage.

And here in Japan, same sex couples are deprived of inheritance following their partner's death, they're not allowed to have joint custody over children, which they raced together, and they're also unable to receive public housing because of their same-sex status.

Now there's also -- one of the other big issues and I spoke with the director of Human Rights Watch here in Japan who said that the big issue is that there is still currently no legislation protecting from -- LGBTQ people from discrimination. So there's still a long way to go despite the fact that homosexuality was legalized in 1880 here in Japan. There is still a long way to go when it comes to marriage equality and LGBTQ rights here in Japan, John.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there in Tokyo with a live update. Appreciate it.

Now, Uber's day of reckoning has arrived in the U.K. with drivers now officially classified as workers which means that they are entitled to a lot of benefits which Uber had refused to pay but now will be forced to pay.


VAUSE: More than 70,000 drivers entitled to receive minimum wage, paid vacations and a pension. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the drivers last month, ending a five-year long legal battle.

One unintended upside of the coronavirus lockdown has been a temporary improvement in air quality. A new report from IQ Air found 90 countries have enjoyed cleaner air because of a decline in human related emissions. However the report notes pollution levels are expected to rise as restrictions are lifted and economies return to normal.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us with more on this. And yes, it's bouncing back pretty quickly, isn't it? Or faster, I guess than many people expect it.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. And you know, in some cases it is actually increasing where pre-pandemic levels are slightly lower. I'll show you exactly where that is.

But you know, some of the findings from this particular study showing us things that we already knew. Like Pakistan, India and areas across China as 49 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world reside in those three nations.

Other studies as you noted, the 84 percent or about 90 of the 106 countries polled here showing a dramatic improvement in air quality over a 12-month standing and we see how things played out from March of 2015 through 2019 as the concern is carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide levels across this particular region.

But the perspective if you can kind of notice and compare that to March 2020, you see significant improvement. But again this was short lived. You see this play out again across portions of Italy where we had massive spikes in previous years, significant drops in others.

And the reason this is so important is that air pollution is the fourth leading cause of premature deaths in the world. About eight million people lose their lives directly related to pollutants, you know, cancer. We have smoking, certainly can end in lung disease and heart disease also kind of in line here with some of the deadliest.

But you know, air pollution is right up there. But as John noted, it is increasing and it is increasing rather quickly. Look at the comparison to February 2020 was across portions of China, the nitrogen dioxide levels which by the way, are the primary you'll find in pollutants from car emissions on the increase in the northern areas, the northeastern areas of China, they're actually increasing there quite a bit compared to where they were back in 2019.

And of course, the concern is that this is not going to slow down anytime soon unless further actions are put in place. You know, China making a big push on for renewable energy and hopefully that happens sooner than later and see these improvements continue.

VAUSE: As they continue to build those coal-fired power stations for the electric cars. It's an interesting situation going on in.

Pedram, thank you. Appreciate it.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. My Freedom Day has come and gone but it is never too late to take a stand against modern day slavery.


MARY ANNE: Hello I'm Mary Anne (ph) from Germany and I'm against human trafficking because it is unethical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm (INAUDIBLE) from France and I support My Freedom Day by saying don't just (INAUDIBLE).




VAUSE: CNN's fifth annual My Freedom Day campaign to end modern day slavery has made its mark around the world. We received thousands of social media posts from over 100 countries. and now CNN will aim to partner with at least one school from every country to sign that pledge to help stop slavery.


JULIA: I'm Julia from Roseto, Italy. And I'm signing My Freedom Day pledge.

BRITNEY: My name is Britney (INAUDIBLE). I'm from San Diego, California. And today I signed the My Freedom Day pledge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It aims to protect against human trafficking. And to make sure we are aware of where we are getting our goods from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pledge to spot anything suspicious about human trafficking and to post it on social media so other people can also raise awareness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will take into consideration the companies business practices when buying things like clothes, chocolate and electronics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now here this. I pledge --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support My Freedom Day by saying no to slavery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel free when I can skate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I stand against modern day slavery in any part of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pledge to fight human trafficking and modern slavery. I fight, I fight, I fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop modern-day slavery now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we work together we can stop slavery forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pledge to understand online dangers and speak up if I see friends who might be making a bad decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm signing the freedom pledge and so are my friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are we doing to help end slavery?

CHILDREN: We want to live in a free world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Respect My Freedom Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support My Freedom Day, thank you.

CHILDREN: My Freedom Day.


VAUSE: You can share your pledge on social media using the hashtag #MyFreedomDay. Please tune in this weekend for a special "MY FREEDOM DAY GLOBAL FORUM" hosted by Becky Anderson, Kristie Lu Stout, Donie O'Sullivan. Hear from hundreds of students across five continents on their efforts to spread awareness to try and end modern day slavery.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Stay with us please. The news continues with Rosemary Church after a short break.