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AstraZeneca Says, Coronavirus Vaccine 79 Percent Effective in U.S. Trial; Partisan Divide across U.S. may be Slowing Vaccinations; Homeland Security Secretary Says, U.S.-Mexico Border is Closed. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2021 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: An independent committee finds their vaccine does not cause any side effects that are serious. That's an important development after several countries temporarily suspended use following reports of blood clots in a small number of people. I want to be clear here. There is, AstraZeneca is saying, no evidence that their vaccine caused those blood clots.

Also this morning, Americans on the move, the TSA says it's screened more than 1.5 million people on Sunday at airports for the first time since the pandemic began. This prompted -- is prompting major worries over more crowded and chaotic scenes like this.

This is Miami Beach over the weekend. If you can believe it, it is after a curfew of 8:00 P.M. was implemented and just extended. Police firing pepper balls into huge crowds of rowdy spring break partygoers. Wow. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's begin though on this race for more vaccines. Kristen Holmes joins us from Washington. I want to be clear here. This is their data. This is like a press release coming out from a pharmaceutical company. It's not independent FDA analysis. But it's encouraging, right?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, this is incredibly encouraging. They have said they're going to submit this for peer review. But I want to take a look at the numbers here to break down exactly what they mean.

You mentioned the 79 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100 percent efficacy against that severe disease and hospitalization. This is a big deal. When I talked to health officials after health official, that 100 percent is the number they're often looking at, because that is the overall goal here, to stop that severe disease spread, the hospitalization and, ultimately, the death from coronavirus.

So these numbers are very significant for two major reasons. One is the obvious. Again, yes, this is their data, but this is the first step in that emergency use authorization process by the FDA. We heard from the president of AstraZeneca today who said that they plan on filing for their EUA at the beginning of April, and that they have 30 million doses ready to go out the door if they

are approved. This would be huge.

This is already a time when we are expecting to see a significant ramp up in the vaccine. This would mean that there are four effective vaccines on the market and an influx of doses and production. Remember, we're also expecting to see a huge ramp up with the J&J.

So take a look at where the numbers are right now. We've talked about that distribution. You have 156.7 million shots that have been distributed. And when it comes to administered, you have 124.4 million. We are expecting, again, to see a significant ramp up here.

Now, the other reason why these numbers are major is because this is now the second time we have seen a study that says there are not significant risks here associated with this vaccine. As you say, again, these numbers are from AstraZeneca. But we also know there was an emergency investigation in Europe after they stopped the production, stopped the rollout of this vaccine because of these concerns. They also found that there were no significant risks.

So, hopefully, this information will start paving the way to take away some of that vaccine hesitancy that might have been building up around this particular vaccine. Poppy?

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Kristen. Let's hope all goes well and it means another vaccine on the market for folks. Thank you very much.

Let's talk more about this recent surge in air travel across the country. Pete Muntean joins me this morning from Reagan National Airport in Virginia. Wow, I mean, 1.5 million people flying yesterday, the most since the pandemic started.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wow is right, Poppy. You know, health experts are calling this crunch time against the virus and its variants, and that is why they're worried by the new numbers. The TSA says it screened 1.5 million people at airports across the country on Sunday. That is the new pandemic record after the previous record was set only on Friday. All this means 9.8 million people have flown in the last week. It is also the 11th straight day where the TSA figures have exceeded a million people for each day that is the biggest and longest streak we have seen of the pandemic, bigger than Thanksgiving, bigger than the winter holidays.

Now the big question is whether or not this will be a blip or whether this will lead to an actual boom. That is what struggling airlines would want. American Airlines CEO just said that new bookings are getting closer to 2019 levels. But just to put this in context for you, this new number still only about 70 percent of what things were like pre-pandemic but this is the highest number we have seen since March 15th, 2020. Poppy?

HARLOW: Pete, thank you very much.

Miami Beach officials have just, for obvious reason as you'll see in a moment, just extended the city's 8:00 P.M. curfew trying to keep scenes like this from ever happening again in the middle of a pandemic, large crowds of spring breakers, mostly without masks, filling the streets late into the night.


Randi Kaye is in Miami Beach. Randi, you've seen a lot, you've covered a lot, but this, just this willful defiance, do they really think they're not going to get sick or get anyone else sick?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apparently. I mean, these are spring breakers, they are here to party, blow off some steam and they are partying like it's 2019, pre-pandemic, what pandemic is sort of their attitude here, at least many of them, not all of them, of course. Some are behaving responsibility. But it was a rowdy weekend here.

If you listen to what officials are saying, they have stories of stampedes, the gunfire in the air. We saw video of those people dancing, the spring breakers dancing and destroying that car overnight, last night, and that was after 8:00 P.M., after this new curfew went into place. So it certainly an act of defiance, as you said.

But if you look at what the new ground rules are here in Miami Beach, there is an 8:00 P.M. curfew, the causeways from the mainland leading over here to the entertainment area, Ocean Drive, here in South Beach, Miami Beach, those closed at 10:00 P.M. So spring breakers can't come in after that. And they've also closed the local streets overnight until 6:00 A.M. in the morning, so only residents and some people going to hotels and local businesses can do that. And that's in place now from Thursday to Sunday through March 30th and maybe even extending until the end of spring break, which is around April 12th or so. So we'll see how that goes.

But the mayor certainly has had a warning. He has basically told spring breakers, look, if you're coming to my city to get crazy, we don't want you, go somewhere else. This is what else he told CNN earlier today.


MAYOR DAN GELBER (D-MIAMI BEACH, FL): Right now, we're being asked to, you know, take all people who are coming. The governor has said, everything is open, come on down.

It is sort of a triple threat of too many crowds, too many people acting out and the pandemic. And those three together just create a very challenging moment.


KAYE: And we are told from officials that since February 3rd, more than 1,000 people are arrested in Miami Beach and more than 50 percent of them are from out of state, out of town. So who knows what they're bringing here and who knows what they're leaving with? Of course, we have the U.K. variant, Poppy, which is very prevalent here in the state of Florida. And if those spring breakers are here, there is a lot of concern among officials that they could pick that variant up. Dr. Fauci says it's more transmissible, it's likely more deadly. They're getting on airplanes, they're going home. Who knows who they're bringing it to and their families, their co-workers and who else in the airport, Poppy. So lots of concern here.

HARLOW: Of course, and rightly so. Randi, thank you very, very much for the reporting from Miami for us.

Well, so far, more than 81 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, but a partisan divide could be a big stumbling block in achieving herd immunity. Between December and February, a Kaiser Family Poll Foundation showed that a number of black and Hispanic respondents who wanted to wait and see before getting a vaccine has actually declined significantly. They feel more confident. But the number of white Republicans who said they will not get vaccinated actually increased over that same period of time.

Our next guest gathered Republican voters for a virtual focus group to find out why and to find solutions. Joining me now is Brian Castrucci, an epidemiologist and head of Beaumont Foundation Public Health, a nonprofit.

Reading about what you guys did over the weekend was so encouraging to me, because you weren't blaming people, you weren't calling people names who were vaccine hesitant or resistant, you were just looking at what works. And you said this. Just as important as the messages were the messengers. Trump Republicans do not trust Washington or the politicians who inhabit it, but doctors definitely have credibility. A fact-based approach is genuinely ideologically neutral and is exactly what the doctor ordered.

What did you find?

BRIAN CASTRUCCI, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Well, thanks for having me this morning, Poppy. We engaged in an exercise of active listening. We listened with empathy. We explored people's concerns and we were honest. I mean, right now, political partisanship has really defined our pandemic response and it's time to get politics out of it. I was having cardiac issues, I want to see a doctor. I don't want to see a politician. And it's the same thing with COVID-19.

We need to really focus on getting people the information they need, the facts about the vaccine so that they are free to make informed decisions. It's really not time to have political debates. It's time for us to unify and make sure everyone can get the vaccine.

HARLOW: Right. And you had doctors talking to them, Dr. Frieden formally of the CDC, a doctor who is also a sitting Republican senator talking to them.


I want people to listen to some of the respondents in your focus group, what they said when they first heard the word, COVID-19.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Government manipulation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David from Texas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very real illness is manipulated by the government for political reasons.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say weapon used in many different ways.


HARLOW: So much mistrust there. You heard a lot of government manipulation. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel you found, Brian, that when you gave them all the data from the doctors, they all reversed course and everyone trusted the vaccine, right?

CASTRUCCI: We learned that the right messengers with the right messages can change minds and save lives. When I first heard what they were saying about Covid-19, I was a little concerned and I was really worried whether we would be able to breakthrough. But after two hours and conversation and, you know, that basic public health premise of good data and information and good stories can help people change their minds and make the right decisions. And at the end of the focus group, all 19 were more confident about the vaccine than when they started.

HARLOW: What would you say to politicians who might be choosing to use words that aren't condescending toward people who aren't sure about the vaccine?

CASTRUCCI: Well this isn't the time to shame or humiliate. This is the time to be honest and listen to people's concerns and listen with empathy and give people a space where they can ask questions and get non-judgmental answers. No one wins if we don't reach herd immunity. This isn't a political debate. It's not an election. We all lose if people are not getting vaccinated.

This is a race against the variant, it's a race to get us back to the lives that we had before the pandemic. And we have to help people get to where they know why they want to take the vaccine. And that might be getting their business going again. That might mean hugging their grandkids. But we need those motivations to help us make this choice.

HARLOW: As you snow, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, just over the weekend, has called on the CDC to spend up to a billion dollars to help build vaccine confidence. You've got government PSAs out there. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a great PSA. A billion dollars is a lot of money though. Do you think that's needed for this? Is there more effective ways than more CDC PSAs? What do you think? CASTRUCCI: I think it's collective. So, of course, more CDC PSAs will be helpful. But each community needs the right messages from the right messengers. And we can't ignore any community. It will just make it heard are to end the pandemic.

And so we need the PSAs but we also need physicians and family members sharing facts with everyone, not just Republicans, but every person has concerns about the speed and the safety of the vaccine and we need to do our best job to help inform them with facts but not manipulate them into taking a vaccine or even feel that they're being manipulated.

HARLOW: Brian Castrucci, thank you. This is fascinating. Thank you for what you guys did and for talking to us about it.

CASTRUCCI: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: CNN just received new images at the overcrowded conditions in some of the border facilities where unaccompanied children are being held. You'll see them for yourself, next.

Also, the prosecutor who supervised the Capitol riot investigation says the president may be culpable for the insurrection and that some of those insurrectionists could face sedition charges. That's ahead.

And wait until you see this reporting out of Brazil where they are running out of ICU beds as this dangerous variant wreak havoc there and making matters worse. The country's vaccine supply is severely limited. We'll take you to Brazil this hour.



HARLOW: This morning, more than 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children remain in U.S. custody. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he cannot give a date for when the Biden administration will open new facilities that are appropriate for the surge of children specifically at the border. Listen to this exchange with our Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: When are you going to be able to have facilities up and running so that no child is in these jail-like border protection facilities for more than 72 hours?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Dana, we established three new facilities just last week. We are also implementing new efficiencies in the HHS process so that we can unite these children with their relatives here in the United States. We are working on the system from beginning to end. We are working around the clock 24/7.


HARLOW: And now we are seeing shocking images. Look at these. These are from over the weekend in Donna, Texas. They were given to CNN. We obtained them. They come from Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. These are conditions inside of a Border Patrol facility there in Donna, Texas. you can see dozens of migrant adults and children, overcrowded in make shift tents.


Let's go to my colleague, Priscilla Alvarez, she joins us this morning in Dallas. Priscilla, the numbers keep going up by the hundreds every single day and there is big concern, not just from Republicans, big concern from Democrats, like Representatives Cuellar, from Representative Vicente Gonzalez, from Representative Zoe Lofgren. This is not okay or safe especially for children.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Poppy, children are not supposed to be in Border Patrol facilities for long period of times. In fact, U.S. law says they're supposed to be transferred from those facilities to the custody of Health and Human Services within three days.

But the number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone is overwhelming the administration. And so we're seeing children get caught up in these facilities and stay for extended periods of time. In fact, the average time is now around 130 hours, well above the 72- hour limit.

Now, we know there are around 4,900 children in Border Patrol custody, again, facilities these kids should not be in. You saw the overcrowded conditions in one of those facilities, which is more of an overflow compared to other Border Patrol stations.

But we also have 10,500 in Health and Human Services custody. That is where the administration wants these kids to go. The Health and Human Services Department runs a shelter network where children can receive medical services, meals, contacts with families as well as work with case managers to relocate in the United States.

So we're seeing two numbers balloon here. We have the 4,900 in Border Patrol custody. The administration needs to move those kids out of that custody into Health and Human Services. That is a number that, as it goes up, will illustrate that the administration is make something progress in getting kids to the shelters.

But as that process is happening, we are still seeing kids come to the U.S.-Mexico border and the administration still racing to accommodate them, Poppy.

HARLOW: So, Priscilla, there were undocumented children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border and unaccompanied children during the Trump administration. That's true. But it's double now. And isn't it in large part because of a policy reversal, something called Title 42, a decision made by the Trump -- by the Biden administration because they didn't think it was and don't think that it is humane to send those children back? And that is a large reason why we're here now, is that right? ALVAREZ: That's right, Poppy. There's a few things happening here. But the primary reason we're seeing more children in U.S. custody is because a few months ago under the Trump administration, those children were being turned away at the border. That means that they were encountered by Border Patrol and kicked back either to Mexico or to their country of origin. While the Biden administration is still largely leaning on this policy, they are not subjecting children to it. And that is why we're seeing more children come into custody.

But the administration has not been prepared for that because the shelter networks where these children are supposed to go were operating under limited capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic. So children are still coming to the southern border, fleeing desperate conditions in their home country. The administration taking the position they'll bring them into U.S. custody, different from the Trump administration. But, again, until they can sort out that bottleneck, these children are staying in Border Patrol facilities, Poppy.

HARLOW: Okay. Priscilla, thank you for your excellent reporting there at the border. We appreciate it very much.

So what are we hearing from the White House? Our John Harwood joins me now from Washington. Good morning to you, John.

We heard President Biden tell reporters that he will visit the border at some point. I wonder when that will be, because he is going to have his first press conference in the middle of this week. And I would suspect a lot of those questions are going to be about this.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. I would expect that at some point for President Biden will not be this week but he cannot avoid the subject any longer. His message right now is, as difficult as this situation is at the border, as disturbing as the pictures that we just saw appear of those children being held in conditions that children should not be held in, it is the pandemic that turn American lives upside down, that devastated the U.S. economy, the pandemic that Joe Biden ran for president on resolving and trying to get the country back up to speed. That's where he is focusing on, his first 100 days. Meantime, he's being kept up to speed by his aides.

Here is the president to our colleague, Arlette Saenz.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you thinking of going to the border?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: At some point, I will, yes.

SAENZ: Do you want to see firsthand what's going on in those facilities?

BIDEN: I know what's going on in those facilities. REPORTER: Mr. President, why do you think the message to the migrants telling them to stay home and don't come now, why do you think that hasn't resonated yet? What more can be done sir?

BIDEN: A lot more. We're in the process of doing it now, including making sure that we reestablish what we just did before, which is, they can stay in place and make their case from their home country.



HARWOOD: Now, of course, Poppy, there is a political reason, as well as a substantive reason for the president's focus. Immigration and the situation on the border is a divisive issue for a Democratic president, it enflames Republican opposition to him. If he can turn around the pandemic, get the economy going again, that is going to be a lot more unifying issue that will benefit the president.

But as he's learning right now, when you're the president of the United States, you can only control the narrative and the story and the agenda so much, guys.

HARLOW: And there are the crisis you plan for, right, like COVID-19, and then there are these.

HARWOOD: Exactly.

HARLOW: John, thank you for the reporting outside the White House.

In cities across the country, so many people gather to remember the victims of the Atlanta area shootings last week and called for an end to this hate towards Asians. Up next, we speak to someone who is one of the first public victims of anti-Asian attacks more than a year ago.