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AstraZeneca: Coronavirus Vaccine 79 Percent Effective in U.S. Trial; White House COVID Response Team Holds Briefing; Biden Says He Will Visit the Southern Border "At Some Point". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

At this hour, we're standing by for President Biden's COVID-19 response team. They're about to hold a briefing on the very latest in the fight against the pandemic. And we will bring it to you when they begin.

We expect to hear some new details, some more details about AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine when they brief which could be the fourth COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use in this country. The company releasing new data this morning from a large U.S.-based clinical trial.

The data shows that as vaccine is 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases and 100 percent effective in preventing severe cases. The results also show that there is no increase risk of blood clots which is significant now especially because more than a dozen countries paused their use of this vaccine after a small number of people developed blood clots after getting the shot.

This development comes at a critical time. New cases in the United States are plateauing at a stubbornly high level at this moment. Even though they are as you can see from the graphic down dramatically from the very beginning of this year.

But what does this plateau mean? Well, bad signs ahead could be pictures like this that are not helping. Spring break in scenes in Florida. Health experts obviously afraid that this, what you're looking at right here, is going to lead to another surge especially with cases of a dangerous variant climbing across the country.

Let's start, though, with the results of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine trial while we're waiting to hear from the COVID-19 response team at the White House and what this new data from the trial could mean in the fight against the virus.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining me now.

Kristen, what more does the data show?


Well, when we look at the data, we're looking at two major things, particularly when it comes to AstraZeneca. So, the first is those numbers that you mentioned. Let's pull them up again and show why exactly they're important. You have the 79 percent that shows it's effective against symptomatic disease.

But that 100 percent number, efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization that, is the number when I'm talking to health officials that they're looking at, because the ultimate goal here is to stop that severe debilitating disease, the hospitalization and ultimately leading to death.

So that's a big number here, a strong showing for AstraZeneca. So what exactly does this mean for all of us here? Well, this is the beginning of the FDA emergency use authorization process. We heard from the president of AstraZeneca today who said that they are planning to file for the emergency use authorization at the beginning of April. This is at a time when we're already expecting to see a big ramp up in the distribution numbers. As he says, as soon as they are authorized, if they are authorized, that we should expect to see 30 million doses on the market. Now again --

BOLDUAN: I'm going to jump in, I'm so sorry, only because we're going to jump to the White House. The COVID-19 response team is beginning the briefing right now.


ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER TO WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: We've had to significantly ramp up vaccine production to a level double than we arrived to require enough vaccines to vaccinate the population and have set up a deadline, May 1st, by which all Americans should be eligible to get a vaccine.

We've done this not only by increasing vaccine production but also adding thousands more vaccinators and thousands of addition allocations to get vaccinated. We're now vaccinating about 2.5 million people per day, up from 900,000 when we arrived. This weekend was the first time that the U.S. reported vaccinating more than 3 million people on consecutive days. There are now a total of 81 million people, or nearly one in three adults, with at least one vaccine dose in the U.S. 44 million who are fully vaccinated.

Nearly 69 percent of seniors have now received their first vaccination and 42 percent are fully vaccinated. A second core element of our plan is to get schools open and open safely. This has been following the science, dramatically increasing testing, and making it a priority to vaccinate teachers. With $10 billion committed to testing so far, schools have enough resources to properly test their students and staff.

Today, we're taking another step in building an equitable and efficient response. The state of Washington will receive the first federal community vaccination site.


The Yakima County CDC (ph) will be able to offer up to 1,200 shots per day. Local residents will be able to drive through the central Washington state fair park and get a shot.

Now this is the 22nd federally run vaccination site we've opened. And as you can see from the tweets on the screen here, these sites get great reviews as a place to get vaccinated. Combined, they deliver nearly 100,000 shots per day.

All of the sites are in areas defined by the CDC, it's having a high social vulnerability rating. In fact, against the backdrop of inequity in vaccine distribution generally and the severe toll taken by the virus on people of color, in federal vaccination centers, over 60 percent of the shots have gone to people of color. For example, the Yakima County is particularly hard hit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with disproportionately high infection and hospitalization rates as compared to the rest of the state.

The president has set a goal of doubling the number of community vaccination centers run by FEMA and the U.S. military to ensure that we reach the hardest hit communities in this historic effort. We have much more work to do but further progress was made this weekend.

With that, I'm going to turn this over to Dr. Walensky and then to Dr. Fauci for some important updates.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you, Andy. I'm delighted to be back with you all today.

Let's start with an overview on the state of the pandemic. The most recent seven-day average is about 53,800 cases per day, which is a slight increase from the previous seven day period. And over the past two weeks, cases have continued to fluctuate somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 daily cases. The most recent seven day average for new hospital admissions is just over 4,500 per day.

Like COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions have been relatively stable over the last two weeks, hovering around 4,500 to 5,000 admissions per day. Deaths continue to decline, a lagging indicator, with the most recent seven day average of deaths slightly over 1,000 per day, slightly under, sorry, 1,000 per day.

The apparent leveling off of cases and hospital admissions after the consistent declines we saw in these outcomes in early January through the end of February, I consider to be very concerning. In addition, while deaths continue to drop, they remain at an elevated levels and in the past week, the rate of decline of deaths has slowed.

We also know that the trajectory of the pandemic varies across the United States with some states and regions of country such as the northeast and the upper Midwest are beginning to again see a significant rise in cases. Taken together, these statistics should serve as a warning sign for the American people.

As I stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation. Increasingly, states are seeing a growing proportion of their COVID-19 cases attributed to variants. The newly identified variant, B.1.427, B.1.429, is estimated to act for 52 percent of cases in California, 41 percent in Nevada and 25 percent in Arizona. And the B.1.1.7 variant is estimated to be responsible for 9 percent of cases in New Jersey and 8 percent in Florida.

Believe me, I get it. We all want to return to our every day activities and spend time with our family, friends, and loved ones. But we must find the fortitude to hang in there for just a little bit longer. We are a critical point in this pandemic, a fork in the road where we as a country must decide which path we are going to take. We must act now and I am worried that if we don't take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge just as we were seeing in Europe right now, and just as we are so aggressively scaling up vaccination.

Nearly 25 percent of the American population has received at least one dose and over 44 million people, about 13 percent of the population, is fully vaccinated.


And we have more vaccine supply on the way. Until then, we must do everything we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the proliferation of variants while we get more people vaccinated. We now have 69 percent of the adults over the age of 65 who have received at least one vaccine dose and 42 percent who are fully vaccinated.

And we have seen the vaccines are working. With increasing numbers of those over 65 now fully vaccinated, we're seeing the benefit. For the first time since the last summer, the percent of those over 65 presenting to our emergency departments because of COVID-19 is lower than those age 26 to 45 in the United States.

These vaccines work, we're seeing them in the data. And we need to remain vigilant as we quickly get the rest of the American people fully vaccinated.

I'm calling the American people to action. Whether vaccinated or not, to recommit to doing the right thing. Take the steps we know work to stop COVID-19, wear a well-fitting mask, socially distant, avoid travel, and be ready to roll up your sleeves to get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you.

Thank you and I'll turn things over to Dr. Fauci.


We have good news in the field of vaccine. That has to do with the results that were announced yesterday from the AstraZeneca trial. As shown on this slide, there are three platforms that have six companies involved. For the discussion over the next couple minutes, we're going to be looking at the chimp adeno vector that is used by AstraZeneca which yesterday revealed the results of their phase three trial.

Next slide. Just to refresh your memory, the vector that is used in this platform is a chimp adenovirus in which the SARS-CoV spiked DNA was inserted. That nonreplication competent harmless adenovirus is injected into the muscle of an individual, the DNA then codes for RNA, which then essentially codes for the spike protein which the body makes the response against. That is the fundamental mechanism of this platform.

Next slide. And so the data, we're talking about the phase three trial involving more than 32,000 participants who are 18 years of age or older and it was at 88 sites, mostly in the United States but also a small amount in Chile and Peru with a 2-1 randomization of vaccine to placebo. The demographic distribution is shown here, around 79 percent white, 22 percent Hispanics, 8 percent black, African-American and 4 percent Native Americans, including American Indians and Native Alaskans residing in the United States and 4 percent Asian.

Twenty percent were 65 years of age or older and 60 percent had comorbidities associated with increase risk for progression of severe COVID-19 such as diabetes, severe obesity or cardiac disease. This is important to get that many people who have co-morbidities.

So, right at the efficacy data, good results, 78.9 percent vaccine efficacy of presenting symptomatic disease. Importantly, with regard to severe or critical disease requiring hospitalization, there was zero in the vaccine arm and 5 in the placebo arm. The good news is also that there was comparable efficacy across ethnicity and age, namely, a very good efficacy, 79.9 percent of participants, who were 65 years of age or older.

Next slide. The reactogenicity in overall safety profile were good. The vaccine was well tolerated and the data and safety monitoring board identified no specific safety concerns related to the vaccine.

Importantly, and this is a quote from the DSMB, no evidence of disproportionate risk of thrombosis or events characterized by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants who received at least one dose. An in-depth search of the data base for venous thrombosis revealed no events in this study.

Next slide. The United States government has played a significant role in the conduct of this trial.


It was funded by BARDA and by NIAID in a trial led by the company AstraZeneca. The NIAID supported by its clinical trial network the CoVPN. The Data and Safety Monitoring Board was formed by NIAID which monitored the trial to ensure safety and validity of the data and NIAID intramural investigators co-authored key pre-clinical studies.

And finally, on the last slide, importantly, this vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at refrigerator temperatures for at least 6 months. And also importantly, conditional marketing authorization or emergency use is already in play in more than 70 countries across six continents and it has been given emergency use listing by the WHO.

I'll stop there and back to you, Andy.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Dr. Fauci.


BOLDUAN: All right. We've been listening to the COVID-19 response team with their latest briefing and update on the fight against the pandemic.

Let me bring in right now, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, an internal medicine and viral specialist.

Thanks for taking the time, Doctor.

So the big news today, as they noted in this briefing, is this data that Dr. Fauci was just rolling through, coming from the AstraZeneca trial. Just -- what do you think of it?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very important to get that information out there. Because this is going to be a very viable vaccine in, which you know, in other words, it can be kept at room temperature. It can be widely distributed.

And many of the countries in Europe and Africa have already bought this vaccine. But they have halted the distribution because there has been anecdotal information that it causes blood clots, especially around the sinuses and the brain.

Now you can have people say, yes, you know, I have blood clots. But that has to be compared to the people that actually didn't get the vaccine. And this shows without a doubt that this vaccine does not cause blood clots more than the average population.

It is very effective. It is effective against the elderly which is what the reason that some of the European countries have stopped.

So here is a vaccine that is highly effective that, is highly distributable that is now available in different parts of the world where the virus is surging and needs to be controlled. So this is really good information today and really good data.

BOLDUAN: So we have news on that front. But you also heard from the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, she is worried. I mean, she said that we're in a fork in the road as a nation and essentially pleading with the country once again, Dr. Rodriguez, to re-commit to doing the right thing, distancing, masking, getting a vaccine when it's your chance, and also not traveling.

Even though she didn't call it out about I name, she most certainly was talking at least in part, let me show some of the pictures from Florida. The scenes from spring breakers in Florida not only on the beaches but also the scene that's broke out on Miami beach overnight that led to an emergency -- an emergency declaration by the mayor there and a curfew being put in place. From a public health standpoint, I mean, what you are most concerned about when you see these scenes in Miami and you see the data that Dr. Walensky is pointing to, which is the new cases in this country are plateauing at a very high rate still?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I'm very concerned, just as she is. Listen, this is my hometown. This is where I group in Miami. I have family there.

The point is this is going to without a doubt in my opinion, create a surge. And we are already at a very high level. So, it's going to make things worse.

So my pleading, because it seems to be no good if you plead to the people that are doing this. It is to plead to the Americans, the people that have actually towed the line for months and have done the right thing and have masked up and socially distanced and stayed inside. These people that are not following the instructions are hurting you. If they get infected, they're going to create variants that are going to spread.

So if you know someone that is not following the recommendations, we must put some pressure on them, because obviously, they're not listening. For those people that have been really good at doing this, realize that when people do this and they don't follow instructions, they are hurting you. And they're ruining everything you have done and basically they are just prolonging this state of lockdown for who knows how long.

So this affects us all. This is not just some fun spring break thing going on.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, for sure.

And one thing that Dr. Walensky is getting is what she said during this briefing also is that she is very worried about, as she put it, another avoidable surge.


And this gets to this big question that is kind of before us, and she's kind of talking about a fork in the road. That's kind of exactly what she's talking about, is are we going to head the path of another surge or getting back to life that we at least distantly remember it as? Because the country is potentially battling a fourth surge, or at least staring it down.

She has one view. The former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, he was speaking out and he actually says at this point what he sees is it's not likely that we'll see a fourth surge. Let me play what he said.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: We're talking about some form of protective immunity in about 55 percent of the population. So there is enough a backstop here that I don't think you're going to see a fourth surge. The only thing that can be a real game changer here is if we have a variant that pierces prior immunity, meaning it re- infects people who either have been infected or who have been vaccinated.


BOLDUAN: Dr. Rodriguez, what do you think about that?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think they're both potentially right. And this is where we're talking about the fact that there is a fork in the road. We are neck to neck, vaccination versus variants.

And as Dr. Walensky noted in, California and the Southwest here, the people that are getting infected up to 40 percent to 50 percent have the variant. So Dr. Gottlieb could be right. It means that we may be a little bit ahead of these variants and sort of they're going to be, you know, in our rear view mile an hour your or Dr. Walensky can be right. And I tend to side with Dr. Walensky because we need to be as cautious as possible.

When we let our guard down, that's when we're going to take the wrong fork in the road.

BOLDUAN: I think we all learned to stop betting against this virus, that's for sure.

Thank you, Doctor, very much.

RODRIGUEZ: My pleasure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, crowded facilities and sanitary conditions, young migrants sleeping on concrete floors. We're going to show you new images from inside a border facility as President Biden is facing more and more pressure to do more.

Plus, he was considered a contender to take on embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo. Now that is all changed as a New York Republican lawmaker is apologizing after facing accusations of sexual misconduct of his own.



BOLDUAN: As thousands of unaccompanied migrant children remain in U.S. custody, we're getting a brand new view today of what it's like right now inside these border facilities. We're going to show you photos. They were released by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar's office.

They're showing an overflow border facility in Donna, Texas. These pictures coming in from over the weekend. You can see it's crowded. It's uncomfortable and clearly unsustainable.

President Biden now says that he is going to be visiting the southern border at some point and is pledging action from his administration amid this surge in migrants, especially children, at the U.S.-Mexico border. CNN learned as of Sunday, there are almost 4,900 unaccompanied minors

being held in border patrol facilities. More than 800 of those children have been in custody for more than ten days which is much longer than the 72 hours allowed under U.S. law. The Biden administration is now trying to project a much stronger message.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are elevating our messaging so that the individuals do know that they cannot come to the border. The border is closed. We are expelling families. We are expelling single adults. We have communicated and we will continue to communicate to the children do not come.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN's John Harwood.

John, what you are hearing from the White House this morning about this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what we're hearing is as disturbing as those images that you just showed are and as much criticism as they're getting from Republicans including Donald Trump who just recently went on Fox and said that millions of people would be pouring over the country -- over the border and would destroy our country. The president's own personal attention is going to be dominated by the pandemic and trying to turn the economy around.

He told Arlette Saenz yesterday that he's been briefed, he's aware of the conditions on the border. He'll go there at some point. For now, Kate, he's leaving it in the hands of people like Secretary Mayorkas and trying to keep his personal focus on the pandemic and the economy.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned Donald Trump. I'm also hearing that he in doing a couple of these interviews just now, basically while we're on air, he was also talking about Anthony Fauci. What did he say, John?

HARWOOD: Well, what he said about Dr. Fauci is helps illustrate why Joe Biden wants to focus on the pandemic because, of course, his criticism of former President Trump was that he wasn't listening to the science, that he wasn't open top of what needed to be done, the nuts and bolts of the response to the pandemic to get volume of it and then get the economy turned around.

And Donald Trump essentially confirmed the same thing when he talked about his relationship with Dr. Fauci, take a listen.


QUESTION: Do you regret ever elevating him?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, I didn't really elevate him. He's been there for 40 years. He's been there forever.

And I thought rather than firing him, you know, is listen to him but I didn't do what he said because, frankly, his record is not a good record. I like him personally, he's actually a nice guy. He's a great promoter. He's really a promoter, more than anything else.


HARWOOD: I listened to him but I didn't do what he said. I think President Biden will be very comfortable to let that contrast sit out there. Of course, President Biden has made Anthony Fauci his top adviser on the pandemic, and that is something that trusting the science is something that Joe Biden has made a mantra.