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CNN NEWSROOM

Pfizer Begins Younger Children Trial; Tornadoes Rip through Southeast; Adoptions Delayed by COVID. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:34:21]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

President Biden setting a new goal in the race to vaccinate America. During his first official press conference yesterday, Biden committed to reaching 200 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office, a goal the U.S. is already on track to reach, even as the president called it ambitious.

Let me bring in Michael Osterholm. He is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Good morning. Good to have you.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Good morning, Poppy. Good to have -- be back.

HARLOW: Well, it's nice to exceed prior goals. That's a good thing, I think, for everyone. Let's talk about other people getting vaccinated. There's news that Pfizer now says their vaccine should be through the trial process on younger teenagers and kids aged 12 to 15 by the beginning of the upcoming school year.

[09:35:08]

When they release that data on that trial on 12 to 15-year-olds, what will -- what will you be looking for specifically in there?

OSTERHOLM: Well, just take a step back and remember that we want everyone in the United States, and for that matter around the world, to be vaccinated. Very important.

Up until now, the challenge we've had has been getting enough doses of vaccine to people who want it. I think the real challenge we're going to have going forward is, we'll soon hit a time where we're going to have more vaccine than there are people willing to take it. And I think our big challenge is going to be getting people convinced that they must, in order to protect themselves, get vaccinated. And this will be true for children also. And I'm looking forward to the day for which we can actually vaccinate our kids.

But I think we're a long ways from out of the woods on this issue in terms of vaccine in this country because we have such a large segment of our population who said that they're just not going to get vaccinated.

HARLOW: Well --

OSTERHOLM: That's going to be a real challenge.

HARLOW: That's a really interesting point. And if those adults feel that way and are vocalizing it, Michael, what does that portend for their children, right?

OSTERHOLM: Correct.

HARLOW: Because it's going to be the parents that are making the decision about vaccinating their children, for the most part, up to a certain age at least.

OSTERHOLM: And I think you've really hit it right on the head right there. Again, we have to do a much better job in this country of explaining to the public what these vaccines are, what they can do, how safe they are and why it's so important not just to get yourself vaccinated, but when we vaccinate our entire community, that's when we actually reduce the transmission of the virus through our communities. This is going to be true on a global basis.

And so our job right now is to continue to keep the doses of vaccine coming forward. And I give the administration great credit for that. They have done a remarkable job of moving vaccine out. But we're in a transition time. Pretty soon it's going to be you and me trying to tell people out there what these vaccines are all about in a way to get them vaccinated.

HARLOW: Yes.

OSTERHOLM: And if we don't do that, we're going to see continued transmission in our communities at a high level.

HARLOW: Can you help me understand why IHME, which is really the sort of gold standard model for projecting deaths from COVID, now says that at least 600,000 people in the U.S. will die from COVID by July 1st. That's 4,000 more than they were projecting just a week ago. But it's coming when 2.5 million people in America a day are getting vaccinated. Why would their projection get more dire even when more people are getting vaccinated?

OSTERHOLM: Well, again, let's take a step back and look at the numbers. While it's 2.5 million people a day getting vaccinated, it's really only half of that because, remember, we're giving two doses to people. And, therefore, it really is how many new people are being vaccinated every day.

When you look at the numbers, as of this morning, still, about 17 million Americans, 65 years of age and older, have not had a drop of vaccine yet. At the same time, we're seeing this B117 virus surge in the United States. Just three weeks ago, only 14 states had increasing cases over a seven-day period. Today it's 33 states have that same situation. Right here in Minnesota, the upper Midwest, is really turning in to a picture of what we saw last November just before we had the big surge. In the northeast today, you're seeing the very same thing there.

So we still have over 55 percent of the U.S. population that is still vulnerable to this virus and vulnerable to a surge in activity. So while the vaccines are coming, they're not coming nearly fast enough right now to really curtail this surge of cases. That's why I keep coming back and asking the question over and over again, why are we loosening up all of our recommendations and requirements for the public to protect themselves? I mean, Poppy, with honesty, who wants to be the person to die three days before they're scheduled to get their vaccine? And what we're doing right now is really leading to that very kind of scenario.

HARLOW: Michael Osterholm, thank you for being with us.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, deadly storms ripped through the south overnight. Twenty-three possible tornadoes. We are live in a town hit so hard by them, next.

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[09:43:32]

HARLOW: Well, this morning, the death toll is climbing after a tornado outbreak strikes the south. Moments ago, officials in Georgia confirmed one person died. Five other people died in Alabama. So you've got six total there. And now so many communities are reeling and cleaning up after the absolute devastation. It looks like 23 possible tornadoes in all reported.

Two men capturing this dramatic video -- look at that -- from inside one of their cars as they're driving home. Surreal images.

Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, is in Eagle Point, Alabama.

Derek, good morning to you.

I mean five deaths across the state. Wow.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, heartbreaking morning for residents here just outside of Birmingham. We're in the Eagle Point community where first light within the past hour or two revealing some of the damage behind me.

Talking to the local residents who were shaking, reliving an account of their terrifying tornado last evening, they said that the trees that you see behind me aren't even part of their property. So they were uplifted and deposited on their -- on their -- on their front lawn here. I just want to give you a perspective, an idea of what kind of damage

we're seeing. A lot of loose leaf shrapnel, but complete roofs have been torn off of homes here as well. Lots of tree damage. As a meteorologist, we're able to determine, unofficially, how powerful these winds were by a scale called the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

[09:45:01]

And just looking at the considerable damage that we see behind us, roofs torn off of buildings, trees uprooted, this is along the lines of what is called an EF-2 tornado with winds of upwards of around 135 miles per hour. It really was a devastating night for people.

We actually saw mobile homes that were completely ripped off of their foundations. We went to an animal rescue center last night and there was complete chaos because all the animals, up to 50 horses, several goats and sheep that were just roaming around and there were residents there trying to come together and corral these animals and get them into safe shelter.

And I also want to point this out behind you here. You see that x on that door there? That is because the sheriffs, within the county that we're located, at Eagle Point, around this area, they had to do search and rescue operations for all the damaged homes around this area. And when they do that, they have to clear these homes before they can move on to the next house to make sure that there's no one trapped inside.

If there were injuries within this community, they have been sent to local area hospitals. And it is going to be a long and difficult cleanup process for this community without a doubt.

Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure.

Derek, thank you very much for being with us.

Ahead, this story, hundreds of adopted children in China were all ready to meet their new families. Then COVID hit. Now they are stuck in limbo, waiting for a chance to finally be united. We'll speak to one family struggling with their seven-year-old daughter overseas.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time I go into her room and just see her pink bed there that's -- no one has slept in, it's just a heartbreaking reality.

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[09:51:11]

HARLOW: For hundreds of children living in China right now, it was the best news of their lives. They would finally be adopted. Many packed their bags, said good-bye to their friends in their orphanages and got ready to meet their new families. But then COVID struck. A year later, those children are still stuck in China, leaving hundreds of adoptive families in America stuck in limbo, separated from their future children.

And now those families are pleading with officials in China and in the U.S. to help them, to let them finally be reunited with their children.

Here is the story of the Welch family.

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HARLOW (voice over): The Welch family is full of energy. All five kids making the most of extra time at home this year. But the cheerful laughs belie a deep sadness. One person is missing, their seven-year- old adopted sister, Penelope, from China.

AIMEE WELCH, DAUGHTER'S ADOPTION DELAYED: We were ready to go get her last spring. COVID-19 struck and travel was shut down. And now here we are a year later.

HARLOW: Aimee and Stephen Welch adopted Grace almost four years earlier, also from China.

HARLOW (on camera): Can you tell me about Penelope?

GRACE WELCH, SISTER'S ADOPTION DELAYED: She's still in China.

HARLOW (voice over): Grace couldn't wait to share her room with Penelope.

A. WELCH: Every time I go into her room and just see her pink bed there that's -- no one has slept in. It's just a heartbreaking reality.

STEPHEN WELCH, DAUGHTER'S ADOPTION DELAYED: She knows we're coming. She draws pictures of our house and with mommy and daddy written on it.

HARLOW: The five other Welch children are still processing this past year without their expected new sister.

HARLOW (on camera): Are you so excited to meet Penelope?

G. WELCH: Yes. And some people are sick.

HARLOW: Some people are sick.

G. WELCH: Yes. And -- and we can't go on the plane.

HARLOW: Yes. Not yet.

ZACHARY WELCH, SISTER'S ADOPTION DELAYED: Missing out on that time with her has been disappointing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made me sad. Sometimes I feel a little powerless.

HARLOW (voice over): The Welches are just one of what the State Department says are some 400 American families whose adoptions of children in China were put on hold by COVID. And for some, that wait means devastating consequences.

A. WELCH: The China adoption program is a special needs adoption program and many families that we're in touch with whose children have deteriorating conditions or need urgent surgeries or therapies that they just can't get until they are home.

HARLOW: In February, the Welches received a letter from the Chinese government saying adoptions remain suspended due to COVID safety concerns. CNN requested a comment from the Chinese government adoption agency, the CCCWA, but did not receive a response.

The U.S. State Department tells CNN they're committed to working with China to find a solution.

HARLOW (on camera): Are you worried that the clear public deterioration of U.S.-China relations will delay your ability to hug Penelope and bring her home?

A. WELCH: Whatever the differences are, this is uniting children with loving families is something that everyone is behind.

HARLOW (voice over): In the meantime, the Welch family, separated by an ocean, are making the most of their time waiting. Penelope is taking English lessons.

PENELOPE: Sister. Sister.

HARLOW: While 10-year-old Caleb is learning Mandarin.

CALEB WELCH, SISTER'S ADOPTION DELAYED: (speaking in foreign language).

HARLOW: A family embracing each other's cultures as anti-Asian hate surges in the United States.

A. WELCH: We are committed to being a Chinese-American family.

S. WELCH: We're a trans-racial family.

HARLOW (on camera): Do you have any doubts, Stephen, that Penelope's coming at some point?

S. WELCH: I don't have any doubt.

HARLOW (voice over): And once the wait is over, little Grace knows exactly how she'll get to her new big sister.

G. WELCH: A helicopter and a plane can get -- go over the water.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [09:55:01]

HARLOW: Our thanks to the Welch family for letting us share their story. It's emblematic of what hundreds of families are going through and hundreds of children right now. Each day that goes by, they hold on to hope that they might get their daughter Penelope home before her 8th birthday this fall.

Well, next, the battle over voting. Georgia becomes the latest to restrict voting with new laws critics say will impact disproportionately minority voters. The sweeping changes explained ahead.

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HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto has the week off.

The state of Georgia has just, overnight, passed a new law that really attacks a key tenant of American democracy, that is the right to vote for everyone, equally.

[10:00:02]

Critics say a series of new voting restrictions just passed into law and signed by the governor in the battleground state are a clear.