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Over 45 Percent of Americans Fully Vaccinated But Variant Fears Grow Amid Race to Vaccinate; Historic Drought Grips Parts of Western U.S.; U.S. Olympic Runner Blames Burrito for Steroids; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) Discusses GOP Squashing Manchin's Hopes for Voting Rights Compromise, TX Governor Taking Public Donations to Build Border Wall. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 18, 2021 - 13:30   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: When the president set this goal on May 4th, the U.S., we were pacing well ahead of the goal. Why did vaccine demand just drop off?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We always knew this time would come, that there would be a time where we had more vaccines than we had people urging to roll up their sleeves to do this, to get vaccinated.

And we knew that the hard work would come at the end of May, early June, where we would have to be reaching out into all corners of society to understand what -- why people might be hesitant and to really meet them where they are. And that is the hard work of this moment.

CABRERA: In some states like Mississippi and Louisiana and Wyoming is Alabama, not even 50 percent of adults have had one shot yet.

And when you, you know, take an even more micro look there, there are counties in those states where only 10 percent to 20 percent of people are fully vaccinated.

So what is the plan in those places to increase vaccinations?

WALENSKY: So that is among the purposes of the bus tour now is to really come and meet people in their communities.

All of these communities are different. One community may not be -- want to be vaccinated for one reason. One person may not be vaccinated for one reason.

We really have to go into the deep people in those communities and understand.

What was really encouraging today as I talked to people who are being vaccinated here at this church today, this historic landmark church today, was they're now going to all talk to their family members and their friends, people who they didn't think were vaccinated before.

They didn't know anybody who had been vaccinated. And they're going to tell them how empowering it is to feel safe because you've been vaccinated.

And that's the message we're doing, one -- and every vaccine in an arm is a win.

CABRERA: It is a relief, once you get vaccinated, to know that you are protected.

But I wonder, what is your best estimate now for when we could need a booster?

WALENSKY: Right, so these are important conversations that we're having now.

Certainly, we know that we were vaccinating our most vulnerable early, our older persons, our people living in long-term care facilities. So we want to be ahead of this booster question. We're making plans now. Should we need them soon?

But we're actually actively looking at the science. This will be a topic of next week's advisory community, to the immunization practices panel next week, at CDC.

CABRERA: Is it possible some of those folks you talk about who maybe not vaccinated first last December that they could end up needing a booster this year, before the end of the year?

WALENSKY: Well, that's the science that we're evaluating exactly right now.

Of course, we want to see how immunity may have waned with these people. We want to -- we're carefully monitoring and have numerous studies, over 20 studies now, looking for breakthrough infections, should they be happening.

And that's exactly the science we're monitoring just right now.

CABRERA: Let's talk about the contagious Delta variant. It was first identified in India. It's taken over in the U.K., making 99 percent of new cases there, 99 percent.

Do you see that happening here?

WALENSKY: Right, so this is exactly what happened here with the B.1.1.7, or U.K. variant.

It turns out when these viruses mutate and these variants take hold they generally do so because it has some advantage to the virus. When it has that advantage that is more transmissible you see exactly what you're seeing now. So U.K. variant was more transmissible. That is now nearly 70 percent of the virus here. We know that the Delta variant is even more transmissible than the U.K. variant.

And I anticipate that will be the predominant variant in the months ahead.

CABRERA: When you say predominant variant, though, we know the vaccines are still highly effective against these variants, at least with the two doses, if you get both Moderna and Pfizer, right?

But what about Johnson & Johnson. That's only one shot. Is that protecting you?

WALENSKY: Yes, so thank you for making that point.

The first thing to know is, the vaccines that we have now, the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, we do know that after two doses --reminding you, get your second dose -- after two doses, you are protected from that Delta variant.

And studies are under way now to examine the Johnson & Johnson. We just don't have as much data with that vaccine.

CABRERA: There's also the Gamma variant, first identified in Brazil, which the CDC has now labeled a variant of concern. Why is that?

WALENSKY: You know, as we identify these variants, we study them in the lab. And then we can see whether -- we can see the implications that they have in the lab.

And then we upgrade them as we see those implications that might be happening clinically, whether it be they're more transmissible.

They might evade our antibody treatments. And of course, the ultimate concern, which we don't have yet, is that they would evade our vaccines.

CABRERA: For a lot of families, you know, parents are vaccinated but children under 12 aren't yet.

So what types of activities as we head into the weekend should those families avoid? For example, is it safe to take your children out to the movies or dine indoors at a restaurant?


WALENSKY: What I would say is if your kids are between the ages of 12 and 18, or 12 and up, go ahead and get them vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine is available to you. And you will feel better as a parent knowing that your children are safe from COVID-19.

If you need information, please go get that information so that you know you've made the right informed choice in getting your child vaccinated.

For kids under 12, certainly outdoor activities are much safer. We can do those activities generally outside without a mask.

So for the spring weather, where things are really looking beautiful outside, try and keep your kids outside right now.

CABRERA: So it sounds like no indoor movies, no indoor dining is your best recommendation?

WALENSKY: Well, I would say, you know, those things are certainly possible. But I would still be putting your mask on your kids who are under 12 and unvaccinated in those situations.

CABRERA: CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you for all of your hard work on this. And appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

WALENSKY: Thanks so much. Thank you.

CABRERA: Have you heard about the U.S. runner accused of doping, who may not be able to compete in the Olympics now? And she said it's all because of a pork burrito? We'll explain, next.



CABRERA: A drought gripping parts of the western U.S.

Let's get right to CNN's Stephanie Elam, joining us from Lake Mead.

Stephanie, what's happening?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a problem that's concentrated in the southwest, Ana. But it's much larger than that.

This is something that will impact much of the country because this is where a lot of the food is grown in the western United States.

But what you see behind me, Lake Mead, you can see the islands. You wouldn't normally see them, that was about the early '80s. Since then, the water has been dropping.

And it is a concern for people who rely on the water in the Colorado River basin.

One of those people is a cattle rancher in southern Utah, actually largest operation in northern Arizona. And we went to go see him to see what his conditions look like right now.

Take a listen to how T.J. Atkin explains the water situation on his ranch.


T.J. ATKIN, UTAH CATTLE RANCHER: We have about 200 reservoirs and every one of them is dry right now.

ELAM: Like dry? ATKIN: Dry, not -


ATKIN: We don't have a drop in any one of them.


ELAM: Now he does say that, if during the monsoon season that's coming up here this summer, it is possible that one good deluge of water could change things around because so much water falls at that time.

But after a year or two like this -- he's gone through two -- he's saying a third year would be unbearable at this point.

He's had to move cows to other places. He's had to sell some of them. It's a difficult situation.

Overall, when you look at the Colorado River, which makes its way here to Lake Mead, it is going to affect all of us because this drought is so large and so punishing, and the temperatures are so hot -- Ana?

CABRERA: Wow, seeing those images, bone-dry reservoirs, they look like sand dunes.

Stephanie Elam, thank you for your reporting. Such an important story.

The U.S. track and field Olympic trials kick off today but one U.S. runner won't be participating, all because of a pork burrito?

CNN's Coy Wire has more -- Coy?


Distance runner, Shelby Hoolihan, considered by some to be a contender for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but Houlihan tested positive for a steroid in December, leading to a four-year ban from the sport.

She insists it came from pork in a burrito that she ate about 10 hours before the test.

The ban was upheld by the court of arbitration of sports earlier this week, a decision that Houlihan called completely unfair.


SHELBY HOULIHAN, OLYMPIC DISTANCE RUNNER: I feel completely devastated, lost, broken, angry, confused and betrayed by the very sport that I've loved and poured myself into just to see how good I was.


WIRE: Now Houlihan was going to be allowed to compete at the Olympic trials later today because her case is in the appeal process. At least that's what USA Track and Field said. But hours later, the U.S. Olympic Committee stepped in and said they would follow anti-doping rules and uphold the ban. Meaning she can't run in the trials, giving her almost no chance at making the Olympic team.

Shelby Houlihan said she did everything she could to try to prove her innocence, including passing a polygraph test, but it didn't change regulators' minds.

Now she might be out of chances to return to the Olympics for a second time -- Ana?

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Coy Wire. What a story.

All right, all right, all right! Channeling my best Matthew McConaughey there.

Ahead, Texas Senator Ted Cruz says the actor is a, quote, "formidable candidate" for Texas governor.






TRUMP: Fight like hell --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a law enforcement operation. This was a military defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming for you, Nancy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once they started banging on the door, that's all I heard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We overran the capitol.

ANNOUNCER: Now, new details from those who were there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump said come to D.C. It's going to be wild.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I knew it was going to be history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This might sound extremely strange to a lot of your viewers but I feel like he was anointed by God. DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were peacefully protesting.

GRIFFIN: You call January 6th a peaceful protest?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god, what is happening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was scared, absolutely scared.





CABRERA: Right now, on Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is on a mission to help reform voting rights.

He suggested some changes to a House bill aiming to appease both parties with provisions that include making Election Day a public holiday, banning partisan gerrymandering, mandating at least fifteen consecutive days of early voting, and instituting a voter I.D. requirement.

My next guest met with Senator Manchin this week.

Democratic congressman from Texas, Henry Cuellar, joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

Since you met with Manchin, Republicans poured cold water on his plans. Senator McConnell already vowing to block the bill.

Where does it go from here?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): You're right. And I've got to thank Senator Joe Manchin for meeting with my former colleagues in the state legislature.

And we had a very good conversation. He laid out a plan how he had been talking to Republicans. But I assume what happened was Senator Mitch McConnell probably doesn't want any compromises, just pure political force that he is trying to use to stop any voting rights legislation. Which is just amazing to me, to be honest with you because I thought that Joe Manchin was coming up with something that would appeal to the Republican Senators.

But they're playing pure Republican politics on this without a doubt.

CABRERA: So given McConnell's response, do you think Senator Manchin is moving closer to supporting blowing up the filibuster on this issue for voting rights?

CUELLAR: Well, I mean, I think this is something that you probably have to ask the Senator. I don't want to speak for him.

But I do want to say this, because it was brought up in the conversation, is that, look, everything goes in cycles here. Yes, you can have Democrats blow up the filibuster.

I'm not speaking on bast are behalf of the Senator. I want to make sure people understand that.

You can blow it up. But then people mind everything is in a cycle. Republicans come over and use the simple majority to get things done. I don't think that's good for the country or democracy.

I think it's trying to get Republicans onboard is good. And once we're in the minority, if it happens, whenever that happens, we want to make sure we have certain rights protected as the minority.

So I understand where the Senator is coming from. I don't want to speak for him. But it does make sense about keeping the filibuster.

CABRERA: I want to pivot to the border. The governor of your state announced this week he is asking for public donations to pay for the border wall.

You have said the border wall is a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem. Clearly, Governor Abbott doesn't see it that way.

CUELLAR: Yes, without a doubt. I mean it's -- politically, it makes sense for him. Policy-wise, it doesn't work.

First of all, Trump said he built 450 miles of wall. That's not correct.

When you look at how many miles he built, he built a little bit over 50 miles of new fencing in four years. And that's because he was able to waive environmental laws.

There's no way that our friend, Joe Biden, is going to waive any environmental laws. So if Trump was stopped, surely Abbott will be stopped also.

If he wants to spend $250 million of taxpayers' dollars, he ought to build a grid instead of building -- the electric grid. He ought to build the electric grid instead of try to build a 14th century wall. CABRERA: Before I let go, there's been speculation about whether

Matthew McConaughey is running for governor in your state, Texas. Senator Cruz said McConaughey would be a formidable candidate. Do you agree?

CUELLAR: I agree. All right. All right. Let's see what happens. He is -- I can't do the imitation as well as you do.


CABRERA: I don't think I'm good at it at all.


CUELLAR: Neither am I.

But I do understand he is a long horn from where I'm at. Without a doubt, this is one thing I agree with Senator Cruz. He would be a tough opponent.

CABRERA: OK. Congressman Henry Cuellar, it's great to have you with us. Thanks for spending part of your Friday with us.

CUELLAR: Thank you.

CABRERA: It's time for the comeback. Here is how people are getting back to life as they're getting vaccinated and restrictions are lifting.

Check this out. From Wings of Hope Cancer Support Center in New Jersey. They say, after not coming together as a community last year, it meant so much to celebrate on site, releasing live butterflies to symbolize Wings of Hope, honoring and remembering everyone touched by cancer.


And Robert Camacho (ph) shared this pic, enjoying an amazing evening with friends, great food and wine. He writes, "Thank you COVID-19 vaccines for making it possible to hug and see our friends again."

Send me videos and pictures on Twitter. Make sure to tag me, @ana Cabrera. Use the hashtag, #thecomeback.

And I'll see you back here on Monday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Victor and Alisyn pick things up from here.

Have a great weekend.