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Pfizer Sparks Vaccine Confusion with Statement Warning of Waning Immunity, Need for Boosters; Another Heat Wave Set to Scorch Western U.S. this Weekend; CPAC Rallies around Trump, Culture Wars, the Big Lie. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 9, 2021 - 13:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So the question is, he's putting pressure on him in this phone call. What does that look like when it comes to an operational --

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's fascinating. Also, the former secretary of state, now climate czar, John Kerry, going to Moscow to talk about climate issues. That will be the first Biden administration official to go to Moscow, it's complicated, it's important and it's timely.

Kaitlan, thank you very much. Thank you for your time today. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and happy Friday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Today, the major COVID developments, the CDC issuing new guidance for the large scale return of kids to classrooms, and medical experts and regulators on defense after Pfizer sparked new vaccine booster confusion. It comes as vaccine hesitancy hits a critical inflection point.

Pfizer says it's seeing waning immunity and believes a third shot may give people the best protection against variants, like delta. But the company did not provide the data to back it up. The CDC and FDA quickly responding with, not so fast, we'll address the confusion there.

But here is what's clear. Vaccines work and they are saving lives. Need proof? Take what we learned out of Maryland. 127 people died there from COVID in June. None of them were vaccinated.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us. Elizabeth, what are we learning about why Pfizer put out this statement on boosters?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, I'm going to start with, actually, why people think it's a little bit crazy that Pfizer put out this statement on boosters, and it really is the numbers that you just showed. There is so much data showing that these vaccines work.

Pfizer, as you said, did not put out any new data. They just said, hey, we're going to ask for approval for this booster. It would be a third shot, the same as the first two but a third shot. And we think that immunity is waning. Lots of criticism that when you're trying to get a third of the country to be vaccinated, that's how many people have not taken -- availed themselves of a vaccine.

A third of the country has not been vaccinated. Why are you telling them that it's waning? That will make them not want the vaccine even more. So, again, lots of criticism of Pfizer this morning.

They did point to some Israeli data that came out earlier this week, but that data actually shows that the vaccine works great at preventing severe disease.

So, in the midst of all this, the FDA and CDC put out a joint statement, which I will tell you, Ana, having done this many decades, hardly ever happens. Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. It couldn't be more clear. It also, in some ways, kind of disagrees with what Pfizer is saying, for the FDA so come out and say something that disagrees with the pharmaceutical company, that also is extraordinarily rare.

So this is a very odd situation, but the bottom line, if you don't want to follow all the back and forth of this mess, the bottom line is people do not need a booster. There is one exception, if you're immune-compromised. For example, you're an organ transplant recipient and you are taking immune suppression drugs. A third shot might help you and there are studies on this now. But for the vast majority of people, there is no reason to be getting a third shot.

CABRERA: Right. One shot enough not, two shots, the sweet spot right now, as far as the data.

Let's talk about this CDC school guidelines. It's hard to believe that in some places, schools start up in just a few weeks. My kids were just out of school a couple of weeks ago, so they don't go back until September. But what do we need to know?

COHEN: So, the CDC is basically saying it is a priority for children to be in school, not at home. They should be in school and that certain safety precautions need to be taken.

So, let's look specifically at what they're saying. They say if, at your school, if not everyone is vaccinating, you should practice physical distancing if possible. Also if you yourself are not vaccinated, whether you're a student or a teacher or staff, you should be wearing a mask indoors. And also, the CDC suggests that schools offer weekly testing for unvaccinated people. So that's interesting. That's sort of a screening tool to make sure you're not having many outbreaks.

Now, if COVID numbers are low, then children maybe don't need to be screened. But for most parts of the country right now, screening would be recommended. Ana?

CABRERA: Elizabeth, always good to have you with us. Happy Friday to you. Thank you.

With us now, Dr. Saju Matthew, he's a primary care physician and public health specialist. Dr. Matthew, good to see you.

I want to give a little bit more information about the CDC guidance for schools. The agency is recommending unvaccinated people over the age of two wear a mask when they are indoors. They also say physical distancing should be practiced in schools where not everyone is vaccinated, but students should not be excluded from in-person learning to maintain physical distancing.

So my question is, if schools don't require masks and some students aren't eligible to be vaccinated, are those younger kids safe?


DR. SAJU MATTHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Yes, hi, Ana. Listen, let's clear up some confusion going into the weekend here. First of all, I want to be clear. I think we can absolutely open schools in the pandemic. I have that same feeling at the beginning of the pandemic. I have it now, now that we have vaccines ands thing are getting better.

Let me tell you why. The community transmission definitely will be different in different states. So if you're in a green state where the vaccination rates are high and COVID transmission is low, it's safe to open schools and you could be relaxed about these mask guidelines. But in a state where I live in Georgia where the vaccination rate is below 40 percent, absolutely, unvaccinated kids and teachers that are unvaccinated need to be masked. There needs to also be testing done frequently.

My biggest concern is in the states where the vaccination rates are low. Those are also the states where they're going to have a lot of relaxed guidelines regarding masks and not mandating masks. So if you can mandate masks and you follow the guidelines of social distancing and frequent testing, we can definitely open schools safely.

CABRERA: And what I'm hearing is to parents who are listening, if your child is not vaccinated, make sure they are wearing a mask inside.

Let's talk about the booster debate. Where do you stand on this?

MATTHEW: I think that we are panicking a little bit about the booster shot, and let me tell you why, Ana. Just like you said in the opening, 99.2 percent, by the way, of people who died in the month of June from COVID were unvaccinated. If that's not an incentive to show people that vaccines work, I don't know what is.

Also, we don't talk enough about these T-cells and B-cells, these helper cells that also help us fight COVID. So it's not just the antibodies that work, but these T-cells and B-cells go into action, they remember a previous infection. So I think that even if the antibodies wane, we know it happens even in people who had prior COVID, I think that the vaccines will actually last for a full year.

The most important thing is if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated. That is what's going to protect you against these contagious strains.

CABRERA: So why would Pfizer think a booster was needed and the CDC not?

MATTHEW: Well, you know, I definitely am thankful to Pfizer for the vaccines they have given. In fact, over half of the adults in America have gotten the Pfizer shots. We know that these mRNA vaccines work well. But Pfizer is a pharmaceutical company. They're going to also look at their best interests.

But I don't think it's a bad thing, Ana. I think that we need to do is let Pfizer present the data as an emergency use authorization for the third booster, but let's pore over the data. Let's look at what Pfizer has. Let's look at clinical data, laboratory data. I think if anything at all, it might be the immune-compromised, as Elizabeth mentioned, and the elderly that might need booster shots. But we don't need to worry about that just yet.

CABRERA: Let's talk about this proposal from Senator Rand Paul who wants to prevent the airlines from requiring masks on board on the plane. Your reaction?

MATTHEW: Absolutely, shocked, extremely upset. I think that that would absolutely be the wrong thing to do at a time when the delta strain is taking a stronghold in every state in the U.S. More than 50 percent of the cases now will be the strain from delta. And we know it's more contagious. So, if people are traveling, Ana, one of the most reassuring aspects of travel is the fact that we know that masks have to be worn in these congested terminals and on planes.

And can I tell you right now, even if we don't have studies, hundreds and thousands of people are prevented from getting infected on planes and in airports because of the mandate of masks. So, that would absolutely be a wrong idea. We must keep the mandates of masking, especially for travel.

CABRERA: And we know travel is on the rise, big time. Dr. Saju Matthew, it's good to have you with us. Thank you so much for spending time with us on this Friday.

MATTHEW: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Right now, not even half the country is fully vaccinated. And understanding the divide might be as simple as looking at two maps. CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza is here to break it down for us. Chris, take it away.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: All right, Ana. This first map, we should be pretty familiar with, right? We know -- I'm going to use my capacity. We know this is sort of how the country has looked for the last bunch of years. You have this year, all Republican.the coasts, Democratic, more votes on the coasts. We know this map. Okay, remember this map. I'm going to take that away just so you can remember that map. Okay. Now I want to show you current vaccination rate by state. Okay. Now, this map goes through all the percentages.


As you can see broadly, you know, I'm going to do this, I'm going to give you a hint of what's to come. As you can see broadly, that looks pretty similar to what I did on the other map, right? But let me erase it, so now that's that map.

Okay. Now, let's put them side by side. It is remarkable the overlay here. Look at this. Again, look at this, that and this. It is almost an exact replica of one another. These maps look exactly the same. They've just different colors, right?

Well, what does that tell us? Well, it tells us that vaccination rates are almost entirely predicted by what state went for Trump or went for Biden. And it's not just that, Ana, it's also how heavily the state went for Biden or Trump in vaccination rates.

Let's take it as an example. I'll get you two states, very Democratic. So, in 2020 Vermont, Bernie Sanders' home state, Biden won 66 percent of the vote, the exact same number, 66 percent are fully vaccinated in Vermont. Same thing with Minnesota, a little bit more of a swing state, 52 percent, 52 percent fully vaccinated.

Now, it's not exact in every state, right? It's not whatever Biden got in that number equals the percent fully vaccinated, but it's pretty close. The flip side is also true. Okay. I pick two very Republican states. In Idaho, Trump won with 64 -- I didn't press my thing.

Hold on, Trump won with 64 percent of the vote. What's 100 minus 64? I'll do the math for you, Ana, it's 36. So, the people who did not vote for Trump, this is not a direct overlay, right? But the people who didn't vote for Trump, which is about 36 percent in a state like Idaho, who voted for Biden, 36 percent fully vaccinated.

Okay. Same basic thing here, this is Oklahoma, Trump wins overwhelmingly, 65 percent. Only 39 percent are fully vaccinated. The more Trumpy the state, the less likely significant vaccinations. The more heavily Biden won the state, the more likely vaccinations.

The simple conclusion. Vaccines have become, like almost everything else, a political football in a political tell. They don't have to be. It's a public health issue.

CABRERA: Exactly.

CILLIZZA: COVID doesn't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican or libertarian, independent, whatever. And, unfortunately, as these maps show, let's go back to this one, the side by side, excuse me, it shows you our red/blue divide is an aqua and light green divide, but it's still the same divide.

CABRERA: Wow. And we don't want that to be. COVID doesn't pick parties?

CILLIZZA: It shouldn't be. Right, it shouldn't be.

CABRERA: Chris, that is fascinating, and you really just put it out there. It's eye-popping to see those percentages line up the way they do.

CILLIZZA: That's exactly right.

CABRERA: Thank you, sir.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Now to another deadly crisis that is impacting millions of Americans, a massive heat emergency that's forcing a large section of the country to conserve power and water. How hot, how dire could it get? That's ahead.

Plus, the nation's largest gathering of conservatives kicking off today. And if you were looking for a sign that Republicans are turning away from former President Trump and his nonstop election lies, you won't find it there. Ahead, what their agenda reveals.

And a new twist in the mysterious twist in the assassination of Haiti's president, two Americans now among a long list of suspects. Stay with us.



CABRERA: Unrelenting, stifling heat is gripping much of the western U.S. right now. The threat of another record-breaking heat wave has more than 30 million people on alert. In California, residents are being asked to conserve power and water. And temperatures could surpass 130 degrees in Death Valley. Get this, the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 degrees. That was in 1913. And in Las Vegas, temperatures are expected to reach a record high of 118 degrees.

CNN's Camila Bernal is live in Nevada where the highest level heat risk has been issued in much of the state and across the southwest.

Camila, this dangerous heat is making the historic drought conditions even worse and it's escalating the threat for wildfires.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, it absolutely is doing all of those things. And, look, it's only 10:18 in the morning and it's already about 105 degrees. And it's going to get a lot worse both in terms of the weather and of the drought.

The severe drought that's impacting the western part of the United States includes this area where I am right now. Officials here in Lake Mead telling me every single day they're having to record a new low in water levels and you can easily see it behind me. You see the high water mark, and that's what just shows you why.

Starting in August, they believe that they're going to have a shortage in water. It looks like a bathtub ring all over Lake Mead. They say that if there is a shortage, then places like Las Vegas, or Arizona are going to have to get less water from this reservoir next year.

And, overall, about 25 million people depend on this water. That's more than the population in the state of Florida. And it's not just the water, it's also the electricity that's generated here. It's also the high fire danger and, of course, people's health. You saw what happened in the Pacific Northwest. The death toll there continues to increase. It's now at about 200 when you're talking about Washington State and Oregon, and it could keep climbing.


Many people here are used to these kinds of temperatures but the concern for officials in Las Vegas, for example, is that there are plenty of tourists here that at many times just do not know how to deal with these temperatures. So they say they're going to be ready for a number of emergency calls but, of course, they're hoping to avoid a similar situation to that of the Pacific Northwest. Ana?

CABRERA: They are dangerous conditions that you're experiencing there. I don't know how you got that report out without breaking a sweat. Camila Bernal, thank you for your reporting from Lake Mead, Nevada.

Heat isn't the only thing gripping the nation, so are gas prices. Right now, they are at a seven-year high. The national average is now $3.14 per gallon, according to AAA. Some people want to point the finger at the White House, but the spike in prices has nothing to do with politics.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now. Pete, help us understand why many Americans are paying so much at the pump.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, you mentioned the national average now 3.14 a gallon, but it is so much higher in so many places across the country, $3.49 here at this station in Bethesda, Maryland, and that average just keeps ticking up and up, $2.18 only a year ago.

So many factors at play here, demand is brisk for driving right now. And Gas Buddy reports this past Tuesday after the long July 4th weekend, was the busiest Tuesday for fill-ups since 2019 back before the pandemic. Also a bit of a supply issue, OPEC failed to secure a deal that would have increased crude oil supply, that necessary for gasoline production, and Tropical Storm Elsa is impacting crude deliveries and it's also impacting production in the southeast.

But AAA reports that is not stopping people from getting out, even though it anticipates that gas will be 3.25 later on this summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDREW GROSS, SPOKESMAN, AAA: Well, gasoline prices are going to stubbornly stay above $3 and probably to $3.10 and $3.20 range throughout the rest of the summer. But we also know people don't let that get in the way of going on a vacation. They'll figure out another way of budgeting, maybe eat out less or do more free activities but they're taking the vacation this year.


MUNTEAN: Remember, the national average is just the average. And in California, the average is around $4.30. A lot of people still swallowing that cost and the White House says it is monitoring the situation, although it says this is really an issue about oil prices and not about politics, Ana.

CABRERA: Pete Muntean in Bethesda, Maryland, thank you.

Any moment now President Biden set to deliver remarks on the economy as he signs a new executive order. He says it will reduce the price we pay for prescription drugs, for the internet, for flights and more. Details ahead.



CABRERA: The biggest party of the year for conservatives is under way for a second time this year. I'm talking about CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. The theme at this gathering in Dallas is America uncanceled. And former President Trump is once again the headliner, making it clear he remains very much in control of his party.

His son, Don Jr., speaks today. The former president's key aide, Stephen Miller, will address the crowd, as well South Dakota's flamethrowing governor, Kristi Noem.

Next hour, the conference will discuss so-called election integrity, continuing the right to drumbeat of the big lie.

Let's bring in Amanda Carpenter, CNN Political Commentator and Political Columnist for The Bulwark.

And, Amanda, this is the gathering, right, of the party's power elite. So what does it tell you that a key focus at this conference is, quote, how to collect evidence of voter fraud?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it tells you the 2020 election never ended for them. To this day, Donald Trump and most of his supporters refuse to acknowledge the idea that Joe Biden won the election.

And so I'm very worried about this. And quite frankly, I feel like the Democrats aren't alarmed enough about these sustained, determined efforts on the Trumpian right to attack the voting system. I mean, there is a direct line between Donald Trump's big election lie, the insurrection and the ongoing attack on voting rights that's happening all over the country.

I mean, my goodness, in Arizona, they're collecting evidence, right? They are seizing the ballot machines to audit elections that have been already audited by professionals, sacrificing all kinds of voter privacy along the way, damaging election equipment and no one seems to be able to stop it. I mean, just a few agitators were able to subpoena these machines and hand them off to some fly by night outfit no one has heard of and no one can stop it.

And so I just don't feel like people are taking this threat seriously enough. But, meanwhile, every single day Trump and his lawyers and his team and his activists are planning a rerun of this in 2022 and 2024.

CABRERA: Well, I think Democrats are taking this seriously. It's Republicans who aren't taking it seriously that are enabling some of these efforts to continue.


They're the ones who are passing the laws when they have the majority in state legislatures.