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Pfizer To Seek Emergency FDA Authorization For Booster Shot; Delta Variant Driving Rise In Infection Rates Across U.S.; At Least 17 Foreign Nationals Arrested In Haiti; Biden Defends U.S. Withdrawal Despite Taliban Gains; Flooding Hits N.Y.C,; Roads, Subway Stations Impacted. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 9, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Hours after Pfizer announced it was pushing ahead with booster shots to fight waning immunity. The CDC and FDA stepped in saying fully vaccinated Americans don't need what, at least not yet.

Two Americans are among the 17 detained over the assassination of Haiti's president. And 20 million Americans are under tropical storm warnings as Elsa races up the East Coast, dumping rain and causing a lot of flooding in New York City.

Welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber, this is CNN "Newsroom."

We begin here in the U.S., where health authorities are pushing back at the suggestion that Americans need a COVID booster shot right now. It's in response to drugmaker Pfizer's announcement it would seek emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a booster dose after revealing the effectiveness of its vaccine has dropped.

The FDA along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a rare joint statement making it clear now's not the time.

CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen agrees and says her biggest concern is the confusion all of this will cause. Listen this.


LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I'm actually concerned about the Pfizer news confusing people at this point. It's not as if they have new data. They're actually going off of what the Israeli Ministry of Health reported earlier this week. And the key take home from that is that the vaccines that we have are still very effective against protecting against severe disease. So no one should be listening to this and saying, well, I need to go out and get a booster shot right now.


BRUNHUBER: Dr. William Schaffner is the Medical Director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and says its imperative people still get vaccinated.


WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Our vaccines still are very, very effective in keeping us out of the hospital in averting severe disease. That's what they were designed to do. Now, it's a bonus if they can also prevent what we call infection. You could get infected, have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. They diminish that possibility greatly, but they can't turn it off completely.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Delta variant now accounts for more than half of all new infections in the United States. That could be because the nation is still far from reaching herd immunity with less than half of the population fully vaccinated. And there is growing concern that low vaccination rates across the U.S. could potentially wipe out much of the progress the nation has made in fighting the virus.

CNN's Athena Jones has the latest.


ATHENA JONES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's COVID-19 crisis isn't over. Infection rates rising in almost half the states driven in part by the more contagious Delta variant, low vaccination rates, putting the country's progress fighting the virus at risk.

WEN: The more unvaccinated people there arm, the longer this pandemic is going to be. This is not just about the individual. This is about our society.

JONES (voice-over): A Georgetown University analysis showing five clusters of counties with low vaccination rates and significant population sizes, stretching from Georgia to Texas to Missouri. Places that could become breeding grounds for more deadly COVID variants.

JORGE RODRIGUEZ, BOARD CERTIFIED INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST & VIRAL RESEARCHER: A stronger mutation will surface and it will become predominant unless we get vaccinated.

JONES (voice-over): New cases jumping more than 50% week over week in Louisiana were just 35% are fully vaccinated, and Tennessee where it's about 38%.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: Simply put in areas of low vaccination coverage, hospitalizations are up.

JONES (voice-over): With less than half the population fully vaccinated nationwide, the White House ramping up outreach to pediatricians at workplaces and on school campuses.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Our job is to keep doing all weekend to reach Americans where they are, to answer their questions and to make it as easy as possible for them to get a shot as soon as they are ready.

JONES (voice-over): And efforts to have doctors and religious and community leaders going door to door to answer questions for the vaccine hesitant.

ZIENTS: For those individuals organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work. I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives and help end the pandemic.


JONES: Data show the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are effective, including against the Delta variant which now accounts for more than half of all new cases.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: Please get vaccinated it will protect you against the surging of the Delta variant.

JONES (voice-over): In Maryland, every person who died of COVID in June was unvaccinated. And as entertainers like the rapper Juvenile tried to appeal to young people. Experts are hoping full approval for vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will encourage more people to get the shot. Right now the shots only have emergency use authorization.

Meanwhile, mask mandates are back in California State Capitol after an outbreak of COVID cases among employees, as COVID fears ramped up all over again.

(on-camera): And with this more transmissible Delta variant spreading rapidly around the country. Some experts say it may be important to start testing even vaccinated people to make sure this variant isn't evading the vaccines.

In fact, Pfizer said Thursday is seeing waning immunity from its COVID vaccine and is picking up its efforts to develop booster shots to help protect people from the variance.

Athena Jones, CNN New York.


BRUNHUBER: California is set to require that all public schools offer a remote learning option for students this fall. On Thursday, the state passed a bill to accommodate students and parents still hesitant about returning to the classroom. The measure will apply to this upcoming school year only. Well amid all this talk of possible COVID booster shots in the U.S., many health officials are still trying to convince vaccine hesitant Americans to get their first dose. Zeke Emanuel was a health policy adviser during the Obama administration and here's how he describes the challenge.


ZEKE EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST FOR GLOBAL INITIATIVES, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: I think it's hard to imagine we're going to be able to immunize 200, 300 million people every year to this and that would be a huge challenge and we're having already having difficulty immunizing people in the states just for the first round, imagine having to do it every year.


BRUNHUBER: So, as we've mentioned, COVID outbreaks are popping up in areas with low vaccination rates. New data analysis from Georgetown University shows some of the largest clusters of unvaccinated people are located in the southern United States. Health officials warn these areas could become breeding grounds for even deadlier variants.

CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from one hot spot in Missouri.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Louie Michael and Pattie Bunch held off getting vaccinated, not anti-Vaxxers he just wasn't a priority. Then they got sick.

(on-camera): How sick are you two do get?

PATTI BUNCH, RECOVERING FROM COVID-19: I remember I was working and then I just it felt like a bomb dropped on me. I just wasn't feeling good at all. And I thought oh no --

MARQUEZ (on-camera): You're still recovering?

BUNCH: I'm still recovering.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): This is not your normal voice.

BUNCH: No, no.


BUNCH: This is a month later. It has totally devastated me.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): So sick, she thought she'd never see her daughter Ashley again.

BUNCH: I remember waking up the ambulance and I could see our daughter Ashley driving, you know, behind us. And I just thought I knew that when they took me there. I wouldn't see (INAUDIBLE), see my family and you just have no control. MARQUEZ (voice-over): This is Louie and Patty holding hands in the ICU. He thinks he picked up the virus in Las Vegas then without knowing it, gave it to his wife of 30 years.

MICHAEL: We got to that point where she needed to go first. I thought I was going to be tough and hold on and stay home and try to recuperate but it wasn't the case. I immediately went downhill.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, again, on the rise in Missouri. The state's health department estimates more than 70% of the virus circulating in the state is the more infectious possibly more dangerous Delta variant.

MAYROL JUAREZ, VICE PRESIDENT, HOSPITAL PROVIDERS AT MERCY HOSPITAL: We are seeing more people 30 years and older, getting sick and recording hospitalization. Also, we have seen that in this wave beach people is getting sicker faster.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Springfield's Mercy Hospital has seen hospitalizations rise so quickly, they've brought ventilators in from other hospitals. At Springfield's Cox Health, 90% of coronavirus patients tested, have the Delta variant.

HOWARD JARVIS, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT AT COX HEALTH: This is going to keep happening. You know, it may peak here and then it's going to spread to other places. If we don't get enough vaccinated, there's going to be another variant that's probably worse. It's just that's the way, you know, that's the way viruses work.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In Greene County population nearly 300,000 health officials sounding the alarm.

(on-camera): How concerned are you about the weeks and months ahead?

LISA MARSHALL, DIRECTOR, TANEY COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Terribly concerned. I mean, yesterday we reported another 240 cases in one day. We're not a huge community. That's a really large number and we haven't seen these numbers since we had a surge back in December in January.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): In nearby Branson, a huge tourist draw, it is business as usual. Vaccinations here in Taney County, even lower than the state, just 25% of all residents here are vaccinated.

(on-camera): What is the biggest barrier you hear to people not getting vaccinated?

KATIE TOWNS, ACTING DIRECTOR, SPRINGFIELD GREENE COUNTY HEALTH DEPT.: It runs kind of the gamut. Maybe they, they feel like they just want to wait and see, they're just not quite ready yet. Maybe they're just not someone that vaccinates. We've also heard a little bit of concern over how quickly the vaccine was developed. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Louie and Patti think of it this way, the unknown possibilities of getting the vaccine far outweigh the known horrors of the virus.

BUNCH: The vaccine, I feel personally is nothing compared to taking your chances and getting --

MICHAEL: It's Russian roulette, really. You want to take your odds and see, you know, if you get it and how will you do with it. Unfortunately, not going to do as well as you think you are.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): So just why is there such a big outbreak in this part of Missouri right now, probably down to several different factors when the vaccines came along social distancing, masking rules, all those went out the window for many people. Branson, which brings in people from all over the country is right down the road from Springfield. So, there's a lot of tourists coming in this area.

And then that Delta variant, it was first identified here in Springfield and in Branson in May, it is now circulating widely in this area and the concern now is it is going to stick around into the fall when they will have an even bigger outbreak. Back to you.


BRUNHUBER: The investigation into the assassination of Haiti's president is intensifying. Police say 17 of the more than two dozen suspects are in custody. Most of the alleged attackers are Colombian and two are Haitian-American. CNN hasn't been able to speak with them more their lawyers.

(voice-over): This video posted online claims to show a shootout between police and the attackers. But CNN can't confirm its authenticity. Haiti's police chief tells "Reuters" three suspects were killed.

CNN's Matt Rivers picks up the story from Port-au Prince.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arrests on the street of Port-au Prince, Thursday, after an army police operation against heavily armed mercenaries. Mercenaries that authorities say are responsible for the brazen assassination of Haiti's president Jovenel Moise early Wednesday. Haitian police say they have detained at least 15 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans suspected to have been involved in the attack. Police say the men who posed as U.S. DEA agents to gain entry to the private presidential residence included foreign nationals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: DEA operation. Everybody stand down.

RIVERS (voice-over): This audio circulating on social media purporting to be of the time of the assassination, with men shouting they are drug enforcement agents in English. But the audio cannot be authenticated by CNN. Police seeming to acknowledge the rising tide of anger in the wake of the attack are urging citizens not to take the law into their own hands.

LEON CHARLES, NATIONAL POLICE DIRECTOR (through translation): We have the obligation to protect the people we have caught. We cannot practice self justice.

RIVERS (voice-over): Still, many in the Haitian capital are asking just how such a bold attack could have been allowed to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do he come from? What country sent them? Who bought (INAUDIBLE), how to guns got transferred here? How do you got all these ammos?

RIVERS (voice-over): In an interview with CNN, Haiti's acting Prime Minister did allude to the context surrounding the assassination but stopped short that outlining a motive.

CLAUDE JOSEPH, ACTING HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER: We all know that President Moise was really committed to some, I will say some actions against the oligarchs in Haiti. So, we know that in the last days, he spoke about the consequences that those actions can have on his own life.

RIVERS (voice-over): Already a nation rife with political instability, gang violence and a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Fears from neighboring nations that the presidential assassination may push Haiti over the edge, but Haiti's interim prime minister insists that upcoming elections will still take place despite the nation's upheaval.

JOSEPH: The Constitution is clear. I have to organize elections and actually pass the power to someone else who is elected.

RIVERS (voice-over): But with so much uncertainty in the wake of a coordinated hit on the president and so many questions left to be answered about just who was responsible. Whether or not Haitian officials can keep the nation on track for a peaceful transfer of power remains an open question.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au Prince, Haiti.



BRUNHUBER: And Taiwan's embassy in Haiti may have dragged into the case unwittingly. Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN the group of armed men were arrested after they allegedly broke into the embassy grounds on Thursday. In a statement a short time ago, the embassy described the intruders as 11 mercenaries. It also described Haitian police carrying out a quote, search operation in order to pursue justice and reveal the truth of President Moise's assassination.

Now, it's not yet clear if the 11 suspects are part of the 28 mentioned in the Haitian police news conference on Thursday. All right, just ahead. Joe Biden on the defensive. The U.S. president explains why after 20 years, the time is right to bring American troops home from Afghanistan. But now, we're hearing a further Taliban gains there. We're live in Kabul with the latest developments.

Plus, Tropical Storm Elsa is moving north and already. New York is feeling its effects. We'll get the latest for our meteorologist ahead. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: President Joe Biden is mounting a vigorous defense of his decision to pull all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Biden insists this is no mission accomplished moment, but he claims the U.S. has achieved itself objectives of dismantling al-Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden. Their withdrawal is already more than 90% complete according to US officials. All American troops are expected to be out by August 31st weeks ahead of schedule.



JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that just one more year fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution. But a recipe for being there indefinitely.

I will not send another generation Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.


BRUNHUBER: But critics of the withdrawal say it's allowing the Taliban to capture more territory. Now this map there shows Taliban controlled areas shaded in black, Biden says it's time for the Afghan people to defend their own country.


BIDEN: No, I do not trust the Taliban. It's a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No, but I trust the capacity of the Afghan military who is better trained, better equipped and more, more competent in terms of conducting war.


BRUNHUBER: And Anna Coren joins us now live from Kabul. I understand there's words now have more Taliban games.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim. Local news reports are saying that the dry port of Islam color between Afghanistan and Iran has fallen to the Taliban. This is something that the Taliban is claiming as well that this dry port is under the full control of the Taliban. This is the main trade gateway, if you like between Afghanistan, and Iran, millions of dollars worth of goods flow through their fuel, you know, imports, exports people. This is a major, major border crossing a major developments in the Taliban's offensive. This is also the second border crossing that they have claimed now, within weeks.

We've also heard Kim from the Taliban in Moscow, they held a press conference there are several hours ago saying that they now control 85% of Afghan territory. They've also appealed to humanitarian groups, NGOs to continue operating in Afghanistan, to not cease operations. They've also said that they want schools to remain open, hospitals to remain open.

Interestingly, that they said they want women and men, girls and boys to attend school all the way to university. If that is true, that is a significant development. Because as we know, the Taliban does not allow women to venture outdoors, they certainly don't want them to get an education. Girls have been allowed to go to school up to primary age. But if this is true, if the Taliban is serious about girls getting an education, that is certainly a significant step for this militant insurgency, which, as we know, Kim is trying to make out that it is the alternative government.

We heard from President Biden, you know, overnight giving that speech, defending his position on withdrawing U.S. troops. And he said I don't trust the Taliban. But he also said it was not inevitable that the government would fall to the Taliban, but these certainly sweeping gains around the country, creating a great deal of panic and alarm here. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I can imagine. CNN's Anna Coren for us, live in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you so much. Really appreciate.

A special legislative session on voting called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott kicked off on Thursday. The proposed legislation takes aim at among other things, 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting. Democrats say that amounts to voter suppression. They blocked a similar attempt to five weeks ago to adopt the measures but Texas Republicans say the legislation would improve election integrity.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the importance of voting rights while visiting her alma mater, Howard University, a historically black school.


KAMALA HARRIS (D) VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: This is the fight of our lifetime. This is the fight of our lifetime. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. We will always remember our history. We also understand their legacy, and that we are a part of that.


BRUNHUBER: And Texas is just one of many states and acting voting restrictions in some form.

Parts of New York City are being hit by flooding ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa on Thursday, several subway stations were impacted. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would take steps to keep customers and employees safe. The heavy rains and high winds create havoc on the roads, causing the MTA to implement a ban on empty tractor trailers and tandem trucks on bridges and tunnels and it's expected to be in place until noon today.


Now some 20 million Americans along the east coast are under tropical storm warnings at this hour. Elsa first hit Florida on Wednesday, one person was killed in Jacksonville. Tornadoes were reported across the state as well as in parts of southern Georgia. And now the powerful storm is making its way into the northeast.

And joining me now to talk about that is meteorologist Karen Maginnis. Karen, so you're tracking the system. What's the latest?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it is beginning to pull away gradually from the Delmarva Peninsula, that's Maryland and Virginia. And as it does pull across this region, you can see some of that heavier precipitation. The denser convection with this is along that northern edge which is pushing through into New York City, they're starting to pick up more of that precipitation.

Here's the good thing about Elsa, it's moving to the northeast at about 25 miles per hour. It has winds associated with it at 50 miles an hour. Now, earlier in the day, previous 24 hours we were looking at 40-mile an hour winds so is barely a tropical storm intensity. But now where you see this blue all the way from Salisbury to Atlantic City, New York, Nantucket and Boston, tropical storm warnings in effect, and it looks like two to four inches of rain will be common. Some isolated areas might see as much as six inches. So flash flooding threat across this region and these high density population areas.

Well it's going to trek through the northeast moving to regions right around Cape Cod and the down east may, watch out for the flood potential picking up there. But wind gust, heavy surf advisories and we're looking at rip current. So a lot of factors consider with Elsa over the next few hours. Back to you Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much appreciate.

So while spectators won't be at the Olympics in Tokyo, athletes, journalists and other officials are making their way to Japan. Coming up, the Olympian effort they're facing as the city sees a surge in infections. We'll have that coming up. Stay with us.