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Heat Wave; Texas Democrats Leaving State to Block Voting Restrictions; Interview With Little Rock, Arkansas, Mayor Frank Scott Jr.; FDA Investigating Rare Vaccine Risk. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The CDC and the FDA, they take in reports when something doesn't go quite right after a vaccination.

And, sometimes, those reports mean nothing, but, apparently, they are paying close attention to these reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. You will remember that's the one dose vaccine. So, let's take a look at what the CDC is learning.

The CDC is telling us that they have received -- well, actually, these are the basics of what Guillain-Barre syndrome is. About 3,000 to 6,000 people in the U.S. develop Guillain-Barre syndrome each year.

So it happens without vaccination, which I think is really important for us to remember. It's a neurological illness. People have muscle weakness, tingling in the legs. Very rarely, it can end in paralysis, but that's not how it usually works. Most people in fact, fully recover.

Typically, it's triggered by a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. So, let's take a look at what the CDC is telling us now. They say there they're investigating a small possible risk of contracting Guillain-Barre after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

They have received about 100 preliminary reports. But -- and this is what we all have to remember -- that's after 12.8 million doses of the vaccine being given out. And, again, that's presumably 12.8 people, since it's a one-shot vaccine.

It's being really largely reported about two weeks after vaccination. It's being reported mostly in men, many of them over age 50. So, as you can see, again, the CDC saying a small possible risk.

Now, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the FDA is preparing to do some kind of a warning about Guillain-Barre syndrome and Johnson & Johnson. It's very important also to add that this risk has not been found with either Moderna or Pfizer. Those are mRNA vaccines. They work in a completely different way than Johnson & Johnson.

And, really, the vast, vast majority of the vaccinations that people in the U.S. have gotten and continue to get, it's not Johnson & Johnson. It's Pfizer and Moderna. So this really applies to a relatively small number of people.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for the breaking news.

Let's stay with it now with Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. She is the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Doctor, first your reaction to this breaking news we heard about the J&J vaccine?


So I think this is interesting and it's important information. But I would also emphasize a couple of points that were just raised. Remember, the J&J vaccine is a different mechanism compared to the mRNA vaccines. And, if you recall, it's actually using an adenovirus vector.

One of the things we know about Guillain-Barre is that it's often provoked by exposure to something that ramps up your immune system. And what was mentioned before were respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. And that's really very common to see that association.

So the thinking here is probably that it's the delivery system, the viral vector, coupled with whatever you're delivering in the J&J vaccine, that is probably creating this very small increase in the number of GBS cases.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Still, Dr. Marrazzo, on a larger issue, I have to imagine that you just wince every time there's some sort of announcement like this, because this -- vaccine-hesitant people say, aha, see, new information comes out about this all the time. That's why I'm reluctant. That's why I don't want to get it.

How do you -- I mean, Alabama, where you are, is in one of the red zones right now. And so how do you counter that?

MARRAZZO: Yes, Alisyn, that is a great, great insight. It's the sort of thing that really, as I have said before, keeps me up at night, because you're really fighting two opposing tendencies.

One is, you have to be transparent about the safety data. Just because there are only a few cases, just because everybody got better, if there is any signal, you have to be transparent about it and tell people about it. You do not want to cover this stuff up and you want to give people the information they need to be sure they can make an informed decision.

On the other hand, as we just heard, you want to keep emphasizing that, overall, the risk is incredibly low. We just heard 100 possible cases with about 13 million doses given, and that's single dose, so really, very, very unlikely. But people will latch onto that as a red flag.

And we just have to keep trying to give them the numbers and try to tell them what the truth is.

BLACKWELL: Yes, on the topic of vaccines, there's been a bit of conflict between what we're hearing from the government and Pfizer on the need for boosters and when we will need those boosters.

I want you to listen to former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who is also on the board of Pfizer -- we should say that -- about maybe being too late for the boosters to affect the spread of the Delta variant. Let's listen.



DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: We're a little bit behind here in the United States.

If we don't get started right now, we're not going to be in a position to have boosters available should we need it come the fall. I think, quite frankly, we've probably missed the window in terms of providing boosters for the Delta variant.


BLACKWELL: So, where are you on the need for the boosters, as there is this growing conflict in the industry?

MARRAZZO: So, again, we're drinking information out of a fire hose here, really. There's so much coming out every day. And there's really still so much we don't know about the Delta variant, right?

We keep hearing that, based on data that have been accrued to date in clinical trials and also as the Delta variant emerges, that we don't need to worry, that the currently available vaccines, particularly the three that we have in the United States, should work against the Delta variant.

If that's the case, our Achilles' heel is not the fact that we don't have a booster for the Delta variant. It's a fact -- it's the fact that we don't have, as you mentioned, 40 to 60 percent of people in this country vaccinated, period.

So my feeling is we got to worry about getting people vaccinated before we really start getting into a really serious discussion about the boosters. I think you have to think about it. You have to plan for it. I'm glad they're talking about it today. But we really need to work on getting people vaccinated, period.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, we appreciate it. Thanks so much for talking to us. BLACKWELL: Thank you.

MARRAZZO: My pleasure. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk about another hot spot now. And that is Arkansas.

So the U.S. at this moment is averaging more than 19,000 new cases over just the past seven days. And if you could just look at that map that we just saw, you can see that Arkansas is one of the hot spots. And, by the way, this is a 47 percent increase from just the week before.

So Arkansas also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, Frank Scott Jr., knows all about vaccine skepticism. And that's what we want to talk to him about.

Thanks so much for being here, Mayor.


CAMEROTA: OK, so you admit that you yourself at one time were vaccine-hesitant. You, I think, had never gotten the flu shot before, and you didn't want to get the COVID shot. And then what happened?

SCOTT: Well, I did the research and understood the facts. But, quite frankly, I'm the leader of the state's capital city, and any leader has to step up and be responsible for all of its residents.

And so I can't ask our residents to take the vaccination, if I wasn't willing to being. Someone who's never taken the flu shot, it definitely was something that I paid a lot of attention to him.

But also being a black man and understanding the Tuskegee experiment, as well as the HeLa cells and the amount of distrust that comes from the black community, as well as Latino community, and so it felt like I definitely had to lead the way to ensure that all residents went out and took the shot.

And so Little Rock, being the most populated and most traversed city within the state of Arkansas, it plays a key role in ensuring how we increase the amount. Right now, Little Rock in Pulaski County is about 40 percent. It's definitely not where we want to be, and we're doing all we can to continue to increase that 40 percent to get closer to 70 percent.

CAMEROTA: When you say you did the research, that's admirable. I mean, it's admirable that you were open-minded enough to do the research and let the science guide your feelings about this.

But, as you know, there's a large swathe, millions of people in this country who are not getting their information from good, solid, reliable sources. And so how are you supposed to combat that?

SCOTT: Well, we have got to combat it by dispelling all the misinformation and the lack of research that's out there.

There's nothing but -- what you're starting to see is a lot of conspiracy theories, where people think this is Big Brother or it's going to be some type of controlling of your mind, I can tell you right now, also being someone that's lost a loved one to COVID-19, it's serious, and we should not have to allow someone to die for us to really believe the research and the science.

What we continue to do is go by data-driven policies and research in all that we do in our administration. And this is just another way to continue to do that, because, again, this saves lives.

And, right now, this is all preventable.

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry that you lost a loved one. I mean, that is horrible. And we talk to people every day who have lost loved ones, and they don't have to at this point.

SCOTT: I know.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's the cruel irony, is that you don't have to die anymore or even be hospitalized from this.

And yet, this weekend, at the Conservative Political Conference in Dallas, I just wanted you to hear what a message was. The message was basically people in the crowd cheering for low vaccination rates. So listen to this.


ALEX BERENSON, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: Because clearly, they were hoping, the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated.


And it isn't happening, right?


BERENSON: There's a -- younger people--


CAMEROTA: I mean, what do you want to say, mayor to the people in that crowd that were cheering?

SCOTT: Well, it's disappointing, that type of rhetoric and language that's being used, because it's deadly. It literally leads to death.

And we got to be leaders and all step up. This isn't a partisan issue. This isn't a geographical issue. And, quite frankly, it has no discrimination with it. We have to take care of our loved ones and our neighbors by getting a vaccine.

So, my message is, get the vaccine. CAMEROTA: Your governor is on the same page as you. And your governor

has been outspoken, though he's a Republican, about trying to really encourage the vaccines.

Why do you think he's not taking a page from the CPAC folks that we just heard?

SCOTT: Well, we here in Arkansas and Little Rock, we tend to do things our way and differently.

And we always put people first. So, I do applaud our governor for doing the work and continuing to encourage everyone. We got to continue to keep that step up and figure out more creative ways to figure out how we incentivize individuals for taking the vaccine.

So I'm glad our governor stepped up to encourage. We have to get our state legislative leaders as well and all community leaders. And sometimes you don't have to be in elective office. It's all about who's the individual that has the most trust with the community to ensure that that word is getting out and it's factual and it's based on science.

CAMEROTA: Name one creative way that you -- what you think you could do in Little Rock that you think would change people's minds.

SCOTT: Well, I would love to have a new concert series one day, free of charge, and make sure everyone who came on top of it took the vaccination to get the free ticket.

But, in the meantime, we're offering here in city of Little Rock extra leave time within our own city employees to continue to encourage it. We know there are so many other incentive packages that are going on right now. No one wants to mandate this whatsoever. But we have to save lives.

CAMEROTA: I love the idea of the concert series. I think that's a powerful inducement, live music.

So what was it like for you to get it? Were you scared?

SCOTT: Oh, I wasn't scared, but I definitely don't like shots. And so let's just say I buckled a little bit close to my chair and took the shot. And it was over with.

I took the Johnson & Johnson.

CAMEROTA: Are you going to also get the flu shot come fall or winter?

SCOTT: I am.


SCOTT: I have looked at that science too. I'm going to finally do it.


CAMEROTA: Good for you.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr., we really appreciate you being on and sharing your message with our viewers.

SCOTT: Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: I thought you were going to continue to list, measles, mumps, but just to make sure he had all of his vaccinations.


CAMEROTA: I should have. I should have.

That would have been a great idea.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: All right, now, President Biden is meeting with leaders from around the country to discuss the surge in crime and gun violence.

And the winner of New York's Democratic primary for mayor, Eric Adams, is there with the president. So we're going to speak to him live as soon as that wraps up.

BLACKWELL: Also, breaking news: Texas Democrats are now planning to leave the state in their latest effort to keep a restrictive voting bill from passing.

There are details on how long -- wait until you hear this -- how long this standoff could last.



BLACKWELL: More now on the breaking news out of Texas, where state House Democrats are now planning to leave the state today.

CAMEROTA: They say they're trying to stop this controversial voting restrictions bill that Texas Republicans are trying to push through.

CNN's Jessica Dean is live for us on Capitol Hill. And she's learned some very interesting details about their plans.

So, Jessica, how will they get to D.C.? And how long will these lawmakers have to stay in D.C.?


Those are really, good key questions, Alisyn and Victor. What we are learning is that this group of lawmakers will be flying out on chartered planes that will make their way here to Washington, D.C., as they make this move to deny Republicans quorum there, so they can't vote on these voting restriction bills.

So that is what -- that's why, the impetus for them leaving the state of Texas. Now, they are currently in a special session there that the governor has called that goes on for 30 days. So I believe they're at day 27. So their objectives here are not quite clear yet. Do they hope to deny Republicans a vote during that entire period? Or are they trying to push for changes to things that they object to in these proposed bills, in these proposed laws?

Those are some of the questions that we will have to find out from these House Democrats. But you will remember, earlier this year, they staged a walkout, doing something similar, denying a vote on some of these bills. Some of these bills would do things like curb early voting, Victor and Alisyn.

It would also do various things. It would end drive-in -- drive- through voting, different ways that has expanded the right to vote for people in the state of Texas. And so they're coming here to Washington, D.C. They want to draw attention, of course, to the fight on voting restrictions, on voting rights.

Of course, we have seen that here on the federal level. House -- or Senate Democrats have really tried to push through S.1., their voting rights bill, but you will remember they could barely get all the Democrats on board to that. They had to cajole Joe Manchin to get on board.


And there is zero Republican support for that. And when they run up against that filibuster, it's just not going anywhere on the federal level. So we do expect to hear from those Texas Democrats as they get here to D.C. talking about what they're trying to do, and also trying to put some pressure on the Senate Democrats and House Democrats to do more.

But we will see when they get here exactly what their message is -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jessica Dean for us there.

CAMEROTA: We have questions about this.

BLACKWELL: So many questions here.

Chartered planes. Who's paying for the hotels? Just some I jotted down as I was listening to Jessica there. And for a party that is so focused on dark money in politics, they should disclose who's paying for all this. We understand their mission. We understand why they're doing this, but somebody spent a lot of money on this.

CAMEROTA: For the charter plans, et cetera.

And maybe they will. I mean, this is the breaking news. They have just decided to leave the state. And they had threatened that they might have to leave the state in order to block this legislative session. But we have questions. And we're sure that--


BLACKWELL: We just found out about it, though.

CAMEROTA: We will get the--

BLACKWELL: The idea that they have been packed and ready to go for three days to D.C.? They have been planning this.

CAMEROTA: If you bring an overnight bag, I guess they knew about it.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I imagine they're all at the airport at the same time.

All right, let's talk about this extreme heat and wildfires, making a very dangerous combination in the Western U.S. right now. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are more than 59 wildfires burning across 12 states. Adds up to more than four times the size of New York City. And the destruction has been devastating for so many people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still kind of known, I mean, after losing everything that I worked for and everything all these years. It's gone. I don't know what to do with my disabled brother who had heart surgery, or my other brother, or my son, my dog, my cat that's in my R.V.


CAMEROTA: OK, CNN's Stephanie Elam is out in the heat. She is live from the edge of the Angeles National Forest.

Stephanie, explain what's going on where you are, and why the conditions are so bad right now.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're very scary, is just the word I keep thinking of when I talk about this, Alisyn and Victor, because what we have is a confluence of really not good situation here, because you have got the fact that we just did not get enough snow or rain over the winter.

And that snowpack that hangs up in the Sierra Mountains, that's actually our water supply when it melts off. But it melted off very early this year, because the temperatures were so high so early. That also impacts groundwater, the groundwater has not been able to recharge. I know we don't think about the water that's underneath the ground that we're walking on, but it's actually really important as well.

So all of that is leading to very dry, dry conditions. And this drought is being really played out in the fact that we have this dry, dry ground, we have then the heat, and then that dryness in the ground then leads to more heat. So this whole circle is continuing here. And that is why fire

officials are so concerned. And you're already seeing some very large fires, complex fires. That's when more than one fire joins with another one. And they start calling it a complex fire, like we are seeing up north.

We're seeing these fires that are burning, because everything out here, like you see behind me, it is just so dry. I broke off a piece of a bush back here. And you can just see how dry all of this is. With the winds that are blowing off here too, all of that makes for wildfire danger. And it's expanded, especially since we have that low humidity as well.

This is the concern. And all three of these things play into each other. People in the Pacific Northwest, many of them don't even have air conditioners, and yet they have seen this record temperature. We saw, in Utah, they tied an all-time state record on Saturday of 117 degrees in the Southwest corner there at St. George.

These numbers are weird, and they're weird in the wrong way. And that is why everyone is concerned. And, also, just to make it very clear, Alisyn and Victor, everyone I have spoken to about this says that there's no doubt in their mind that this is climate change playing out here and we need to start paying attention right now. There's no more time to wait and talk about it.

CAMEROTA: Stephanie, thank you for explaining all of that. That really helps us understand what's happening there. And it is dire right now.

All right, next, this story: A Texas man is arrested after spending six-plus hours standing in line to vote. He's now accused of voting illegally. He says this is all a big misunderstanding.

We will explain next.



CAMEROTA: A Texas man could face up to 40 years in prison after the state's attorney general says he voted illegally.

Hervis Rogers was the last one standing in a long line on Super Tuesday last year in Houston. And he explained to CNN at the time why he waited six-plus hours to cast his ballot.


HERVIS ROGERS, CHARGED WITH ILLEGAL VOTING: We feel good about it. It might make a difference. I don't know, but I know I can say, well, I put my vote in.

QUESTION: Why didn't you walk away?

ROGERS: I was debating on that. But I said to myself, no, don't do that. It's like it's -- the way it was going, like, it was set up for me to walk away. Walk away, don't worry about it. But I said, no, I'm not going to do that.

If it happened again, I would do the same thing all over again.


CAMEROTA: OK, now, according to state officials, Rogers broke the law that day and back in 2018 when he voted in a general election.

BLACKWELL: All right, here's why, because he was on felony parole and, therefore, ineligible to vote in Texas.