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FDA Expected to Authorize 3rd COVID Shot for Immunocompromised; Debate Rages Over School Mask Mandates as Kids Attend At Risk; Georgia Hospital Workers "At Wits End" Amid COVID Surge; Pentagon: Approx. 3,000 U.S. Troops Will Go Into Afghanistan. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The FDA is on the verge of approving a third vaccine shot for some immunocompromised people.

The expected authorization pertains to Pfizer or Moderna and applies to those with weakened immune system and did not get the protection they needed from first two shots.

A short time ago, the head of the CDC addressed the needs for these additional doses.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: To be clear, this is a very small population. We estimate it to be less than 3 percent of adults.

FDA is working with Pfizer and Moderna to allow boosters for these vulnerable people.

An additional dose could help increase protection for these individuals, which is especially important as the Delta variant spreads.


BLACKWELL: Speaking of that Delta variant spread, the U.S. is now averaging more than 122,000 new cases a day.

CNN's Nick Watt has the latest on the spread of the virus.

Let's start with the debate over masks that's raging in schools, Nick.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, I'm actually going to start with big, breaking news we are getting from San Francisco.

Pretty soon, in that city, anyone who owns an indoor restaurant, bar, theater or gym is going to have to ask staff and patrons for proof of full vaccination before they are allowed in.

Now, here is what else is going on around the country. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can leave when you want but we can find you and we know who you are.


WATT (voice-over): Franklin, Tennessee, confrontation after a school board voted for a mask mandate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are loud. We are ready to get to work.

WATT: In Des Moines, Iowa, parents protest their state's mask mandate stance.

JULIE RUSSELL-SLEUAR (ph), MOTHER WHO SUPPORTS MASKS IN SCHOOLS: Our goal is to send a message to the governor, lift the mask mandate.

WATT: This is where we are, fighting over kids' safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Masks do not stop the virus.

WATT: Thousands of kids, largely in the south, already sent home back to virtual school. Why? Exposure and/or high case counts where they live.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Masking is I think a lot of us would say something pretty small that we can do in order to prevent all of these negative consequences.


WATT: Nearly 99 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties where people should be wearing masks indoors according to new CDC guidance.

Meantime, more than 75,000 people are now in the hospital fighting the virus. Look at that line climb over the past month. That's a problem.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Florida and Texas alone have accounted for nearly 40 percent of new hospitalizations across the country.

WATT: Triage tent just went up again outside LBJ Hospital in Houston, Texas.

DR. ESMAEIL PORSA, CEO, HARRIS HEALTH CARE SYSTEM: Things are terrible. The hospitals are full.

WATT: And filling fast in Mississippi.

DR. ALAN JONES, COVID-19 CLINICAL RESPONSE TEAM, UNIVERSITY OF MS MEDICAL CENTER: If we continue that trajectory, within the next five to seven to ten days, I think we're going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi.

WATT: Anger in Alabama that the virus is surging. DONNA ABERNATHY, NURSE, ATHENS-LIMESTONE HOSPITAL: Until we get enough

people vaccinated, we're just going to continue to see this revamp its ugly face.


WATT: Now, you just heard about hospitals filling up in Mississippi. We have just heard from the governor. He is extending the state of emergency in Mississippi but says there will be no lockdowns or mask mandates -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right. Nick Watt for us there in Los Angeles. Thank you.

Just a few minutes ago, the president talked about that fiery school board meeting in Tennessee that Nick showed you at the top of his story. Parents, doctors, nurses were threatened by protesters who oppose mask mandates in schools.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't about politics. This is about keeping our children safe.

And our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others. And they're heroes again with the vaccine.

They're doing their best to care for the people refusing to get vaccinated.

To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders, who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you. Thank you as well.

Thank god we have heroes like you. I stand with you all, and America should as well.


BLACKWELL: Next hour, I will speak with the father who was threatened over his attempt to keep his kids safe in school.

Joining me now is Dr. Dorry Segev. He's running a COVID vaccine trial involving transplant patients at Johns Hopkins University. He's associate vice-chairman of Department of Surgery at Hopkins.

Dr. Segev, thank you for being with me.

You know, the immunocompromised were not included largely in the clinical trials for these vaccines. So studies like yours are really giving us the information we need.

What do you need to hear specifically about who and what -- who specifically is going to get this third shot? What do you need to hear from the FDA? DR. DORRY SEGEV, ASSOCIATE VICE-CHAIRMAN, DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY, JOHNS

HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Yes, thanks for chatting with me about this today.

So the prospect of booster-dose authorization for people who are immunocompromised and did not have a good response to only a two-dose vaccine series is obviously very exciting to millions of people living in the United States who are immunosuppressed important some reason.

Of course, it is particularly exciting for transplant patients who have known since March that we already have growing evidence that the protection offered by a two-dose vaccine series is limited in people who are immunosuppressed.

For example, if you are a transplant patient who is fully vaccinated, your chances of getting a breakthrough infection are 82 times higher than that of a fully vaccinated person from the general population.

So people who are immunosuppressed know that they are less protected. They are obviously very worried about it, particularly as we enter another very scary wave in the United States.

To know that they have the opportunity to try to increase that immune protection is really important.

BLACKWELL: So what's the plausibility that even a third shot will not give immunocompromised people, specifically transplant recipients who you are studying, the protection that the larger population gets from just the two shots?

SEGEV: So a lot of this we're still learning. Some people who are immunosuppressed are going to be fine with two doses. Some people, the third dose is all they're going to need.

Some people might even need a fourth booster dose to really get them there to a nice level of immune protection. And some people will not even be protected by all of that.

In our trial, one of the things that we're hoping to explore is, for example, if somebody is on immunosuppression, can we change their immunosuppression to give them a better chance of having a vaccine response.


BLACKWELL: So is there a risk even for the people who are immunocompromised in this third shot itself? Is there a danger in getting the third shot?

SEGEV: So most of the evidence says that for the overwhelming majority of people who are immunocompromised in some way or another, a third shot should be no more risky than the first or the second shot that they got.

Now, in transplant patients, we worry a little bit because when we activate the immune system, we might activate that immune system to cause injury to the transplanted organs. That's why among transplant patients we are being very, very careful

in studying this, studying who will benefit from this, what the potential harms are to the transplanted organs, et cetera.

BLACKWELL: We know that the CDC advisory committee is meeting tomorrow to discuss potential boosters, not just for the immunocompromised but for everyone.

How far behind do you expect that will come and what do we need to hear out of that meeting?

SEGEV: Yes, so I think there are sort of two major areas of boosters that we need to hear about these days, right?

One is for people who never mounted a good immune response, a booster to supplement that.

So, for example, you know, a two-dose regimen is good enough for most of us. Some people will just need a three-dose regimen.

The other half of boosters are durability boosters. So people who got vaccinated in December might have some waning immune response to that vaccination and might need a booster to improve the durability of the vaccine.

Those things are still being studied.

How much our immune response to the vaccine wanes over time remains to be seen because the vaccines have only been given to hundreds of millions of people over the last few months.

And I think later we will need to understand when we need to give somebody a durability boost.

But I think, right now, the major conversation is among people who -- you know, you and me, we got two doses and we're protected like the general population.


SEGEV: For those millions of people who are not protected, can we get them a booster shot? I think that's what we're really hoping to hear about this week.

BLACKWELL: I think most people agree that that population certainly needs that protection and did not get it the first time around.

Dr. Dorry Segev, again, thank you for your work. We will look forward to the announcement from the FDA.

SEGEV: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: So the rapid surge of the Delta variant is really causing so many problems for hospitals, hospital staff, particularly in the southeast. They're filling up with unvaccinated Americans and pushing health care

workers to levels they've not seen at some places at any point during the pandemic.

Let's go to Georgia. The situation is so dire that hospital workers are pleading with people there to protect themselves.


DONNA COCHRANE, CHIEF NURSING OFFICER, LIBERTY REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: The vaccine is absolutely something that you can all do to help.

We are tired. We are at wit's end. The staff is overwhelmed. Taking care of your community, taking care of your family, possibly watching them die, this is something we have never seen before.

It is trying times. I have been doing this for 26 years and never have we seen anything like this.


BLACKWELL: That was Donna Cochrane, a chief nursing officer at Liberty Regional Medical Center, a Georgia hospital with 25 critical care beds. She is with me now.

I thank you for your time.

You've got 25 critical care beds. How many COVID patients do you have there?

COCHRANE: Today, we have 19.

BLACKWELL: Wow, 19 out of 25. Are the other beds being used right now or are those available?

COCHRANE: Oh, the beds are full. We actually have 27 patients in house that we're housing in other areas. We're overloaded in the er. We are overloaded on the floor. We are using other areas of the hospital.

BLACKWELL: Now, you are talking about how you have to put other people in other places. How is this surge of COVID patients impacting the non-COVID patients there?

COCHRANE: Dramatically. We are having a very hard time having a bed for those non-COVID patients, and so not only the COVID patients are the critical patients.

We still have our normal population of patients that come through, anything from heart attack, strokes, all the way down to routine colds, pediatrics.


And the impact of the COVID patients is keeping us -- or even delaying us in seeing those patients or getting them to a bed that they need in another facility that we can't care for here.

BLACKWELL: I read that not only are the patients coming in with COVID impacting the care for the other patients, but your staff is now being drained because of COVID infections. Tell me about that.

COCHRANE: Just like we care for our patients, we are now having staff that are being tested positive with COVID.

We don't have staff to work. We utilize travelers to fill some of those voids, but at the same time staff are exhausted. We are all working.

It is not -- nobody is -- has any reprieve from it. It is all of the directors, you know, everybody is working to make this happen, and it is exhausting. It is very taxing.

Everybody needs something. And it is not just the nursing. It is all of the ancillary. It takes the entire hospital to care for a patient.

So while I know that my focus is the immediate bedside care, that also includes all of the ancillary support as well. It is the whole system is taxed.

BLACKWELL: You know, I listened to that news conference where you said you have been doing this for 26 years and you never had a situation like this.

I wonder if you would talk more just how it feels to come to work every day and do the job when it looks like the numbers are not going to give you any relief any time soon.

COCHRANE: It is heartbreaking. And not so much for myself. It is for my staff. It is for all of the staff. It is for the families that we take care of. It is for the families that we don't feel like that we're doing enough for.

Every day is a new experience. Every day is something that we haven't experienced.

To hear your staff say they're exhausted or tired or they can't do this anymore, we've got staff members that, as of this week, have lost loved ones with COVID. So it is very close to home.

It is not -- it is not in another county. It is not in another city. It is right here on our floors, in our hospital, and we're living it daily.

The vaccine, it has shown to help. I mean, we have patients that have had COVID, but they're able to go home. They're not in our critical areas.

So if we could make a plea with our community or anybody's community, get the vaccine. Help us help everybody because we can't do it by ourselves.

BLACKWELL: You just made it not just in that specific sentence but with your story.

Donna Cochrane, chief nursing officer there at Liberty Regional Medical Center. I thank you so much for the work you are doing and your time with me today.

The Census Bureau just released the new population data. We will tell you which parts of the countries saw population growth and why this is setting the stage for a political battle. That's coming up next.



REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN, : Initial elements of this element will arrive in Qatar in the coming days.

The third movement is to alert and to deploy one infantry combat team out of Ft. Bragg to Kuwait where they will be postured and prepared if needed to provide additional security at the airport.

We anticipate those forces will reach Kuwait sometime in the next week.

I want to stress these forces are being deployed to support the orderly and safe reduction of civilian personnel at the request of the State Department and to help facilitate an accelerated process of working through SIV applicants.

This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus.

As with all deployments of troops into harm's way, our commanders have the inherent right of self-defense. And any attack on them can and will be met with a forceful and appropriate response.

As Ned Price, my colleague at the State Department, highlighted earlier, Secretary Austin did join Secretary Blinken in a phone call this morning with the president to continue to ensure close coordination going forward.

With that, I'll take questions.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, John. Thank you for spelling out some of the and breaking down some of the numbers.

With regard to forces going into Afghanistan to work specifically on supporting the removal or evacuation of personnel from the embassy, is that about 3,000 people?

And also, is that in addition to the 600 or 650 already there doing that sort of work?

KIRBY: Yes, Bob. Those three infantry battalions will comprise approximately 3,000 personnel. They will be in addition to troops already in Kabul as we're in the process of conducting our drawdown. We still have more than 650 troops in Kabul right now. These 3,000

will join them there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can I do a quick follow-up?

KIRBY: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER Thank you. Does the military mission include flying U.S. civilian personnel, the embassy personnel out of the country, or are we processing and securing them at the airport?

KIRBY: We anticipate being postured to support air lift as well for not only the reduction of civilian personnel from the embassy but also in the forward movement of special immigrant visa applicants.

We do anticipate there will be air lift required of us and we're working through final plans to put that into place.




UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks, John. In regard to what you just said to Bob about the possible air lifting out of individuals, in regard to the special immigrant visa applicants, has it been decided yet where they will be air lifted to? And, if so, where, please?

KIRBY: We're working through options. We anticipate we'll be looking at locations overseas, outside of the United States, as well as U.S. installations that belong to the United States either overseas and/or here at home.

I don't have a list for you right now. But I think it will be a mix of both. As we get more clarity we'll update you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to be clear, will all the same criteria you outlined earlier, those who passed security clearances could come in the United States and those without to other locations?

KIRBY: I'll defer to my State Department colleagues to talk to the SIV process more specifically.

Our job will be in locating and helping secure facilities and installations that can be used. As we did with Fort Lee, I think you can expect the Defense Department will lean in to help facilitate.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: John, will these infantry battalions help with from movement of diplomats to the embassy to the airport as well as moving them out of the country? And if so, will that movement be done by convoy or helicopter?

Let me add one more question. KIRBY: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You say temporarily.

KIRBY: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But aren't they going to remain there in case further drawdowns are ordered?

KIRBY: Let me take the first one first.

These infantry battalions will be there to help facilitate this safe and orderly reduction. I don't want to get into too much tactical detail about what that would require.

Commanders on the ground will be working with the State Department to determine what's most needed.

And if it is to help facilitate and secure transportation to the airport, then our troops will be postured to do that.

Again, I can't speak here today when they're not even there yet about what the transportation is going to look like.

Some of this data is going to depend on the degree of permissibility in the environment, the security environment.

These are infantry battalions that are highly trained and will have the capabilities to support in any manner what the State Department needs to facilitate this reduction.

Your second question on the temporary nature, as the State Department has said, they're going to try to complete this reduction of their personnel by the end of this month.

These troops are being ordered in to help facilitate that purpose, that mission along that timeline. I won't speculate beyond August 31st as to what the footprint is going to look like.

We're focused on trying to get them there as soon as possible to facilitate this mission, which is the reduction of civilian personnel by the end of the month.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One follow up. Was there a specific event which triggered this decision?

KIRBY: It would be wrong to conclude there was one specific event that led to this decision that we believe this is the prudent thing to do given the rapidly deteriorating security situation in and around Kabul.

So I think there's a confluence of things. You guys have all been reporting over the last 24-36 hours the Taliban's advances and where they are.

I think, again, cognizant of that security situation, this administration believed this was a prudent action to take.


KIRBY: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And 3,650 and then another 1,000 of this joint task force to process, so --

KIRBY: Joint Army/Air Force. It's about 1,000 personnel. It's engineers, medical personnel. It's military police, that kind of thing.

They are going to Qatar right now. We've been working with countries in the region to try to find processing sites outside of Afghanistan. They're going to Qatar for now.

Then we'll see what the need is after that. But we want to be flexible and get them close by in the region. That's why they're going there right now.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There's one infantry going to Kuwait, you said? And that's only if things go bad, you have like a (INAUDIBLE), right?

KIRBY: They'll be there postured as prepared if there's a need for additional security at the airport. They'll be in the region and a lot more accessible.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The ones going to Qatar, that's specifically for SIV applicants? It sounds like engineers, medical and M.P.s, they're going, it sounds like, to build --

KIRBY: When I say engineers, we're talking about a very small number of engineers. It's largely for electrical power to make sure we have power to do the processing of applicants. By engineers, I didn't mean construction and that kind of thing.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So going to Kuwait, that's roughly 3,000 to 3,500 people, right, total?

KIRBY: A common infantry combat brigade is about 3,500 to 4,000 people.