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FDA Approves Third Dose for Some; Afghanistan on Verge of Taliban Takeover; Afghanistan's Unraveling Threatens Biden's Legacy; COVID Hospitalizations in the U.S.; San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is Interviewed about Federal Assistance for COVID. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 09:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill on this Friday. Jim and Poppy are off.

A stunning collapse. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan entering a new phase overnight. Kandahar, the country's second largest city, falling to the Taliban. President Biden now rushing some 3,000 troops to the capital to help evacuate U.S. embassy personnel. And all of this coming just weeks before the U.S. was set to complete its withdrawal from the country. Now -- targeted to coincide, of course, with the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

We will have much more on that in a moment. We are following the developments on the ground.

First, though, this other news breaking overnight.

The FDA authorizing a third COVID-19 shot for people with compromised immune systems. The CDC's Advisory Committee will meet in just a few hours to discuss those additional shots.

This as hospital systems across the country are being pushed to their limits again. More than 2,500 COVID patients admitted every single day for the past week. In Tennessee, one doctor saying simply, quote, no beds. There are no beds.

We want to begin this morning with CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, Sanjay, as we're looking at this, let's start with the news from the FDA authorizing this third shot for those who are severely immunocompromised. What does that actually translate to? Who would be eligible?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, so these are people whose immune systems were compromised and weakened to the point that when they got the vaccine initially, they just didn't generate the same immune response as people who have, you know, healthy immune systems. So they're -- we get some indication of who this is likely to be. We

can show you that. Organ transplant recipients. They take medications to basically prevent their bodies from rejecting the organ. So, as a result, their immune systems are compromised. They would certainly be on the list.

But also other people who are similarly immunocompromised. People who may have had recent chemotherapy, taking immune suppressing drugs for autoimmune disorders. We'll see. I mean they need to be very specific when we hear from the CDC later today as to who qualifies here.

There's two points, I think, Erica. One is that, I want to show you the study that came out of "The New England Journal of Medicine." What they found was that people who did -- who were immunocompromised after they got the first two shots, they had a certain level of antibody response. That's the far left graph there in red, the far left bar. But when they got a third shot in those study trials, you can see how much more their antibodies increased. So that was one important piece of data.

But also, Erica, we have known now for some time that people who are immunocompromised, even if they were vaccinated, were close to 500 times more likely to end up in the hospital versus those who were healthy and vaccinated. So it's not just the antibodies, it's the fact that they were getting sick as well.

HILL: So important to look at that full picture.

There -- this, obviously, invites questions about when sort of the general population may need an additional shot. Dr. Fauci addressed that last night. Here's what he had to say.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Right now the decision is, we don't need to do it right now. It's not imminent. But we're preparing as if it will be imminent. So we're going to be ready to do it whenever the data shows that the protection is gone below a certain level because of a combination of the durability of protection and the special effect you're seeing with the delta variant.


HILL: So, as we're waiting to find out, Sanjay, when that might be, I think it's also important -- and I'm not the medical professional -- but I think it's important, too, it seems there's been this sense that, oh, if I have to get a booster shot, that means the vaccine isn't working. It's actually a good thing, right, in that we're following how well these vaccines are working and acknowledging that at some point you may need a little extra help. It's not that different than boosters that you may get for something else or even the fact that we need a different flu shot every year.

GUPTA: Right. I mean, you know, so, first of all, I don't think we can look at what's happening today with the FDA and say people who are immunocompromised, now being authorized to get the third shot, means that it's inevitable it will happen to all of us. It's possible that we may have very good protection from these vaccines for a long time to come.

When Dr. Fauci and others -- and I just talked to Dr. Fauci about this -- when they say that we're looking for signals of this being necessary, it's not just antibodies going down, it's whether or not people are actually getting sick. Do you have healthy, vaccinated people who are becoming severely ill?

And let me show you this, Erica.


As much as we talk about how well the vaccines work. When it comes to hospitalizations and deaths, what the vaccines are really designed to protect against, still, now, look at this, you know, Moderna, Pfizer, you know, 91 percent, 85 percent protective against hospitalization and 100 percent protective against people dying. So those are obviously still really good, you know, signals in terms of how well this -- the vaccines are working.

HILL: Yes.

GUPTA: If those numbers that you see on the screen start to drop off, that would be the indication that their -- boosters will be necessary, or third shots.

HILL: Yes, they are, to your point, Sanjay, excellent numbers when you look at them that way.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, always good to see you, my friend. Thank you.

The Taliban have now taken control of at least 16 provincial capitals in Afghanistan, making rapid gains as the U.S. is now deploying 3,000 fresh troops to help withdraw American embassy staffers amid the deteriorating security situation.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is following the latest developments at the State Department. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, let's begin with you.

So what are Pentagon officials saying this morning about these Taliban gains, especially those overnight?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact that the Taliban may now be in control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, is of great concern. And why is that? Basically Kandahar sits on the highway to Kabul, the capital. And this, they believe, has been the Taliban's strategy all along, to encircle Kabul, essentially. Maybe at great distances, but control the roads, the highways, into the capital city. You begin to isolate it. You begin to create a sense of inevitability that Kabul is at risk.

And now the U.S., in fact, sending some 3,000 troops back into mainly the capital, Kabul, an additional 1,000 or so will go into the Persian Gulf to help Afghan's get out, to get their visas, another several thousand will go into the region on standby.

So this is a very heavy military deployment by the U.S., something President Biden did not want to have to do, to send troops back in. But the security situation, making sure the Americans at the embassy can get out now is really at the top of the list.

And, look, there are fundamental questions here still to be answered. The administration said it could bring troops out of Afghanistan because the country no longer posed a safe haven to the potential for more attacks on the homeland, such as 9/11. But there is now great instability, instability on the borders, instability in the region, and one key question that has not been answered, how did it go all so wrong, 20 years, billions of dollars of training the Afghan military and basically they are not able to fight.


HILL: Yes, such an important question.

Kylie, you're also, I know, learning a little bit more about the effort to pull those U.S. embassy workers out of Kabul.

Where do things stand this morning?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Erica, as Barbara noted, there is an active effort underway to draw down some of the diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Kabul right now. But they're also active considerations about moving that embassy to the airport in Kabul.

Now, that is something that would, of course, allow those diplomats to get easily out of the country quickly if they needed to. And the State Department, you know, officially says, listen, we are always planning for contingencies. There is always, always security plans in place.

But it is significant that they are seriously considering moving this embassy to the airport in Kabul because that would lead to shuttering the embassy. And the Biden administration, the president himself, have continually said, the U.S. is pulling their troops out of Afghanistan, but they are not leaving the country.

The situation that we are seeing here, the preparations that are underway, are creating the possibility that all of those diplomats may have to leave the country in full because of the security situation on the ground, because of these rapid Taliban gains.

Now, we should note that there are still some diplomats in the country. They are still carrying out, you know, the basic duties of diplomats. But that is in threat. That is in jeopardy right now. And we are watching that unfold as the Taliban gains continue.


HILL: Barbara Starr, Kylie Atwood, with the latest for us. Thank you both.

Joining me now to discuss further, David Sanger, White House and national security respondent for "The New York Times." He's also a CNN political and national security analyst.

David, as we look at this, it's not the takeover, per say, that perhaps is as surprising to people, but it is the speed. How surprised are you at how quickly things have fallen?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm surprised, Erica. But, more importantly, the Biden administration has been surprised. It was only a month ago that the intelligence analysis suggested that the Afghan national forces could probably hold off the Taliban for a year or 18 months. After that, there was concern about the future of Kabul.


Now there's concern that Kabul could fall in 30 days, which would take you to right around the September 11th anniversary, which may be exactly what the Taliban have in mind.

And, you know, I thought it was -- it was particularly notable when Barbara said before, you know, the big question here is, after 20 years, billions and billions of dollars of investment, obviously thousands of American casualties and many more among the Afghans, why is the Afghan national military in such terrible shape that basically they collapsed on first contact with the Taliban?

HILL: Do we have that answer?

SANGER: You know, it's something that four American presidents have struggled with. I mean back to President Bush, when he used to say the Afghans are going to be taking responsibility for what they're doing. The entire Obama plan to surge troops into Afghanistan was based on the concept that they would train, equip the Afghan national army and that over time they would have the capability. And even as recently as a few months ago, the concept was that the Afghans would still have air power, that we would be providing spare parts and support, but that they would have an advantage over the Taliban. And that's simply not evident yet.

HILL: There are two other things I want to touch on, one of which Barbara brought up, talking about, you know, as we're seeing this fall so quickly, there's so much talk about what could happen if Kabul ends up under Taliban rule. But the way that they're going about this, to encircle Kabul, right, to occupy the roads in and out of there, and isolate Kabul, I mean, in many ways do they even have to take Kabul for the Taliban to be effectively in charge of the country?

SANGER: No, they don't. I mean you've seen the map so far of how much more of the country they're in control of now than they were even in April. The agreement that they signed with the Trump administration called for an agreement in which there would be a negotiation between the existing Afghan government and the Taliban over some form of power sharing. If they ever enter that negotiation, and it's not clear they ever will, the Taliban clearly wants to be in the position of having all of the military superiority so they've got all of the advantage.

But, you know, the fear among the Biden administration is that they will have to completely evacuate the embassy. They're not doing that now. They say they're maintaining core diplomatic functions. And that, in fact, that President Ghani can hold on. I don't find many officials I talk to who would -- who would put a week's pay on that bet.

HILL: Yes. You also wrote in April, in terms of evacuating the embassy, concerns that this could lead to, you know, what we saw in Saigon in 1975. I'm hearing more people echo those concerns that you pointed out in April this morning.

David Sanger, always appreciate your --

SANGER: Yes, but the one who wouldn't -- who wouldn't take that on was President Biden, who said he did not believe that scenario would play out.

HILL: David Sanger, always good to have you with us. Thank you.

SANGER: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, a heart-wrenching plea from the father of a one- year-old now hospitalized with COVID as he begs the unvaccinated to get a shot.

Plus, we'll speak with the mayor of San Antonio. His city implementing a school mask mandate in defiance of the governor. So far the court's ruling in his favor.

Also ahead, nine House Democrats threatening to sink Biden's sweeping budget proposal if they don't get a standalone vote to pass infrastructure first. We are live on Capitol Hill.



HILL: One-year-old Carter Butrum is one of the latest in a growing number of children hospitalized with COVID-19. Now his dad, Kyle, is urging people to get the vaccine. Here he is just a short time ago on CNN.


KYLE BUTRUM, FATHER OF ONE-YEAR-OLD HOSPITALIZED WITH COVID: The only thing you can do to prevent someone else from doing this is to get your vaccine so that another child doesn't have to do this, and another family doesn't have to send their kid away, so another father doesn't have to stand at the back of an ambulance and wonder if that's the last time you're going to see your son because you can't -- because you can't go with him. That's how you can help me. And that's -- I hate to be so blunt about it, but there's nothing you can do to help me. The only thing you can do to help me is help the next person.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: The only thing you can do to help me is to help the next person.

And that is not the only desperate plea we're hearing this morning. Check out this FaceBook post from a hospital administrator in Tennessee who writes, no beds. There are no beds. He detailed this past week as one of the most exhausting and disheartening of his career, adding, there's been a lot of talk about personal freedoms and mandates and government overreach and such. And some day when the sun is shining again we can sit down and have some interesting conversations about all that.


He writes, I might even agree with you on some of those points, but I can't do that today. Not today. Because there are no beds.

Many health professionals across the country are echoing that same message.

CNN's Tom Foreman joining me now.

So, Tom, you've been following this in terms of hospitalizations. Where else are we seeing these shortages and these major concerns?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting updates just on and on and on. So the map is constantly changing.

This is ICU bed utilization by state. Look down here. This is the area where you see so much resistance to masking, so much resistance to vaccinations. They are really getting hammered in their ICUs there.

In terms of COVID beds, that's also one of the areas being hit -- the area being hit the hardest in the sense of most of those beds, more than 25 percent, and in many cases much, much, much higher, overwhelmed with COVID patients. And look at the raw numbers. That also helps make sense of it. Florida now 668 open ICU beds in the entire state. Texas, 368 in the entire state. Add up those two numbers, yes, you have around a thousand, somewhere in that area. But we're talking here about 50 million-plus people in those two states. And another place is Arkansas, 12 beds available. Mississippi, zero available. Louisiana, 206. Alabama, 112 and so on.

This is important for a lot of reasons. Of course, every time you fill up those beds with COVID patients, people who did not get vaccinated, that means those beds are not available for other people who need them for other medical emergencies which continue to go forward.

And, Erica, I will say this, people keep talking about the question of freedom. That's a debate you can have, absolutely. But if you get sick in Galveston and the only bed you can find is in Amarillo, if you can find one at all, or if you're somewhere else and you get sick and you're riding around with somebody next to you who's gasping for air, the bottom line is, the public officials who keep fighting masking, keep fighting vaccination, even though they say, well, you should do it, what they're doing is making the world smaller and sicker for the people who follow them. They can go fewer places. They can get less help.

That's why this matters. These resources are running out. We're hearing it from everywhere. And when they run out, there is nowhere to go.


HILL: Yes, so important to put that perspective on it.

Tom, thank you.

Texas lawmakers are calling on President Biden to help as cases and hospitalizations surge across the state. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee actually sent a letter to the president on Thursday, asking for direct federal assistance to hospitals and county health departments that ask for the help.

Let's bring in now San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Mr. Mayor, good to have you back with us today.

Do you agree at this point that federal aid needs to be brought in for your city? And, if so, what would that change?

MAYOR RON NIRENBERG (I), SAN ANTONIO: We do need help. We've been asking for the governor in the state to pass along our request for help, which they have been reluctant to do up until the last couple of days, to bring in nurse contingents, because our hospitals are simply overwhelmed.

They've reached their breaking point. They have beyond their limit of capacity. Yesterday, in San Antonio, we had 26 minutes where the seventh largest city in the United States was without EMS units to transport people. We've seen record numbers of EMS calls in transports to a hospital for COVID-19. And the situation is only getting dire, more dire.

And the sad part about this is, Erica, is that we have the tools to prevent this at the local level. And it's been our governor who has prevented us from using those tools. That's why you see the legal actions taking place.

HILL: So, I want to jump on that in just a second as we're talking about legal action and tools. I know we're talking about mask mandates there. But just to follow-up on what you told us about your EMS units. You have 39 EMS units. For 26 minutes yesterday, they were all in use.

I know you're getting record numbers of calls for COVID, but those aren't the only calls that are coming in. Are you concerned about this surge in COVID cases impacting other emergencies and other medical needs, as Tom Foreman just laid out?

NIRENBERG: That's absolutely correct. And that's why this issue of COVID, regardless of your thoughts on it, impacts you. And the surge that's happening and the capacity issues at our medical -- in our medical system is a concern for every single person in our communities because if you are having a heart attack, if you are in a car accident, if you need to call an ambulance for your grandmother who slipped and fell, that is on the EMS unit's transport. And if we have an overload because of COVID cases that quite simply are preventable, that is a concern and it's a life or death situation for everyone involved.

HILL: So, in terms of the legal issues, in terms of the tools that I know you're referencing these mask mandates, you are in a battle with the governor right now.


The medical director in San Antonio did issue that directive to require masks in schools, but that does not mean this is the end of the line. Where do things stand this morning?

NIRENBERG: Well, the attorney general is trying to accelerate this to the supreme court in Texas. We were successful in getting a restraining order on the governor's emergency order that he put in place, which we argue he's using emergency powers unconstitutionally to bind the hands of local officials and public health officials from dealing with the actual emergency, which he has recognized and declared and now asked for outside help to contain. He is preventing us from using the tools at our disposal to bring an end to this pandemic. And so we are arguing that in court and we believe that the law is on our side, and that the law, frankly, will be on the side of protecting children, families, doctors, health care workers, our entire community.

So, you know, as that plays out, your city is unique compared to some others in Texas and that, as I understand it, there are -- instead of one large school district, you have 17.

NIRENBERG: That's right.

HILL: So when you look at how this is applied, will all of those districts, while it is in effect -- still in effect, be abiding by this mask mandate, or are you allowed some local leeway?

NIRENBERG: Well, that's why it's so -- well, that's why it's so critically important that our public health authority, which has jurisdiction to set health protocol in schools in her jurisdiction, which is those 17 school districts, that's why it's so important that she has the legal authority to do that, which is granted in the legislation. And so what we're arguing is that her power has now been restored. So she has put in place a health directive that says schools need to come back masked up.

We've seen the vast majority of them say pro-actively they're going to follow that directive. Frankly, they've been wanting to, but they've had the governor in the state threatening to pull their funding if they require masks. So now they have that ability to do it with the directive.

We've seen a little bit of reluctance because of the politics that have been playing out, but we do believe that, at the end of the day, school districts, the school administrators, as well as the boards, will see it in their best interest to protect the lives of their children and their families. And that, at the end of the day, is their responsibility.

HILL: We'll continue to watch this and see how it's playing out.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, thank you.

NIRENBERG: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: The new census results are in and show the U.S. is more diverse than ever. So what does the country's evolving electorate mean for both Democrats and Republicans? We'll discuss.