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Top Vaccine Doctor Claims His Departure Was Retaliation; Doctors Say, Coronavirus Causes Sudden Strokes In Young Adults. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.

And this morning, the doctor in charge of the federal government search for a vaccine for coronavirus says he was forced out of his job for challenging the use of hydroxychloroquine. That's the drug President Trump has been hyping for weeks.

Dr. Rick Bright claims he is the victim of political retaliation and he is now filing a whistleblower complaint. He suggests he's being punished for focusing on science rather than what he calls political connections. When asked about this, President Trump said he does not know who Dr. Bright is.

The president also tried to get the director of the CDC to walk back comments about a second wave of the virus this fall. But Dr. Robert Redfield said he was accurately quoted.

The president also said he thinks the virus might not come back at all this fall. Moments later, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the virus will definitely come back this fall.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We may not even have can corona coming back.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We'll have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: The virus doesn't care whether the president thinks it's coming back in the fall. The virus will do what it will do and the president's opinion on it, frankly, doesn't matter.

The latest models suggest that many states should wait until June, that included Georgia. But the governor does not want to wait. So he will allow gyms, hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors to reopen tomorrow. So President Trump now claims he disagrees with Governor Brian Kemp's decision to do this now, but CNN has learned the president and vice president called Governor Kemp earlier this week to support and praise his decision to reopen. So why is the president now saying the opposite? We'll get to that reporting.

Joining us now, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Normally, Sanjay, we would start with you on the public health news. But this morning, the public health news has to do with how the White House and the administration is handling things, namely, pushing aside the guy who was overseeing the government research into a vaccine, Dr. Rick Bright.

So, Kaitlan, let's start with you. Give us the news. What happened here, why and what's the administration saying about it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So when we found out earlier this week that Dr. Rick Bright was leaving his position, there was a lot of confusion inside the administration because this is a critical but little known agency, especially during a pandemic. And, basically, it leads the charge on the production and the purchase of vaccines. And so it's incredibly powerful. It's got a lot of purchasing power.

And so Dr. Rick Bright is now saying that he was pushed out of his job and he believes it was retaliation because he wasn't pushing a drug the himself president has touted that much and he wanted it to be scientifically vetted. And he said that is in disagreement with what other people, he says, people who have political motivations wanted him to do.

He sent out this scathing statement yesterday. He obtained an attorney and a P.R. firm, put out this statement basically making serious allegations against the administration, saying that they were pushing this drug and that it basically did not have the vetting that it needed.

Now, he says he's going to file a request with the inspector general to look at his firing and look at what was going on here. He was supposed to be moved to a new job but he is not expected to take that job. So far, he has not accepted that position yet.

And so the question is, where do we go from here, because, technically, Dr. Rick Bright still works in the administration but he is pushing back on him being pushed out of this job. And so far, the president is saying he does not know who Dr. Rick Bright is.

There are people questioning if that's feasible given that he was running this government agency, though it was a small agency tucked into HHS. And HHS is pushing back themselves and saying that actually he was the one who requested an emergency use of hydroxychloroquine.

But we should note in his statement, he says it's not that he was against the use of it or the studies of it. He just wanted them to be conducted in a hospital where a physician could supervise it because of potentially harmful side effects.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, on the medical front, it sounds like this could be a real, unfortunate loss for the country given that -- I mean, we just spoke to Dr. Bright's boss, the woman who years ago hired him in this position and why she chose him out of all the candidates was that he was the best man for the job and that he had dedicated his career to vaccine development. And he was the person tasked with coming up fast with a vaccine for coronavirus, which is what we all want. So where are we now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, as was mentioned, BARDA is a small agency but an important one within HHS, Biomedical Advanced Research Development Agency. And they're sort of in charge of this stuff. They're some of the fast track team to look at these types of problems and be able to try and come up with some solutions.

So, you know, I don't know what this means specifically for that agency.


This is concerning, though if this is true, that someone, because they wanted the science, they wanted this medication to go through a clinical trial, which it needs to go through. It still needs to -- we still need to get results of the clinical trial around hydroxychloroquine. But if somehow someone was moved out of a job because that's what they were asking for, that part is really concerning, Alisyn.

I mean, there's a few things that we sort of count on, especially when it comes to these types of trials is that they're conducted appropriately, they are randomized, there is not a bias that's implicit in there, they are not co-opted by extraneous forces and we've got to count on something. We've got to believe in something.

And this is something that we can believe in and have been able to believe in. So If this has been contaminated because of political forces, I mean, that's, I think, obviously a problem that makes you call into question then how do you trust the data.

I'm not suggesting that we're at that point by any means. And I don't know what aspects of the story, what are we going to find out about the full story here. But if it's true, I mean, it's a real problem. That was a big topic of discussion among medical colleagues of mine yesterday.

BERMAN: It fits into a larger pattern here, Sanjay. Look, the only thing that matters is saving lives here. And we've learned from you that the virus is a virus. The virus doesn't care whether the president wants hydroxychloroquine to work. We all want hydroxychloroquine to work. The virus doesn't care what we want. The virus only cares what the data shows and what the science is. Likewise, the virus doesn't care whether the president wants it to go away by the fall. And that's why it was so remarkable with this last 24 hours, with Dr. Redfield telling us that it could be more difficult in the fall, which he stands by. He believes that there could be difficulties dealing with coronavirus in the fall with the flu, and the president trying to suggest that he was misquoted.

The president saying yesterday, I don't think coronavirus -- I'm not even sure if coronavirus will be back in the fall. Dr. Fauci says it is. And the virus will do what it's going to do here. It's the science that matters.

GUPTA: Everyone has been consistent on this point, I think, in the public health community that this is a contagious virus. While it may have some ebbs and flows, it's here. It's contagious. It's spreading. And, unfortunately, it's lethal in some cases.

Without a vaccine, and we've heard this almost from the start, we're not going to have -- we're not going to be able to completely protect ourselves, inoculate ourselves against this virus. So we're going to be dealing with this for a while.

I think we've heard that from the beginning when Dr. Redfield made those comments initially. That didn't surprise me. He's been saying a version of that for some time. I think what has struck me is the idea of honesty and being realistic is somehow now being equated with being a pessimist and someone who is just not on board in some way.

I think that the honesty thing, which can be hard to hear is sometimes from the public health officials is so important. I mean, it needs to be -- you need to have hope as well. I'm not suggesting hope doesn't have value, but honesty is what we really want.

And I think Dr. Redfield was honest about that. Dr. Fauci was honest when he came and said, look, it is coming back. It may not go away over the summer. That is true. That's the one constant in this whole equation is the virus we have changed significantly in terms of human behavior and staying at home and all that, and that's made a significant difference but the virus has not.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Kaitlan, back to what Dr. Rick Bright is going to do now, he's going to ask for an inspector general investigation into why he was removed from his position, he says, wrongfully. And he used -- I mean, his statement is extraordinary because he used his name, he was direct, this was on the record, he stands by what he says happened. And he also used some words that were attention-getting. I need your help analyzing it.

Here is what he said in part of his statement. I will request that the inspector general of the Department of HHS investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA, that's the agency we've been talking about, and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merits.

So when he says he was pressured to fund companies with political connections, do we know what he was talking about?

COLLINS: We've asked his team. We've asked HHS what he's referencing here. No one has spelled it out explicitly yet where we feel comfortable going forward, but that is a big allegation. And so that's what's notable as yesterday what you saw in the briefing room was this story had broken before that briefing, I think about over an hour before the briefing actually started.

No one had rebutted the specific allegations that are in this letter that he wrote.


I expect they will in the coming days. We've already heard some pushback behind the scenes. But no one is rebutting yet what Dr. Bright is saying actually happened and the pressure he was feeling and the push to widen the use of things like hydroxychloroquine. So those are the questions.

And, really, what we're hearing from HHS is they're expecting this to turn into a protracted legal fight. Because, clearly, the assumption is that Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to want to pursue oversight over this. He's going to file a request with the HHS inspector general.

Remember about a month ago, there was that HHS inspector general report that the president was talking about? That's the one he was criticizing, saying the person who published it was essentially a political appointee just because they had been -- worked in the Obama administration. That was someone who had worked in the administration since 1999. That was that report detailing the severe hospital shortages across the country.

So you already know that this is likely to be some kind of clash between the administration because the president has made pretty clear how he feels about inspector generals in the last several weeks, as we've seen several been fired. This person is not even -- he's not even actually an inspector general at HHS. It's a deputy who is filling in because the person who took her place retired. The person before that resigned. There is not actually someone who is Senate- confirmed in this position yet.

But this person, Dr. Bright, is saying he's going to file this request. We do not believe he's done so yet. But once he does, there is going to be a hard look at exactly what happened here and who said what and what this clash was.

BERMAN: Kaitlan, quickly, you also have reporting on how the president and vice president initially reacted to the moves being taken by Georgia Governor Kemp. Last night, the president said he strongly disagrees with Governor Kemp's decision to open tattoo parlors, barber shops, et cetera, but what happened when the president first learned of the governor's decision?

COLLINS: Yes. The president says now that he told him he was not in favor of those aggressive measures that they're taking, essentially saying that they were going too far too quickly, if they were basing themselves off the White House guidelines for reopening the country.

Sources told my colleague, Kristen Holmes, that during a call, the president had a night before that he praised Governor Kemp's move and supported it. The president is now disputing that, saying that he did not say that, that he did not pressure Kemp to move forward in these aggressive measures and that he does not support them.

And what was really notable is what something we saw play out in the briefing room yesterday was Dr. Fauci was really emphatic that he believes Georgia is going too fast too far and it's just happening too quickly. That is not what we heard when people have been pressing the White House on this on the days earlier. People like Dr. Birx who were saying, if they could get creative and find ways to social distance while giving people haircuts or tattoos, then she wasn't going to judge them.

And so that's really been the question as we're watching how these states are going to start opening up. And if they're not abiding by the White House's guidelines like places in South Carolina are not either, the question is, how is the administration going to react to that.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins, Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- you're going to get a heavy dose of Dr. Gupta later on this show. You can also join Sanjay and Anderson Cooper tonight for a new CNN global town hall. Their guests will include the FDA commissioner, New York's governor, chef Jose Andres, singer/songwriter Alicia Keys. She is going to debut the world premiere of her new song for the heroes of the pandemic. Join us for Coronavirus, Facts and Fears, tonight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: I can never get enough of a dose of Sanjay, so he'll be back in the next hour.

BERMAN: Well, the duet with Alicia Keys is going to be really, really exciting.

CAMEROTA: Nothing would surprise me at this point if Sanjay could do a duet with Alicia Keys.

Meanwhile, there are new developments on the symptoms and the treatment of coronavirus patients. So we're going to speak with two top infectious disease doctors about what they have learned, next.



CAMEROTA: The number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise. The death toll continues to rise. And as that happens, we have some alarming new data showing that coronavirus appears to be causing sudden strokes in relatively young healthy adults. The new study also finds the vast majority of patients who are placed on ventilators in New York did not survive.

Joining us now is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, she is the Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Mass General Hospital, and Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, she is an Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Dr. Walensky, we're starved for data and we have something of a data dump in the Journal for the American Medical Association. JAMA put out a study of some 5,700 patients that were treated here in New York City, and it found a lot of information here, high rates of hypertension, obesity and diabetes among those treated, about 1/5 to 21 percent mortality rate among people who were hospitalized. But the number that's jumping out to people, I think, is an 88 percent mortality rate for those requiring intubation, meaning almost nine out of ten people put on ventilators did not survive.

There's so much talk about ventilators. The fact that nine out of ten people who ended up on them didn't survive, what does that tell you?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Good morning, John. Obviously, those are tragic statistics, right? I think there's a lot that we can learn from that. First, I think that's not generally the case in most intensive care units for most diseases. We generally believe that when people go on a ventilator, we do our best to take them off and we're quite good at it. I couldn't tell you the statistics off the top of my head but it's certainly far better than one in ten survival.

The other thing I will say is, remember, this was at a time in the way beginning of the epidemic, hospitals were crowded and completely overwhelmed. They probably still are. ICUs were functioning at not their normal capacity. People were coming in late. Ventilators were on short supply. So I think the statistics that came out of like the really first massive influx of patients in New York may not really be reflective of what's going to happen through this disease.

We still have quite a few patients on ventilators in Massachusetts. We are at the peak, but I think that our death rates are going to continue to increase over the next days to week before we see those coming down.


But I'm really hopeful that we in Massachusetts are not going to see those kinds of statistics that we're seeing in New York.

And part of it is just that we're learning about the disease.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And part -- I mean, Dr. Walensky, correct us if I'm wrong, but isn't one of the things doctors were learning is that maybe they need to try so more unorthodox things first before the ventilators. The ventilator itself might be weakening patients to a hyper critical point. And so now we just hear about doctors trying other, frankly, jerry rigged things because the ventilators are not saving that many people.

WALENSKY: Well, I would say to that, I do think the ventilators are saving people. What I would say also is completely, I agree with you, Alisyn, that we're trying some things that we've used before but not necessarily routinely.

So one of the things that we're doing is we're proning people. We're turning patients on their stomachs, which aerates the backs of their lungs a little bit better. And that gives us a little bit more time before we have to be on the ventilator while you're on the ventilator. So we are trying things they may not have tried very early in the pandemic in New York.

BERMAN: This other information coming out that there's a relatively high incidence of stroke among who appear to be young healthy patients, what does that tell you?

DR. JODIE DIONNE-ODOM, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: So we know that there is coagulability associated with COVID-19. As Dr. Walensky said, the more time passes, the more we understand about this disease. And we don't really understand exactly who gets clots, why or where, but it is part of the pathophysiology that we're learning about more every day.

CAMEROTA: And so, Dr. Walensky, what about that? Do you have any more to add in terms of is this a blood clotting issue with the virus, do you believe?

WALENSKY: It is most definitely that we're finding patients who are sick with this disease in the ICUs are prone to clotting. We are seeing it in microthrombi in the live, small clots in the liver. We're seeing manifestations in the skin where we think maybe it could be there. And we're definitely seeing it with clotting in the brain in these tragic situations where young people are presenting more stroke.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Dionne-Odom, this news out of California, right, that there were deaths three weeks before we believed there to be deaths in the United States from COVID-19 now has hospitals and states around the country going back to figure out if other people maybe died earlier than thought. What does this tell you, Dr. Dionne-Odom, and what do we hope to get out of it going forward.

DIONNE-ODOM: You know what, John, this is basically humbling for us. We feel like we are starting to learn things about this disease, but we have so much more to learn. The early part of any pandemic is where you have little information, there's little awareness, there's very little testing. So it's not that surprising to find out that we had cases earlier than we thought.

These are two cases in Santa Clara County that were confirmed by CDC to have died from COVID-19. They were both older individuals in their 50s and 60s who died in their home.

So what we think is they had likely community transmission of COVID because neither of them traveled, which means that it probably was circulating in California in the middle of January. This doesn't change what we're doing now. It doesn't change our estimates for the future. It doesn't change the science showing that this still appear to come out of China in late November, but it is humbling. We have a lot more questions to ask and to understand. CAMEROTA: And so what about that, Dr. Walensky? If it doesn't change what you're all doing now actively, is it valuable for other states beyond California to try to go back and put some pieces together if they too had mysterious cases in February?

WALENSKY: I think we might have been naive to assume that we had caught the tip of the iceberg. I think it all gets back to that same issue we've been talking about for weeks now, testing, right? Until the end of February, February 27th or so, less than 1,000 tests had been done across the United States for this disease. There have been mathematical models out of Northeastern University that has suggested that by the time we detected our first patient on February 29th in the United States, there were over 20,000 cases probably circulating in the United States.

So I do think that this reflects the fact that we were not doing widespread testing very early on. We didn't have a test. We didn't know much about this virus. But I think we were naive to think that we had caught everything when it came in, especially since so much of this is asymptomatic.

BERMAN: Dr. Walensky, Dr. Dionne-Odom, thanks for being with us this morning. A lot of new information to work through.

All right. CNN has this remarkable exclusive, back in Wuhan, China, where this pandemic began. Our reporter with more lessons being learned as that city reopens and also what's the experience in China with silencing whistleblowers?


All of a sudden that's an issue here in the United States as well.


CAMEROTA: CNN is getting a firsthand look at life in Wuhan, China after the 76th day lockdown was lifted. Our reporter, David Culver, got out of Wuhan just hours before that lockdown months ago and he has now traveled back there to see what has happened since and David joins us live from Wuhan.

David, great to see you, as always. Your reporting has been so riveting. But we want to talk about a big story here in the United States this morning. The man who was -- the doctor who was in charge of the federal government's efforts to come up with and create a vaccine for coronavirus has been abruptly reassigned from his position and he says it's because of political reasons because he wouldn't fund and tout that drug, hydroxychloroquine. He is now filing basically a whistleblower report with the I.G.


And this just sounded eerily similar to the story that you brought us weeks ago.