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U.S. Makes Big Bet on Vaccine Company with Unproven Technology; Tyson, Smithfield to Reopen Two Pork Plants with Limited Production After Trump Declares Meat Supply "Critical". Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 1, 2020 - 16:30   ET


NIKOLAI PETROVSKY, FINDERS UNIVERSITY, AUSTRALIA: If we want to really have an impact on this pandemic, then we should be using vaccine platforms that are being proved to be safe and effective, rather than an unproven technology.


DR. TAL ZAKS, MODERNA CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: We have delivered on everything that we have promised.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Tal Zaks is Moderna's chief medical officer, interviewed via computer from his base in Boston.

ZAKS: Actually, the public investment proportionally is a small investment on top of what this company has invested in its core technology for years now.

GRIFFIN: For the last decade, the company has been trying to use its mRNA technology to cure cancer, restore damaged tissues, even cure heart disease and develop vaccines. The research promising, the results mixed.

(on camera): Moderna has never brought a vaccine to market, never had a drug FDA approved, and skeptics are wondering why your company was able to achieve this contract.

ZAKS: We're a young company with an emerging technology, and for that reason we have not yet brought anything to full licensure. We have time and again demonstrated clinical results in phase one across multiple different vaccine applications.

GRIFFIN: But vaccine development is tough. Even the lead investigator for Moderna's vaccine trial at Emory University says nothing is certain.

DR. EVAN ANDERSON, EMORY UNIVERSITY: If it's successful, it could allow us to shorten the time line for developing new vaccines in the future, but it comes with its own challenges.

GRIFFIN: Dr. Evan Anderson says challenges with this type of vaccine include that it's difficult to store, difficult to mass produce and no one knows yet whether it's effective. The NIH is testing Moderna's vaccine on humans without waiting for animal trials, a speed that was unheard of before the pandemic.

The company is already preparing to produce its vaccine in mass quantities on the sheer hope it gets approved and can be distributed almost immediately.

ZAKS: The biggest source of pressure is the fact that, you know, this is personal. I think for my colleagues and I who are in the front line of trying to develop the vaccine, it's an equal weight of the sense of potential that we can do something about it and a tremendous sense of responsibility that we have to do something about it.


GRIFFIN: Jake, there are dozens of vaccine candidates out there. Moderna is one of the favorites. It's a huge, huge if. But if they can get through phase two, phase three, Moderna says it can be delivering millions of vaccines per month at the end of this year, tens of millions by 2021. We'll see -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. We'll see indeed. Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

We're joined by Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Dr. Jha, I first want to get your reaction to Drew's piece. How unusual is it for a company that has never brought a vaccine to market, at least not yet, to get this much money from the federal to create something that's never been done before, a vaccine of this type?


It is unusual. It's very unusual but we are in unusual times, and -- so this technology has been, you know, has been developed. We think it has a -- some reasonable chance of working and I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of the U.S. government making a bunch of bets, because if they can bring this to market. Now, they're not the only ones in clinical trial. There are a few others. But if any of these guys can bring a vaccine to market in the next year, 18 months, that would be great.

So, unusual, but, you know, we're in unusual times.

TAPPER: The NIH is testing Moderna's vaccine on humans without testing on animals. Earlier this week, I spoke with Dr. Paul Offit, I'm sure you're familiar with him. He's a vaccinology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

He said what worries him most about the mindset that we're all in, getting these vaccines to market, is that steps are being skipped or compressed for expediency. Obviously, we're in an emergency situation.

Do you share those concerns?

JHA: I do, I do. And, you know, vaccines, when they're developed under regular circumstances are safe and effective, we're cutting a lot of corners, and I get why we're cutting some of those corners. And -- but -- so, we do still need to make sure we are safe and I think we're doing some things in parallel.

But we've got make sure it's safe. If it's not safe, it's going end up really being a costly experiment. So, we -- I still think we need to pay attention to safety.

TAPPER: Well, what are the risks? What are the risks of skipping the steps that would normally be taken? Animal trials, longer trials in terms of chronology, in terms of time?

JHA: Yes. So, look, we know that vaccines obviously, if they're not developed in a standard way, you could end up having really bad reactions to vaccines. Some vaccines -- again, we're trying to elicit an immune response. But if it -- sometimes it has the theoretical possibility of generating kind of a hyper immune response to the virus that could end up making you much sicker than you would have been otherwise.


I'm not super worried that any of these things will come to be, but we can only make sure if you do the testing carefully, do it in large enough amount of people and then watch overtime because we're going to want to make sure it's safe not just immediately but for the long run.

TAPPER: As you know better than I, there are more than 100 potential vaccines in the works worldwide right now. Only eight are permitted to do human trials. Dr. Fauci says they're shooting for at least one of the vaccines to be ready by January, but even that isn't a guarantee.

Do you think we'll be there? Will we have a vaccine ready by January, if you had to bet?

JHA: So, January is really aggressive. I have been staying 12 to 18 months. January, obviously, is now like seven, eight months.

It's hard for me to see that. I hate contradicting Dr. Fauci, he is the expert on this. But that's a very, very aggressive timeline. I would put it into spring of -- to summer of 2021, if things go well.

TAPPER: The other thing that Fauci and Moderna are discussing is mass producing vaccines before they even know for sure they work. Listen to the rationale.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're going to have to make the investment in hundreds of millions of dollars to start developing a vaccine so that we ultimately prove it works, you don't have to wait five or six months to scale up to get enough doses to give to a meaningful number of people. That's a risky financial circumstance. But it certainly, certainly is worth the risk given what's at stake.


TAPPER: Do you agree, it's worth the risk?

JHA: It is. Look, we're going to end up -- it's fine. Like, if we end up wasting a few billion dollars because we made let's say, five or six bets and only one of the six ends up panning out, it's not great. We don't want to waste money, but remember, the cost is, if we can get a vaccine out six months earlier, it will save millions of lives, it will help our economy prosper. So, I think financially these things are completely right.

I just want to make sure that we don't really skip steps on safety. We got to make sure these vaccines are safe. But I think making bets and producing vaccines before we know they're ready to be given to people is -- again, we are in extraordinary circumstances. We're going to have to make decisions like that.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much for your time and expertise. We always appreciate it.

JHA: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, the new grocery store reality, a shortage of meat. Up next, a suggestion that could stop this from happening again.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Today, both Smithfield and Tyson Foods announced that they will re-open two of their Midwest pork plants with limited production. This comes after President Trump ordered plants to remain open to prevent a major meat supply shortage, and he provided those plants with some legal cover in case employees contract the virus at work and then sue the companies.

I want to bring in CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley.

Julia, great to see you as always.

Industry experts would rather describe the food supply situation as a blip rather than a shortage, but at the same time more grocery chains are limiting how much customers can buy. How soon until we customers, we consumers end up paying for these disruptions?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Well, we're already paying for it as you quite rightly point out in terms of reduced supply. And that was the risk in the short-term, just less choice when you go to the grocery store.

There's two things going on here. There's -- our changing consumption habits. We're buying more, because we're working more at home, we're eating less at restaurants. And that matters for packaging and processing, but the processing aspect of this is huge.

The latest weekly data from the Department of Agriculture sees that beef production is down by a quarter, pork production down by 15 percent compared to the same time last year.

This is huge. This is way more than a blip. Listen to what the CEO of Albertsons said about tackling this.


VIVEK SANKARAN, CEO OF ALBERTSONS: We were all operating in a just in time environment. It's the right thing for steady states. But when you operate in just in time and you have a tight supply chain, it doesn't allow to you accommodate situations like this. I think we should all reflect as an industry and think about how to build some redundancy as we go forward.


CHATTERLEY: So, I think this is a fair point. But the truth here is that the government should have step in the earlier, it should have protected the farmers too because we might see prices rising for consumers. Farm, cattle prices are falling because they've not nothing to do, or they don't know where to put the cattle because the processes can't take it here. Now, the government is responsible for workers and it's responsible for safety, in particular, and ensuring the food supply.

TAPPER: All right. Julia Chatterley, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll see you next week.

CHATTERLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, handguns hidden in pizza boxes. Drugs hidden in takeout containers. The new warning from Interpol about food delivery drivers. That's next.



TAPPER: Interpol is warning today, drug dealers are disguising themselves as food delivery drivers during the lockdown in the U.K. and elsewhere.

CNN's Max Foster joins me now.

And, Max, are these all drug dealers in disguise, or are legitimate couriers also unknowingly perhaps being used as drug mules?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A bit of both, actually.

So you have got dealers disguising themselves as delivery drivers. You have got drivers simply taking the cash, because, of course, business is so dry at the moment. You have also got unwitting members of the transport community getting involved here. So, in Malaysia, for example, there was a driver went to pick up an

Indian flatbread, which weighed 11 kilograms, would you believe. He reported it to the police, and, sure enough, it was -- the package was full of drugs from the restaurants going on to the drug dealers.

Also, in Ireland, they found a pizza box which had two handguns in it and eight kilograms of cocaine. So, this is the sort of stuff that police are having to deal with right now. Interpol calling it a new modus operandi for the drug dealers, who are trying to disguise themselves, frankly, in these empty streets.

TAPPER: All right, Max Foster, thanks so much.

In South Africa, massive lines wrapping for more than a mile with people desperate for food.


CNN's David McKenzie is in Johannesburg for us.

And, David, in addition to the desperation we see of all these people gathered because they're starving, or at least very, very hungry, there must be concerned that so many people gathered could spread the virus.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is concern there, Jake.

You just look at these lines, these extraordinary aerial shots, more than a mile long, thousands of people from informal settlements near where I am right now. They were given food parcels by a Muslim charity. And these are mostly foreigners, Jake, who don't have the support of the government directly.

South African government has given up to 10 percent of its GDP just to keep people from falling over the edge. And that is the fear throughout the continent, frankly, that the hunger, that the desperation could be worse than the virus.

Some good news today, though, that the World Food Program has opened up a humanitarian air cargo transfer, and they are able to get food and humanitarian workers across the continent, where many of these commercial flights have closed down.

But those lines just show you how desperate people are getting -- Jake.

TAPPER: It's a very dire situation.

David McKenzie in Johannesburg, thank you so much.

Back to our health lead.

Today, we're going to remember Valentina Blackhorse, a 28-year-old from the Navajo Nation in Arizona whose life was tragically cut short by coronavirus. Valentina made a name for herself in the Navajo community, winning pageants and aspiring to one day become president of the Navajo Nation.

Along with African-Americans and Latinos, Native Americans are disproportionately affected by this pandemic. If the Navajo Nation were a state, the death toll per capita would be behind only New York and New Jersey.

Valentina's sister told CNN -- quote -- "She did everything she could for family."

May her memory be a blessing.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: Today, former Vice President Joe Biden is adamantly denying a former aide's claim that he sexually assaulted her in 1993.

It's the first time Biden has publicly addressed the allegations by Tara Reade, who says Biden assaulted her 27 years ago when she worked in his Senate office.

Here's what Biden had to say today:


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm saying unequivocally it never, never happened. And it didn't. It never happened.

I don't know why, after 27 years, all of a sudden this gets raised. I don't understand it.

But I'm not going to go in and question her motive. I'm not going to attack her. She has a right to say whatever she wants to say.


TAPPER: CNN's M.J. Lee has interviewed Tara Reade. And she joins me live.

M.J., what else did the former vice president have to say about her allegations?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this was obviously a Joe Biden who was defiant and unequivocal in denying this allegation.

He said this allegation from so many years ago simply did not happen. I think what we saw was a bit of a tough balancing act, right? He repeatedly said that women who come forward with this kind of serious allegation should always be heard, have a right to come forward, should be vetted, there should be an investigation.

But at the same time, he really stressed that he believed there has been a close examination of her accounts, and that nobody from that time is aware of such a complaint, including himself.

And CNN has also interviewed some half-dozen former Biden staffers who worked in his Senate office at the time of the alleged assault. And all of them told us that they were not aware of this kind of complaint, and, in fact, this is just not the man that Joe Biden is.

But, of course, it is really important to note, Jake, that one thing Joe Biden did not address in this interview are the people who are close to Tara Reade who say that they were told about the alleged assault at the time.

TAPPER: That's right. There are contemporaneous accounts that she shared with family members and friends about this alleged incident.

Biden didn't say anything about that. Did he have anything to say about her claim that she made a complaint to the Senate office about this?

LEE: Well, Biden repeatedly said that he was not aware of any kind of complaint that was made at the time, and none of his colleagues knew about any kind of complaints either.

And he also said that, if such a complaint were to exist, they would be in the personnel files that are at the National Archives, not the University of Delaware. And he said that he would call on the National Archives to do a search and release anything that might be related to any kind of complaint.

I just think it's very important for us to pause and be clear about what Tara Reade herself has said about what she complained about and what she said. Remember, she said that she verbally shared with a number of colleagues that she was sexually harassed, but didn't say anything about sexual assault.

She also said that she filed a complaint with a personnel office on Capitol Hill. But, again, in that case, too, she said it wasn't about sexual assault. It was about sexual harassment.

So, I just think we should be clear that, if some kind of document were to turn up, there's some kind of paperwork, at most, it would address sexual harassment, not the alleged sexual assault that Tara Reade is talking about.

TAPPER: All right, M.J. Lee, thank you so much.

Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to "STATE OF THE UNION."

My guests include top Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, plus possible independent presidential candidate Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan. That's Sunday at 9:00, at noon Eastern.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

Stay safe, and stay healthy, and stay home.