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Vaccine Race; Trump Visits Arizona; Interview With Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Former Vaccine Chief Files Whistle-Blower Complaint. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 5, 2020 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on this Tuesday afternoon.
I just want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, as we are following breaking news right this very moment, as we are getting our first look at this whistle-blower complaint that has been filed by a now ousted head of a key vaccine agency.
This is an expert who says he was dismissed because he spoke out against funding unproven treatments touted by the president of the United States. Much more on that in a moment.
We're also watching the state of Arizona, where President Trump is expected to touch down any moment. He will be touring a Honeywell facility in Phoenix that manufactures N95 masks. You have already seen there some of his supporters gathered for his arrival.
Now, before he left, he addressed for the first time the latest gruesome projections from the internal modeling by the CDC that the price of reopening the nation will be tens of thousands more American lives and as many as 200,000 new infections a day by the 1st of June.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's a report with no mitigation, so, based on no mitigation, but we're doing a lot of mitigation.
And, frankly, when the people report back, they're going to be social distancing, and they're going to be watching their hands, and they're going to be doing the things that you're supposed to do.
But that report is a no-mitigation report, and we are mitigating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: To be clear, that's not correct.
The internal modeling does take into account mitigation, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders. Let's go straight to the White House now and our Kaitlan Collins. Our
correspondent there has been reading through this lengthy whistle- blower complaint from Rick Bright.
Tell us more about the complaint.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so just to remind everyone who Rick Bright is, he led this agency that's basically in charge of the production and the purchase of vaccines, obviously incredibly important at a time like this.
And a few weeks ago, he was just abruptly dismissed from his job, he says. And now he's saying that that was retaliation. And he has formally filed a complaint -- a request and a complaint with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, because he wants an investigation done into his dismissal and what's going on inside the department.
Among the thing he alleges, Brooke, in this very lengthy complaint that he's filed that CNN is still going through as we speak is, he says that basically he tried to sound the alarm about the coronavirus early on in the outbreak, talking about calls he had in January and meetings he had with the top leadership at HHS, including Secretary Azar, where he says a lot of his warnings, basically, his urgency that he was trying to get stressed across about what was going on went unheeded by those top officials.
He says that, in one conversation, he was talking about the fact that coronavirus could already be in the United States. And that is -- his comment, he says, was met with skepticism by those leaders at HHS, including not only Secretary Azar, but also his direct boss.
That would be Bob Kadlec, who is also another top official at HHS. Now, we have reached out to the department to ask for comment on this complaint. They obviously likely will push back on this, since we had heard them internally do so after he initially put out a statement about his departure.
But what HHS also knows, Brooke, is that this is going to lead to a lot of oversight. They're bracing themselves for not only an oversight investigation with the inspector general, but also some possibly coming from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
And, of course, the question is, does Rick Bright get what he wants, which is to have his job back? Some people have said that's unlikely, but that is what he's hoping to get through this investigation that he is now requesting through HHS.
BALDWIN: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
Let me bring in now Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego.
And, Congressman, a pleasure to see you looking well there.
And I want to get to, of course, the reason why we're talking to you, the president heading to your state in just a second. But I need to get your reaction to this report. I mean, again, these are allegations. I'm sure the White House will have thoughts. But, again, Rick Bright was alleging that he was fired as a form of retaliation -- his word -- that he essentially sounded the alarm on coronavirus back in January and was ignored.
Your thoughts, Congressman?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Well, how can we be surprised?
This president has consistently been attacking whistle-blowers that have been trying to keep him in check and accountable, whether it had to do with firing of people around the Ukraine incident. And now we have seen a trend here when it comes to coronavirus, where he purposely has misled the public, ignored science, ignored his daily briefings that told us -- that this told him that this was happening.
And now that he knows that the -- that he's caught, he's going to try to cover it up. And part of that cover-up is getting rid of anybody that is not going to toe the party line and say that he did a great job, when, in fact, we all know he did not do a good job.
BALDWIN: OK. I appreciate your response on that.
I have also just been told by my producer that President Trump has just landed.
There we go. There's Air Force One touching down in Phoenix.
You are critical of this trip. I mean, he's going to go see these N95 Honeywell mask workers who are helping provide these essential masks for folks on the front lines. Why are you so critical of this trip?
GALLEGO: Well, first of all, this is actually in my district, and I and I have a lot of friends who actually do work at Honeywell, and I appreciate their work.
I'm critical of the president because this is not what he should be doing right now. He should be putting together a national plan of how to get us out of this predicament that we have right now.
Instead, we're basically throwing away the CDC guidelines that said that no states should reopen until they have 14 days of downward trends in terms of infection rate. Arizona hasn't hit that.
We have a very horrible situation around the Navajo Nation, a nation of about 230,000 Native Americans, isolated and has some of the fourth highest death rates in this whole country.
The president is here to do a town hall, but still hasn't released all the money that Native American countries -- the Native American country deserves.
So this is just a press opportunity. It doesn't really help us in the end. And if the president had been serious about this, he should have been mandating through the Defense Production Act companies like Honeywell actually start making PPE equipment early on.
BALDWIN: You can -- so, absolutely no credit for this president? You say this is all -- this is all P.R.? You don't give him any credit?
GALLEGO: This is him trying to put the horse back in the barn.
And we have lost tens of thousands of Americans because this president did not want to deal with the fact that there was a virus coming and he was more worried about the stock market and his poll ratings than the actual health of Americans in this country.
BALDWIN: Let me turn the page, Congressman Gallego, and ask you.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made news when he was talking to my colleague Dana Bash. And this is what he had to say about reopening the U.S. economy. Here's a clip.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Well, of course everybody wants to save every life they can, but the question is, towards what end ultimately?
Are there ways that we can thread the middle here to allow there -- that there are going to be deaths -- and they're going to be tests no matter what -- and if we can do things to keep people in the mode of wearing masks, of wearing gloves, of distancing where appropriate, we have got to let some of these folks get back to work, because, if we don't, we're going to destroy the American way of life and these families.
And it will be years and years before we can recover.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BALDWIN: To be fair, even Dr. Fauci is echoing some of that sentiment.
And I know I was -- I was looking up the numbers in your state. An estimated half-a-million people in Arizona alone have filed for unemployment.
And so how do you, Congressman, weigh human life vs. families needing to provide for themselves and America's livelihood?
GALLEGO: Look, there is no doubt that the economic stress that's being caused by coronavirus is important.
But you can always get a job replaced. You cannot replace your grandmother. You can't replace your grandfather. You can't replace your kids.
And I think we have to heavily weigh this, and not just do it in such a flippant manner that Governor Christie is doing. I want to point out something too. After 9/11, we joined together as a
nation. We said we were not going to take any more chances for us to get struck in that manner. We didn't say, we're only going to put scanners in some airports, but not in all airports. We said, we as a country are going to keep everybody safe.
So every airport had increased screening, increased security. During World War II, we used to black out our cities, right? We didn't say only one part of the city should black out a city vs. the other, because we wanted to make sure, if there was a bombing run, that they wouldn't be able to hit anybody. Right?
That is how you collectively protect each other. Now, we're not at war. We're not fighting terrorists. What we're fighting, I think, right now is this sense of hopelessness. And that sense of hopelessness is caused because you have a president that has not led, does not give us a clear direction, shows like he has no plan, and really is not providing any hope.
That's what we really need to be fighting here right now, is that sense.
BALDWIN: Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you very much for your opinions.
Let me bring in emergency room doctor Rob Davidson and former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem.
Great to see both of you.
And, Dr. Davidson, to you first, because I know we just played the clip from Chris Christie. You had a visceral reaction to what he was saying, especially when he talked about, yes, there will be deaths.
What did you think?
DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT MEDICARE: Yes, I agree with Congressman Gallego in that it seemed just very flippant.
I acknowledge that it is actually somewhat commendable that he's acknowledging this. It feels like much of the administration, including the president's son-in-law, simply feels like they have done a great job and that's all they have to say about it.
But when you have spent a career in emergency medicine, you see people die, you tell loved ones that their spouse has died, and you're so sorry. And I talk to my friends in New York who have had to do that so many times a day over this crisis.
It seems troubling that it might just be accepted as a matter of course that there maybe is nothing we can do about it.
BALDWIN: But your tweet really struck me, saying that he would never have seen someone die, never had to hold the hand of a loved one and tell them how sorry you are.
Juliette, you have a different take.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do.
I actually sort of appreciated the honesty of Chris Christie, because he is saying what no one seems to be saying out loud, which is, we are balancing two competing goals. And I think we're kind of forgetting what the point of flattening the curve was.
The point of flattening the curve was to make sure that the entire health care system did not collapse. It wasn't to eradicate the virus. That's going to be impossible until the vaccine. It wasn't to keep us inside for months and months and months.
It was to simply ensure that we could pace the number of sick. We are not there yet. I'm willing to admit that. But once we get there, there will be a responsible opening up.
And I think where Chris Christie is right is where he said, at some stage, there are going to be sick people while we open up, right? I think he's right about that. And those sick people, some of them will die.
The goal here is to make sure that, whatever that pacing is, it does not bring down the health care system. Remember, flattening the curve was to protect the system. There's going to be a certain amount of people who might get -- might get the disease. I think we're sort of forgetting that.
And I appreciate his honesty, as compared to Donald Trump, who says we're all just warriors. I don't even know what that means.
BALDWIN: Juliette, let me just stay with you.
You wrote this piece in "The Atlantic" a bit ago about an option C, right?
BALDWIN: So, if plan A was prevention, plan B was to buy some time to keep the health system from being overwhelmed, where are we now?
KAYYEM: So we're at -- we're too early. And I'm just going to say that, and too many politicians are willing to open up too soon.
So, plan C is, OK, can we open up responsibly, so that fewer people die? This is just the brutal assessment right now. So we need to focus on core, critical needs that to open up the economy. And we need to focus on schools.
I mean, we're not -- I mean, as a working mother, this is ridiculous that we're talking about golf courses and not schools. I'm sort of sick of it. I -- we can't go back to work, half the population -- and working dads, I should say -- until we deal with the school issue. And so we need to prioritize the opening up. At the same time, because
we don't have testing, we don't have treatments and we don't have a vaccine, we need to protect our vulnerable populations. We need to make sure that certain industries are protected, like meat packaging.
And we need to ensure that we don't have large congregations of people like concerts, like large venues. That's basically the balance that we have to choose now, because we have chosen, as a nation, or the president has chosen for us, not to take the approach of New Zealand or Singapore or South Korea.
BALDWIN: Well, so much -- and so much of this is based upon decisions that we're making based on data, right, hard science from the scientists.
And we have been watching. The nation's been tuning into these Coronavirus Task Force briefings -- Dr. Davidson, this is for you -- where we see Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, in addition to, of course, the president.
And we have just learned this afternoon that the White House is considering scaling back its Coronavirus Task Force meetings. How does that sit with you?
DAVIDSON: Well, it feels like the task force meetings were more about Donald Trump having a platform to speak than about giving any useful information to people. So I'm not so troubled about that.
I am troubled by a tweet from Donald Trump in the last few hours where he is taking credit for the passage of time showing people how many tests have been done, when, in fact, the number of tests per day is a critical metric. And we're only doing about 200,000.
BALDWIN: On that point -- on that point -- you read my mind.
Let's play the clip. This is the president talking about testing. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have so much testing. I don't think you need that kind of testing or that much testing. But some people disagree with me. And some people agree with me.
But we have the greatest testing in the world and we have the most testing in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Again, this is the president of the United States.
Dr. Davidson, I mean, I'm looking at your face.
BALDWIN: Do we need widespread testing? DAVIDSON: Well, again, if we're listening to data and science, and
irrespective of a task force, we need at least a half-a-million, probably a million tests per day, across this country.
We're currently doing between 200,000 and 300,000 per day. There is no way that we can safely reopen.
Now, we will rush to reopen because people are playing or just plain fatigued. I know out in my community people are out standing in line of 100 people to buy corn dogs. And they had to close down the state park because the parking lot was so full.
And like Juliette was saying, these fun activities people want to do are somewhat irrelevant compared to trying to get people to work, kids back to school. You know, if we don't get the testing in line, we're never going to be able to do that safely, and we will have to accept a significant amount of death that could have been prevented.
BALDWIN: I appreciate both of you, Juliette and Dr. Davidson. Thank you.
I want to continue with...
KAYYEM: Welcome back.
BALDWIN: Thank you. It's good to be back. Good to feel well.
A potentially big development in the race to find a vaccine. The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says it has started clinical trials in humans. We have those details.
And Texas is seeing a spike in cases since the governor allowed some businesses to reopen. So we will take you there.
And California starting to train workers for this massive contact racing program. And one of the leaders of this massive effort will join me live.
You're watching CNN's special coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: President Trump, there he is in Arizona. Just landed in Air Force One, 12:20 local time.
The number of coronavirus infections in the United States nearing 1.2 million.
Let's go straight there to Phoenix to my colleague Kyung Lah.
And, Kyung, what's on the president's agenda there this afternoon? KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, once he gets into
the motorcade and he heads over to a very nearby plant -- this is the Honeywell campus that I'm standing in front of.
It is an aeronautics campus. It is the centerpiece of his visit. The president will stop to look at what is being told to us is a pop-up facility. This is a place, an aeronautics company that really spun on a dime and started producing N95 masks. And it also produced some jobs here in Arizona. So all of that is going to be celebrated by the president.
It is a very brief visit, and he flew all the way across the country in order to make that stop. What he is landing into in this state is a state that has just begun opening this week. On Monday, retail started curbside.
It was described to us as more of a soft opening, the governor starting to allow parts of this economy to come back online. And what a lot of these business owners -- and we spoke to two of them -- told us is that they're looking at the data.
The numbers are still climbing. They are not seeing that 14-day decline. But there is an urgency to try to start their businesses again that they absolutely need to. So there is nervousness as this economy comes back online.
The other thing we saw, Brooke, are protests. Over the weekend, there was a protest where we saw people standing shoulder to shoulder, no masks, very similar to other reopen protests around the country, not representative, say a lot of the business owners, who are nervous, who spoke to us, not representative of how a lot of people in this state are feeling, because there is certainly mixed feelings as the Arizona starts to come back.
So what we see here in Arizona is this sort of push-pull that you're seeing across the country. The president, though, certainly getting out of his bubble, out of Washington, trying to symbolically say that he is looking forward to seeing some inching towards normalcy in these very abnormal times -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: We will let so many people parse how they feel about the president, as you say, leaving the bubble.
I mean, this is a big deal, folks. This is the first time since COVID- 19, the self-quarantining, the isolation, this is the first time that the president has left the White House, there remembering to elbow bump and safely social distance.
Kyung, thank you very much.
In the race for a coronavirus vaccine, a potentially important step today. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says it has now started a human clinical trial with participants here in the U.S. And if the trials work out, an emergency version of the vaccine could be available as soon as September.
Pfizer is partnering with a German company on this project.
And CNN's Fred Pleitgen landed that interview with the CEO of that company today. He is joining me now from Berlin.
So, Fred, what did you learn about what they have so far?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly, Brooke.
They're quite excited, they say, about these clinical trials that they're beginning in the U.S. They actually began clinical trials already last week here in Germany with some 12 participants. They want to move that forward to about 200 here in Germany in the next stage and about 360 in the United States.
Of course, there's two things they mainly want to find out, on the one hand, whether or not this vaccine trial vaccine actually has an effect, but then also, of course, whether or not it's safe. That, of course, is a very key thing for them.
They say, if all of this is certified, that they can not only have emergency rations ready by fall, but that they could potentially have millions of doses ready by the end of this year and hundreds of millions in 2021.
Now, of course, all that is dependent on whether or not the clinical trials go well, whether or not they get certification. But the CEO of that company who I talked to earlier, he says he's fairly confident, and here's why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: So, you can ask the question, what is the remaining risk if you have those 1,000 subjects? What is the remaining risk if you have those 10,000 subjects and have shown that this is safe, yes?
And then you have to ask, what is the benefit? The benefit of a vaccine in a pandemic situation is much, much greater, yes?
And, therefore, therefore, an approval and authorization of a vaccine in a pandemic situation has to follow other rules than what we have seen in the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So they obviously believe that the regulators also, of course, are very keen to get something out, but that, of course, again has to be safe.
The CEO also saying one of the other reasons why he's fairly confident is that he said that they have had very good results in preclinical trials as well. But, of course, we always have to mention, Brooke, this is still the very early stages. Only very few participants have been part of that. And, of course, also, this study is one of many that are going on
around the world. I was looking at the page of the World Health Organization today. There are well over 100 vaccine candidates out there. However, around the world, only eight are currently in clinical trials.
This is one of them. So, certainly this company quite confident. Still a long way to go, but, as you said, potentially some good news in what is right now still worldwide a very difficult situation, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Yes, we can use the hope, Fred Pleitgen. Thank you very much for sharing that interview.
And let's talk about these developments.
With me now, Dr. Seema Yasmin. She's a former disease detective at the CDC and a CNN medical analyst.
And so, Doctor, how did Pfizer get to human trials this fast and are you encouraged?
DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: They are ahead of the curve, and not just them. It's other companies too, like Inovio.
And the reason they're able to be ahead of the curve, Brooke, is because they're doing something really different that we haven't seen before. Usually, with vaccines for a virus, you're working in the lab with the virus itself.
So, usually, you get a shot and it contains a dead version of the virus, maybe a weakened version of the virus, or just a small chunk of the virus, and that's how your immune system knows what to recognize and how to protect you.
But Pfizer, Inovio and other companies are not doing that. They're not working with the virus itself. Instead, what they're doing is looking at the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus and using a different technology, either DNA technology or RNA a technology, in the case of Pfizer.
What they do, having looked at the virus' genes, they take a small part, give that to humans, and then our own body starts churning out not the whole virus, but little bits of it. And that's how our immune system gets exposed and knows what to fight.
I interviewed the CEO of Inovio the other day, and he said to me that, in early January, when Chinese scientists uploaded the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus, it took his team only three hours to come up with a candidate vaccine.
So this is unheard of. But -- I want to say a big but here -- the very same technology that is allowing them to be so quick could be the same thing that trips them up, because it never has the FDA approved any DNA or RNA vaccine. This is a very new technology.
BALDWIN: I mean, to that point, I was talking to a doctor last year. I'm curious your thoughts, because he was saying to me, even though this is -- could be spot on and quick, it could still take years for the vaccine to be available to all Americans. What are your thoughts on that, timing wise?
YASMIN: I want to -- yes, a big reality check for everybody watching now.
Typically, vaccine development takes years, sometimes even decades. If I can, in a nutshell, in like 20 seconds, I will talk you through the process. You start in the lab with the discovery phase. If something works, then you go to the preclinical phase. You're testing in petri dishes or in animals, maybe ferrets, in the case of the coronavirus, or mice or monkeys.
Then, and only if it's worked then, you go to human trials. That alone has three phases in it. And by that point, you have eaten a chunk of years, maybe four or five, 10 years, tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.
Even then, you're not good to go, because making batches of the vaccine in the lab is a completely different ball game to producing millions of doses. In the case of this pandemic, we need billions of doses of vaccine.
And just one example, Pfizer, back in the day was making a pneumonia vaccine, and it passed all those hurdles. It was successful at every stage. Then it had to spend $600 million and spend six months just to build a manufacturing plant that could actually churn out enough vaccine.
So, yes, we are using incredible technology and, yes, it's cutting- edge. But we have to remember that vaccine development takes a long time. It's costly. And above everything, you're checking for safety.
BALDWIN: Seema, thank you for your expertise. Good to see you again.
The state of Texas has seen a big jump in its coronavirus cases within days of reopening. The governor is set to speak any moment, so we will listen in.
And more on our breaking news this afternoon. This ousted vaccine chief has filed this whistle-blower complaint alleging the Trump administration ignored warnings about the virus.
New details. Stay with me.