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Trump Administration Promises Vaccine By End of Year. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2020 - 16:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for joining me today.

Have a great weekend. We will see you back here next week.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper.

Today, as the death toll from coronavirus nears 87,000 people in the U.S., President Trump is announcing more details of what the administration is calling Operation Warp Speed. This is the effort to develop vaccines for coronavirus. The president today saying he hopes the vaccine can be achieved by the end of this year.

And the new head of the effort, Moncef Slaoui, formerly of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, as well as Defense Secretary Mark Esper, well, they went even further.


MONCEF SLAOUI, CHIEF ADVISER TO VACCINE EFFORT: I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine. And this data made me feel even more confident that we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We will deliver by the end of this year a vaccine at scale to treat the American people and our partners abroad.


TAPPER: We all certainly hope so.

And yet, at this event announcing the leaders of this vaccine effort, President Trump seemed to undermine the very importance of a vaccine in some ways.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back.


TAPPER: But how are we back?

The U.S. death toll continues to rise. It remains likely that we could lose more than 60,000 more Americans over the next two months, not to mention, of course, the hundreds of thousands infected, some of whom may be scarred for life.

Now, yes, the trend of new cases is generally going down. And that's great news, but there is no health expert who thinks the U.S. is out of the woods. Quite the contrary.

Under what metric is the U.S. -- quote -- "back"?

Well, CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked the president that very question.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): unveiling his vaccine effort in the Rose Garden today, President Trump said the country would return to normal with or without one.

TRUMP: I just want to make something clear. It's very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back. And we're starting the process.

COLLINS: Asked what he meant by that, the president offered this explanation:

TRUMP: We think we're going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future. And if we do, we're going to really be a big step ahead. And if we don't, we're going to be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in, it'll go away. At some point, it'll go away.

COLLINS: The president was formally announcing the leaders of Operation Warp Speed, his administration's effort to develop and distribute a vaccine.

GOV. GUSTAVE PERNA, U.S. ARMY MATERIEL COMMAND: It is going to be a Herculean task.

COLLINS: But, at one point, the president seemed to downplay how critical a vaccine would be.

Though many health experts have viewed an effective vaccine as the only way life can truly return to normal, the president made clear he doesn't agree.

TRUMP: No, it's not solely vaccine-based. Other things have never had a vaccine and they go away.

COLLINS: He also repeated his hope that a vaccine can be ready by the end of the year.

Some health experts have said that's unrealistic. And, yesterday, the administration's former vaccine chief, Rick Bright, who was pushed out of his job, said he's doubtful it could happen soon.


And I think it's going to take longer than that to do so.

COLLINS: The president said he's hopeful a full vaccine will be ready by the end of the year and available to the general public, not just for emergency use.

(on camera): Do you mean a fully approved vaccine for everyone, the full public, or a partially approved vaccine with emergency use?

TRUMP: No, we're looking for a full vaccine for everyone that wants to get it. Not everybody's going to want to get it. But we're looking at a full vaccine.

COLLINS (voice-over): Nearly all of the guests in the Rose Garden today were wearing masks, but on stage some of the president's top officials were, and some weren't, including the president.

TRUMP: I told them. I gave them the option they could wear it or not. So you can blame it on me.

COLLINS: Sources say Trump and his aides have questioned whether the coronavirus death toll is being overcounted. Today, the president said he assumes the numbers are correct.

(on camera): Do you think that's accurate, or do you think it's higher than that?

TRUMP: I don't -- or lower than that. I don't know. I don't know. Those are the numbers that are being reported. I assume they are correct.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, you may have noticed the vice president was not in the Rose Garden today. We are told by sources that, out of an abundance of caution, he's still been keeping his distance from the president for the last few days, after one of his top aides contracted coronavirus.

And, Jake, you also might have heard that dull honking sound over all of the president's comments in the Rose Garden. Those are truckers out on Constitution Avenue.

And Today, in the Rose Garden, you really couldn't ignore them. And the president said they were protesting in favor of him. That is not true. They were protesting because they say that there is such economic strain, and they want fair pay.


TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, so much to discuss.

The president and the vaccine task force are clearly optimistic about the development and rollout of a vaccine as early as December or January. Obviously, we all hope that to be true. But does it seem plausible to you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's tough to call it plausible. I mean, it would be unprecedented, Jake.

And I totally agree with your sentiment. I mean, everyone is hopeful about this sort of thing. And we are talking about different types of vaccines, vaccines that have never been used before.

So it's really hard to give a context here. We talk about the fact that some of these vaccines can take a decade to make, but those are really different types of vaccines.

The type of vaccine seen that they're talking about that I think -- that Moncef was talking about in terms of the early data that he saw, is based on what's known as a messenger RNA vaccine. People are starting to know these terms, Jake.

But, basically, it's the genetic blueprint of a part of the virus. You stick that in the body, and the body then makes more of that, and then makes the antibodies to fight that. So your body turns into a vaccine factory.

If it works -- they're already going into phase two with this -- if it works, potentially, phase three by the end of the year. The idea that it would be manufactured, distributed available for everybody by the end of the year just seems really hard to believe.

Again, everybody wants that, but I don't know how that would work.

TAPPER: Yes, we talked to one of the guys working on a vaccine, and he said his biggest concern is the manufacturing capacity for whatever they come up with. To make 330 million doses of would be quite an order.

The president said something else today that I want to get your views on. He said, vaccine or no vaccine, we are back.

I don't exactly know how one could say that, given the continued death toll, the continued increase in cases. What do you make of that?

GUPTA: Well, Jake, you and I have been talking about this for so many months now.

And I remember still talking to you on the day that the pause, the 15- day pause went into effect. And there were some 75, I think 76 people who had died by that point, and 4,000 infections in the country. And at that point, the decision was made to put the country in a pause because of what was happening.

I don't -- I don't know. I mean, the virus is still there. The virus hasn't changed. It's still contagious. It's still spreading in the community. Why now, when you look at the numbers on the screen, do you think, OK, now is a good time to sort of be back, open things up, presumably what he means?

I mean, again, we say this stuff and people say, well, you're pessimistic, you don't want the country to reopen. Of course I want the country to reopen. I'm in my basement, like most of the people in the country right now.

But I think that how do you justify opening things back up, when the numbers are so far worse than they were when you decided to close things down? We need testing. We need to see downward trends for 14 days. We follow these numbers day by day, and people get excited when they go down or up for a couple of days.

That's why you look for trends. We still haven't seen that reliably, and we still don't have the testing. It's as simple as that. I mean, the equation hasn't changed, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, this comes -- I have been talking to health officials and they have been talking about their concerns, as you have been talking about, about reopening too quickly, acting as if this is over.

President Trump said we're back. And he said this amidst images of packed bars in Wisconsin. President Trump went so far as to retweet this man in a Florida bar. Take a listen.


ROGAN O'HANDLEY, BAR PATRON: I'm at a bar restaurant. We're all having a good time, not a single face mask. It's not that bad, guys.


TAPPER: I mean, it goes on to say, wouldn't want the commies in the blue state to see us.

But he said, it's not bad, everything's fine here. And you have a bar full of people, none of them wearing masks. It doesn't look like they're doing social distancing.

I mean, the president retweeted that. Does that concern you?

GUPTA: Yes, of course that concerns me.

I mean, it's not bad? What does the guy think it was supposed to look like? You can't see this virus. It's contagious. It's spreading out there. When you're wearing a mask, you're doing it not because you're trying to protect yourself, but because you're trying to protect others.

I think just the entire way we as a society have decided to look at risk, what we quantify as risk or how we quantify risk itself is totally -- totally different now, because, when we're doing these things, when the people are at those bars, you know, what I think, and I think a lot of people who are in public health think, is, you then are then moving around after that.


You are then moving back to your homes. You are moving back to your communities. You're potentially taking that virus with you.

If one person in that crowded bar setting had the virus, it could have spread. We have shown how one person could spread it to nine people within an hour in these various studies. Then they go home to their families.

That is the beginning of a cluster. It's a very hard thing to control. Then you got to start going back into lockdown mode. You want to do this slowly, so that you can actually be on top of it, and not go into cluster or exponential growth.

These things can be avoided for the time being. And I want that as well. I'd love to be with that guy, wherever he was. But we're not ready yet.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, we lived through this before, Sanjay, in February in March, when we were saying, the president is not facing up to the risk here.

And I don't know what kind of message people are getting. And then now we have 87,000, almost 87,000 people dead, I mean, not directly attributable to President Trump, but, obviously, we need to have our leaders taking this seriously.

Sanjay, stand by. I want to ask you about our next story after we run it.


TAPPER: After the Trump administration promised a vaccine soon, there may be no way for all Americans to get it. That's the conclusion of a new CNN investigation.

That's next. Stay with us for that.

Plus, what if China develops a vaccine first? President Trump responded to that.

That's coming up.



TAPPER: And we're back with our health lead today.

President Trump this afternoon addressed how his administration is preparing for the moment a coronavirus vaccine is ready for use.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This includes ramping up production of supplies needed for distribution such as cold storage, glass vials, needles, syringes, ready to go. We'll have everything right on hand, ready to go.

When a vaccine is ready, the U.S. government will deploy every plane, truck, and soldier required to help distribute it to the American people as quickly as possible.


TAPPER: As CNN's Drew Griffin reports for us now, health experts are hoping that the federal government has learned its lesson after disastrous shortages of personal gear plagued the nation's hospitals earlier this year.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: If the vaccine for COVID-19 were to come today, there would be no way for all of us to get it. There are just not enough needles and syringes.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): I don't want to be in a situation where we can't deliver those doses because we don't have syringes and we don't have needles and we don't have the basic supplies to deliver that many doses of the vaccine.

GRIFFIN: Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters first sounded the alarm last year. The pandemic only heightened his fears. And last week he sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, urging the federal government to take immediate steps to ensure America is prepared to administer a coronavirus vaccine.

PETERS: Time is not our side here. We need to get this done as soon quickly as possible.

GRIFFIN: In a similar warning, a whistleblower complaint by Rick Bright, the demoted leader of a key federal agency developing vaccines, said his warnings about the shortage of needles and syringes had been ignored, and that the U.S. needs between 650 million and 850 million needles and syringes. Bright may have been pushed aside but in testimony before Congress yesterday, Bright suggested someone in the federal government may have been listening.

RICHARD BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, DHS BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: I learned that they placed an order, the first order for needles and syringes on May 1st.

REP. ANN MCLANE KUSTER (D-NH): And were the amounts adequate?

BRIGHT: I believe they asked for 320 million needles and syringes.

KUSTER: And could you describe the situation if every American doesn't have access to the vaccine due to a supply shortage?

BRIGHT: That situation would be catastrophic, honestly. The decisions have not been made yet, who to vaccinate first, how to identify those individuals and how to stretch those limited supplies appropriately.

GRIFFIN: Three contracts for vaccine supplies awarded in the past few weeks totaling nearly $250 million. The largest by the Department of Defense for the U.S.-based production of 100 million prefilled syringes by year end 2020, with the ultimate production goal of over 500 million pre-filled syringes in 2021.

Chaun Powell, in charge of disaster response for one of the country's largest medical logistics companies, says it all adds up to enough.

(on camera): Makes it sound like, unlike PPE, we're going to be in a much better position.

CHAUN POWELL, PREMIER INC.: We learned a lot of valuable lessons through COVID with PPE, and with that, we are preparing for the worst for the vaccination and being able to administer the full population, if necessary.

GRIFFIN: That comes with one big caveat: the unknown.

POWELL: Until we have something that is approved by a particular supplier or manufacturer in pharmaceutical space, it will be very challenging for us to be able to prepare for potential shortages on vials, or in syringes or in needles.

GRIFFIN: If estimates are correct, if the contract is fulfilled, the U.S. could have the supplies needed to inoculate the population when and if a COVID-19 vaccine is approved.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Drew Griffin for that report.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta is back with me.

Sanjay, President Trump said today that the ramping up production of vials, syringes and other equipment so that the U.S. is prepared if a vaccine is ready to be distributed.

But do you worry, seeing the issues that we had procuring PPE and ventilators and more, that that goal is too ambitious or the administration won't be able to achieve it?

GUPTA: I think we're capable of achieving this goal. You know, I think it's a question of now recognizing that there might be this demand. There will be this demand for these supplies. And actually making sure we're in the process of obtaining those things, which it sounds like from Drew's piece, a lot of that is happening, which is good. This idea that even before a vaccine is approved, even before it's gone through all the phases of trial, that this process is starting, that they're actually going to start manufacturing the vaccine, even if they don't know it works yet because they just want to get ahead of the curve and take some gambles here and make sure the cold storage is available, make sure all the syringes and needles. Some of these vaccines have to be stored at a specific temperature. Distributing them is going to make -- is going to be more challenging because of things like that.

That's the planning that needs to happen now even before a vaccine is ready.

TAPPER: Well, it's great that they're on top of it. I hope it works out.

If there are still shortages of the vaccine once it's discovered, once it's manufactured, how does it get decided who gets the vaccine and who doesn't? You remember these early days of the virus when all sorts of really wealthy people like NBA stars and the like were getting tests, where doctors and nurses on the front lines weren't able to.

GUPTA: Yes, right. And, you know, who is to say some of that won't happen again. I mean, you know, some of that happens when you have scarce resources. But there is a whole protocol. I mean, there are entire textbooks about vaccine distribution and how you figure out the priorities. Some of it is per capita, by state, just figuring out the populations of people. Some of it is figuring out where the virus is most circulating, in areas where you've had recent outbreaks, things like that.

But typically, Jake, health care workers, people who are particularly vulnerable, people who have preexisting conditions, all the things that we've talked about that make people more likely to contract the infection or get sick from it, those are the people who are going to be at the front of the line.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks again.

You can learn even more from Sanjay's podcast, "CORONAVIRUS: FACT VERSUS FICTION", available on or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much, Sanjay, as always.

Coming up, a major spike in one state two weeks after the state reopened as New York City's stay at home order is extended into June. We're going to take a look across the country, next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the national lead today, Florida is now one of the latest states with eased restrictions on gyms, retail stores, and restaurants. Forty-eighty states have partial reopen plans in the coming days while some, such as New York, are extending restrictions in hotspots where coronavirus cases have yet to trend down.

CNN's Nick Watt now reports on what's become a piecemeal reopening plan nationwide.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Across Louisiana, dinner and a movie is now an option once more. But your server might be masked.

COLLIN ARNOLD, DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: We really have, you know, kind of crushed the curve and because it's due to our residents, really, they stayed at home.

WATT: Forty-eight states now have an opening plan under way today. Half of New York state begins its long road back.

BENJAMIN WHITMORE, BARBERSHOP OWNER: All I can do is get back to work and hope that they'll come.

WATT: But New York's pause order extended another two weeks for millions more in the state, including everyone in New York City, unless numbers improve.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: We need a massive city-wide apparatus, testing, tracing.

WATT: In Michigan, resistance to regulations goes on. The blue governor says there are red protesters.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: These are not just citizens who are unhappy about having to stay home. This is a political rally, essentially.

WATT: That might actually delay reopening.

WHITMER: It's the congregating of big groups of people who aren't wearing masks, who aren't staying six feet apart, that will perpetuate the community spread.

WATT: In rural Virginia, a nursing home outbreak, 76 cases, eight deaths. And doctors in 18 states now investigating those rare but severe reactions in kids that might be COVID-related.

WHO just told doctors worldwide to be on alert.

DR. ROBERTA DEBIASI, CHIEF OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CHILDREN'S NATIONAL HOSPITAL: We're all putting our heads and cases together to really get an answer to what is driving this and the best treatments.

WATT: And April's retail numbers are out, another historic low. Retail sales down 16.4 percent. Clothing sales down nearly 90 percent.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: Most of the 50 states are going back to work in some form. So, I like to look forward.

WATT: Ford will start making cars again Monday, and restaurants will reopen in hard-hit Miami as the county looks to hire up to 1,000 contact tracers. Texas just set a record, most reported COVID deaths in 24 hours. Gyms and offices still scheduled to reopen Monday.

In Vegas, you can now buy a mask from a vending machine at the airport as Caesars gets ready to reopen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the new world, there will only be three chairs and nobody will be able to be within six feet.

WATT: Good news from L.A., the USNS Mercy hospital ship just left, after seven weeks supporting the COVID-19 fight. The curve here has flattened.

And great news from New Jersey. Sylvia Goldsholl, who lived through the 1918 Spanish flu as a kid, just recovered from COVID-19. She's 108.