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Ousted U.S. Vaccine Expert Warns Time is Running Out; CDC Issues Guidelines on Rare Disorder Among Children; Trump Tries to Discredit Bright as Disgruntled Employee; Las Vegas Casinos Prepare to Reopen in a Few Weeks; Scientists Test Novel Approach to COVID-19 Vaccine. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2020 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Damning testimony -- a top U.S. vaccine expert warns lawmakers that time is running out to get the pandemic under control.

Also this hour, as some summer camps and childcare centers in the U.S. start to reopen, health officials issue a new warning about a syndrome affecting a growing number of children in the U.S.

Also, a CNN exclusive. We take you inside Caesar's Palace to see how they plan to keep gamblers safe when the Las Vegas strip finally reopens.

We're live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Thank you so much for joining us. Our top story, a senior U.S. health official warns the United States is running out of time to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The disease already has claimed almost 86,000 American lives according to Johns Hopkins University. A new model suggests the U.S. death toll will go much higher.

On Thursday U.S. vaccine expert Rick Bright told Congress he tried to sound the alarm about the virus months ago but was ignored. He eventually was removed from his government post in what he claims was retaliation for speaking out. We'll have more on his exclusive Congressional testimony in just a moment.

But first, globally the virus is still spreading rapidly. Johns Hopkins reporting 4.4 million confirmed cases worldwide and more than 300,000 deaths globally. And now we're learning of a rare but serious complication involving children. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more about it.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This virus may have more of an impact on children than we realize. There's now a new disease in the world just alerted this evening that has been named MISC, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. And just like it name, suggests it's a disease that can lead to severe inflammation in the body and even in the heart in which case it can be deadly. We do know thankfully for now it is rare. That's important to note. Fewer than 200 children in the country have been unofficially diagnosed now. We still are getting the official diagnosis.


ALLEN: We'll continue to follow that development of course but now to Washington and that unsettling testimony from ousted U.S. vaccine chief Rick Bright. He told Congress that unless this virus is brought under control, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history. We get more from CNN Kaitlyn Collins at the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today the vaccine official ousted from his job during the coronavirus pandemic said the administration's failure to warn the public about coronavirus cost lives.

RICK BRIGHT, SENIOR ADVISER, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I believe Americans need to be told the truth. People were not as prepared as they could and should have been.

COLLINS: Testifying for the first time since he was removed from his role as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Rick Bright with a dire warning that the U.S. doesn't have a master plan, and there still aren't enough tests.

BRIGHT: There still are not enough tests.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): So even this week, as we're being told, anybody who wants a test can have a test, is that true in the United States of America?


COLLINS: Bright alleges he was demoted for objecting to the widespread distribution of a drug promoted by the president.



COLLINS: And he says he was pressured to make it more widely available.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the pressure from the White House and HHS general counsel put you in a difficult position?


COLLINS: Bright says his superiors disregarded his early warnings about mask shortages, even though he passed along this urgent message from Mike Bowen, one of the only mask manufacturers in the U.S.

BRIGHT: We're in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act. And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response.

COLLINS: The former vaccine chief said he's troubled by the government's seeming inability to ramp up production of simple resources like swabs.

BRIGHT: It says to me, sir, that there is no master coordinated plan on how to respond to this outbreak.

COLLINS: Bright cautioned that there could be more shortages to come if the U.S. doesn't make a plan now about how to distribute a vaccine once it's ready. He also cast doubt on the president's optimistic timeline about when that will be.

TRUMP: I think we're going to have a vaccine by the end of the year.

DINGELL: Will we be able to vaccinate people in the next few months?

BRIGHT: It's very unlikely.

COLLINS: As he left the White House for Pennsylvania, President Trump said he watched Bright but dismissed his allegations.

TRUMP: To me, he's nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.

COLLINS: The health and human services secretary also pushed back on Bright's claims as he testified, arguing that they're unfounded.

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Everything he's complaining about was achieved.

COLLINS (on camera): Now Mike Bowen is the executive of that company that Rick Bright was talking about as he was testifying, warning about possible shortages of masks. He also testified, and he said that he's been a lifelong Republican, but he's embarrassed by how the federal government has responded to the coronavirus outbreak. And he said that they need to be listening to the scientists, something he says he doesn't think they are doing right now.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: Joining me now from Los Angeles is Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, an internal medicine and viral specialists. Thanks so much for joining us, doctor.


ALLEN: I want to start with Richard Bright who gave a stark warning in his Congressional testimony Thursday saying that 2020 could see the darkest winter in modern history. First up here, do you agree with that?

RODRIGUEZ: I absolutely agree that that's a possibility. I actually think that that is a probability. The way that things are going in this country with sort of an un-concerted plan, right, to open up America. So I think it's a very, very possible scenario.

ALLEN: Well you say un-concerted plan, I was going to ask you, what should the U.S. government do to plan for this second wave. Do you believe it has a plan?

RODRIGUEZ: It doesn't appear like it has a plan to me. In the reason I say that is because of what we are experiencing. We are having 50 different states, and I understand, 50 different states we have 50 different sort of viral hot spots, but at the end of the day we are all connected. We are all communicating whether it's by planes, or by cars, visiting families. So it is the job of the federal government to have a plan, in my opinion, both a short-range plan, which is testing. And actually the holy trinity, what I consider, of COVID containment. The holy Trinity which is masks, distancing and hygiene. Masks, distancing and hygiene. And that should be emphasized and it is not.

And then there needs to be a long-range plan. Are we going to have a medication to treat people that are ill? Are we going to be having a vaccine that works? And if so, how is that going to be distributed? If nothing else, America needs to hear that because I think it gives all of us a sense of comfort and not foreboding. Right now it feels like we have all these chickens without their heads running around.

ALLEN: Right, a singular message would be comforting. You're right about that. Bright also testified about a vaccine. You mentioned that. That it could be 12 to 18 months. We know there is a rush to development, but what risk could there be with a vaccine that is rushed through?

RODRIGUEZ: Well the risk is that we get a vaccine that is not effective. We get a vaccine that could be dangerous. The plus side is we could get a vaccine that works. I was talking to a friend of mine in New York, another doctor, and we were talking about this reality and she said, how long have we been waiting for an AIDS vaccine or Hepatitis C vaccine. So if all the dominoes fall as they should, there may be a vaccine in a year.


Now we're going to have to sacrifice probably safety because really vaccines take five years to develop, especially one with an airborne pathogen. There are some people that are saying that once a vaccine is developed, we may even have to inoculate people and then actually expose them purposefully to COVID or a sort of milder form of COVID. So we would be rushing things. Perhaps we should be rushing things, but we are going to be cutting corners.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. Well, let's talk about the illness that has now sickened some 100 plus children in the U.S. The CDC issued new guidelines to watch out -- telling parents watch out for fever and inflammation in children. What does this new illness in children say about our understanding of the virus or lack thereof?

RODRIGUEZ: It says that we do not have an understanding -- a complete understanding of this virus. Listen, this is a virus that is brand new, that has never been seen by the human body. So the response is one that is almost like a tsunami. And the message here is that this is not only, you know, dangerous for people that are 65 or older, this can affect anybody. And this unfortunate inflammatory response in children where it can cause, you know, eyes that flare-up, the shortness of breath, the inflammation needs to be -- it's like a moral tale. We all have to be on guard. We all have to be vigilant because this predator that we call coronavirus can affect anybody.

ALLEN: Right. So is now the time to continue to push for schools to reopen as we've heard from the President?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I personally don't think so. I mean, I've talked to my relatives who have children, and unless they can be guaranteed, unless they know that there are safeguards in place, they're really not going to be sending their children to school no matter if the schools are open or not. So what do you do? Do you test teachers? Do you test the kids? How often do you test them? How far away are they supposed to be? Those are the things that are not clear and there should be a federal guideline for all of that. They're our children.

ALLEN: Absolutely. It's scary times for parents for sure. Last question for you. President Trump worked to discredit Richard Bright after his testimony Thursday. He has criticized other renowned scientific experts as well. And he paints a rosy picture for the near future. Of course he wants the economy to come back. But how does that square with reality? And also, could it confuse the public?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, unfortunately it's already confusing the public, which is why we have so many people who believe what the President says out endangering themselves and endangering others by not taking those precautions of the holy Trinity, you know, that I mentioned. Listen, when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail and the President is a businessman and what he knows is economics. So I think we are painting this with too bright a brush. I don't want to be a negative Nancy, if you will, but we need to be careful. And what good is opening something so early that within a month they're going to close because the popular confidence has completely eroded in our restaurants, in our schools.

So a fine line I agree needs to be walked, but right now, listen, we've already been sort of not bamboozled but we've been told certain medications like hydroxychloroquine works, it doesn't. So I think people are becoming very skeptical from what they hear from the White House.

ALLEN: The uncertainty certainly adds to a lot of people's anxieties right now. We really appreciate your insights and your expertise, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez. Thank you.

Las Vegas casinos will reopen in just a few weeks, but they won't be going all in. CNN's Kyung Lah has this exclusive look inside one casino as it prepares to reopen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY RODIO, CEO CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT: It's really eerie and sad and this place normally would have so much energy and so much excitement going on.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Caesar's Palace in the dark because of the coronavirus.

(on camera): You can hear our voices echoing through the lobby.

RODIO: Yes, you don't hear that echo because it's muffled because of all the bodies and all the sound and the activity.

LAH (voice-over): There's not a soul here, something the iconic casino has never experienced in its 54-year history, says Tony Rodio, CEO of Caesar's Entertainment.

(on camera): You're talking about every single day is was operational.

RODIO: Every single day, every second. There weren't locks to lock the front door. It was really tough in the beginning and there was so much uncertainty and how long this was going to last. And we're starting to see some movement.


LAH (voice-over): As Nevada moves to reopen parts of its economy, Caesars is making changes across the casino floor.

RODIO: This is the typical configuration for blackjack style games and normally there are six seats. In the new world there will only be three chairs and nobody will be able to be within six feet of any of the three customers that are playing.

LAH (on camera): This looks like it's a little less than 6 feet. I mean, is that the goal.

RODIO: I think that your real -- if not at 6 feet, you're close to 6 feet. And you're certainly not face-to-face.

LAH: This is a craps table.

RODIO: Correct. In the new world with social distancing, we're going to limit it to three on a side.

LAH: If a bunch of people come because it's an exciting game. What do you --

RODIO: Between the dealers, the supervisors, security, we're going to limit it to three on each side. And anybody else has to be six feet away. We will be deactivating every other slot machine and removing the stool from the game. A customer can't even stand here and play this because the game is not even active. And so, we will do that throughout the whole floor. LAH: In addition, a video released to Caesars workers and the public,

shows employees will use electronic sprayers. They'll disinfect dice, slot machines and elevator banks. Workers will be required to wear masks and have their temperature taken. But guests, while encouraged to wear masks, are not. Casino workers have already raised concerns about returning to the Vegas strip.

(on camera): For people who say can I be 100 percent sure that I won't get sick coming in here, is that something that you can say to your customers?

RODIO: I don't know of anybody in the country that can say that to anybody in any circumstance. I'm a casino operator. So I don't pretend to know everything about an infectious disease especially one as contagious as this. So all I can do and ask of my team is to listen to the experts.

LAH: Are you ready for people to come back?

RODIO: Oh, my gosh, yes. I'm ready. My staff's ready. Our staff's ready. Our team's ready. Our customers are ready.

LAH : This is what it looks like outside Caesar's Palace. People would normally be getting out of there taxis. Walking up those stairs with their luggage. All of this would be filled with limos and Ubers, there's nothing. What that's meant for employment is that of their 60,000 worldwide staff, says Caesars Entertainment, they've had to furlough 90 percent of workers.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Las Vegas.


ALLEN: Well of course Las Vegas casinos aren't the only ones itching to reopen as unemployment in the U.S. keeps dropping to depression era numbers. More businesses need to come back. Nearly 3 million more Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week -- as you can see here from this graph. That brings the total number of initial claims to more than 36 million since mid-March. So many people hurting right now and so much uncertainty about the future.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. And ahead here, there is a new kind of vaccine that has never been approved for humans before, but coronavirus may soon change that. We take you inside one of the labs.



ALLEN: The urgent need for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is calling for novel measures. One radical option being tested right now is what's called a RNA vaccine. Normally vaccines work by injecting a disabled virus that spurs the body to build up defensive systems against it, but the RNA offers a different approach. It contains snippets of the virus's genetic information, the RNA. It enters your cells and uses them to create proteins from the virus. The body's immune system identifies the protein as foreign and develops protective antibodies to them. Nick Paton Walsh has recently visited a lab that is testing and RNA vaccine. And he joins me now live from London. Nic, hello to you. What did you find out from this lab about this new vaccine?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, their testing actually begins in the middle of next month on humans. Currently they're at the stage of looking to see how effective this can be in other species. But it is a revolutionary technique, as you said there, essentially not using the premise that the body needs to be given the whole virus, just that it needs to be given the strands of the most dangerous bit. The protein on a virus that enables it to latch on to the cells in the human body and infect a person. Here is what we saw.


WALSH (voice-over): Everywhere there is a race for COVID vaccine. But here, in London, Paddington, there is a race for a new type of vaccine altogether.

Professor Robin Shattock is leading a team in Imperial College who are using a new technique to get the human body to recognize the most dangerous part of the virus, the hook, or spike, on its outside, so that the body can be ready if it ever sees the real thing.

(on camera): We're not even giving the body part of the virus. You're giving the body the plans for the most deadly part of the virus.


WALSH (voice-over): They begin human trials in mid-June and hope for 6,000 human tests by October. Maybe early next year, this revolutionary technique will be ready for you or I. Here is how it works.

SHATTOCK: The spikes on the surface of the virus are what allows it to attack and get into the cells in your body.

WALSH: Their technique injects the genetic code of that spike into the body, let's your muscle cells make lots of the spikes.

SHATTOCK: And your immune system recognizes that and starts to make antibodies that binds and recognize that spike. So, that when you see the whole virus, having been immunized. Your immune system automatically makes antibodies that will lock on to the spike, and that means that the virus can no longer infect cells.

WALSH: It is a new technique entirely because most vaccines give a weakened entire virus to the body to learn to fight.


SHATTOCK: The cells are working like a factory. They are making the vaccine themselves, doing the heavy lifting, rather than us having to make a huge amount of virus in a manufacturing plant.

WALSH: And this technique has two advantages. The amounts needed per dose are tiny. And so 16,000 liters could, in theory, they say, be enough to vaccinate the entire world. And two, the technique, if successful, can be used for other viruses too in the future. The huge steps coronavirus is forcing us to take, leading us into a new world of great, unexpected advances.


WALSH: So the hope is, as you say, they may begin large human trials by October. But the key thing here is that this technique, extraordinary as it would be if it was able to create such incredibly small doses, something that's globally used for the coronavirus, could then be used for fighting other viruses too. As I said, it's one of those extraordinary side effects of the medical advances being forced upon us to fight this current pandemic that may yield advances and benefits for future generations that we just don't know about yet.

ALLEN: We appreciate that report. Thank you so much. Nick Paton Walsh for us in London.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead here, questions about Russia's coronavirus death toll. Why is it so low when the country has so many cases? We have questions about that and we'll have a live report.


ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from our Atlanta studios.

Well as most of the United States takes steps to reopen, there are encouraging signs that at least some places are seeing declines.