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Trump Administration Infighting Over Coronavirus Blame?; Promising Early Vaccine Trial. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president has been falsely accusing all sorts of folks in the media and politics of breaking the law in various ways these days, promoting a conspiracy theory that a different TV news anchor is responsible for a murder.


His sons are out there pushing deranged memes about their father's Democratic presidential challenger as a pedophile, and on and on.

It all seems clearly to -- designed to distract from the horrific health, death and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. And that, of course, is what we here at THE LEAD are going to continue to focus on, as the United States nears 90,000 deaths from coronavirus, and almost 1.5 million cases.

And if the trend continues, we could see 100,000 deaths in the U.S. by next week.

As of today, all 50 states are now reopening some nonessential businesses or have a plan to do so, even as about a third of the states in the U.S. still have coronavirus case numbers on the rise.

But there are some promising signs today coming from at least one vaccine maker. And this news is helping to drive up stocks, the Dow closing up about 900 points just moments ago. We will have much more on the economy in a few minutes.

But, first, CNN's Nick Watt is going to bring you the latest on that search for a vaccine.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the worldwide scramble for a vaccine, good news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really a very first important step in the journey towards having a vaccine.

WATT: All eight subjects in a phase one trial developed effective COVID-19 antibodies. Next up, phase two, with maybe 600 subjects.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: If they can enter into phase three by July, again, the goal of being able to get to a vaccine by early next year, I think, becomes more realistic.

WATT: So, today, Massachusetts became the 50th and final state to lay out its plan to reopen. Construction and manufacturing are back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On May 25, retail establishments may also offer curbside service, and some personal services, such as barbershops and hair salons, may reopen.

WATT: In roughly a third of states, the new case count is now going down, holding steady in another third, and, in the final third, it's actually going up. Texas, two weeks after reopening began, saw some busy bars and the biggest number of new cases in a single day on Saturday.

Yes, there is more testing now, but:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The opening of restaurants and movie theaters and retail and our malls up to 25 percent occupancy a couple of weeks ago, so I think that's probably the main reason.

WATT: Still, gyms opened up at reduced capacity in Texas today, and the governor announced phase two.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Starting immediately, child care services are able to open. Beginning this Friday, May the 22nd, a long list of businesses can now reopen or expand capacity.

WATT: Gyms in New Jersey are not yet allowed to reopen. This one did anyway. Here's how Camden County cops reacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a good day.


WATT: In South Carolina, some stores opened exactly a month ago, and in-person classes will resume at the University of South Carolina in the fall. But they will revert to remote learning after Thanksgiving, because, "Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December."

The WHO says it will start ASAP a review of the global reaction to this coronavirus, saying, we must learn to prevent a repeat.



WATT: And some good news for sports fans, Jake.

Texas said that, a week from Sunday, some pro sports will begin again. They're talking auto racing, basketball, baseball, no fans, but it will be on TV. California hoping to do something similar early June.

New York's governor said he will help leagues start again whenever they feel they can. Also here in California, they're hoping to allow church congregations within a few weeks and also legal haircuts once more, which is good news for those of us who've been trying to cut our own these past couple of months -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt, thank you so much.

And joining me now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, let's start with positive news, the vaccine. Moderna said early show that people in this study developed antibodies against the virus.

So, explain to us what that means.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is encouraging news, Jake.

This is a whole new different kind of vaccine. They -- what they did was, they took a blueprint of a little piece of the virus. And they used that essentially to inject into the body.


The body then creates this piece of the virus over and over again, and the body makes antibodies to it. OK? That's a little bit hard to understand maybe, but this is a whole new different kind of vaccine.

In the past, Jake, you take a little piece of the virus and give that to try and elicit an antibody response. This is brand-new. We didn't know if it was going to work. I mean, this is -- we're seeing the results now for the first time together.

And what we're seeing is that ,when they gave even the lowest doses of this vaccine, the body, the people who got the virus, the vaccine, did make antibodies, and they made antibodies at the same level as if they'd become infected.

So, when you get infected, you make antibodies. When you get a vaccine, you make antibodies. It seems to be the same now with the amount of antibodies. You gave more vaccine, you got even more antibodies.

Now, I will just explain this. When you actually put the antibodies and the virus in a test tube together, those antibodies then seem to neutralize the virus, which is what you want to see, that neutralizing activity. Is it actually going to have an impact on the virus?

And the answer seems to be yes. These are early studies, very, very early data, Jake. But this is proof of concept. And I have never seen this work before. The investigators haven't seen it work before in humans.

So, if this carries out, I mean, that could potentially be some good news.

TAPPER: Yes, potentially fantastic news. So that's phase one. What are the next steps, as Moderna looks to go to phase two, and then

phase three in the coming weeks and months?

GUPTA: Yes, let me show you the timeline quickly, because this is at the heart of all the discussions, right? When might this be available?

Phase two was already announced. They already knew they were going to go into phase two. That's going to be larger trials. They're going to do that through sort of the end of the summer or beginning of July sort of time frame.

If that still seems to show these results, where you have this -- these signals of efficacy, then they're going to start going into phase three trials, sort of by the end of summer or early fall.

I mean, the timeline is a little loose there. And each time you go into a new phase, Jake, you're incorporating more and more people. And you're trying to get a sense of, what is the right dose? What is -- who are the right populations of people that are going to most benefit from this, elderly, children, people in between, people with preexisting conditions?

Might there be booster shots that are necessary? All these -- these are all the sorts of questions they want to sort of answer.

Important thing, Jake -- and you and I have talked about this, but the U.S. government is going to make a bunch of gambles. They're probably going to look at this vaccine from Moderna, a few others. And they're going to just go ahead and start manufacturing this, even before those phase three results come in.

That's what we heard from this Operation Warp Speed press announcement. It's a gamble, because it costs a lot of money to do that. But the reason you do it, Jake, as you might guess, is...

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: ... then you have the vaccine available.

TAPPER: Does this make the vaccine timeline, theoretically, that we could have something in 12 months, 18 months? That timeline that we have heard Dr. Fauci and others say, does it make it seem more likely?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, I guess what Dr. Fauci has said since January, since the beginning of all this, when they started working on the vaccine, it was 12 to 18 months.

He's always -- it's always a loose time frame. But 12 months would obviously be January of next year; 18 months would be the summer of next year. I mean, it's, I guess, possible to start being able to vaccinate people by early next year, if this still goes forth.

Again, this is very early data. But if it continues to have this sort of efficacy, this sort of effectiveness, you could have some people start to get vaccinated by early next year. Now, probably those would be health care workers, people who are at great risk, and then you start to gradually increase the population of people who get vaccinated.

I think the question will be, how long does it take for the vaccine to kick in? For example, with this study, it was about 43 days when you started to see enough antibodies to start neutralizing the virus.

So, what is that, two -- a month-and-a-half? So, you have to think about, does someone need a booster shot at that point? There's all these things considerations, is my point, Jake. But yes is the answer to the question. Early next year, spring, summer, around that time frame, is conceivable.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about side effects, because Moderna said that they -- there are some side effects, including a fever in certain patients.

How concerning is that?

GUPTA: Yes, they -- one of the things that the NIH came back to Moderna with early on and said, in addition to testing this vaccine, we want you to start doing various dosing trials.

So they're doing anything -- everything from 25 micrograms to 250 micrograms. That's 10 times -- ten-fold difference.

We actually interviewed one of the participants who received the 250 micrograms, and exactly what you said. He had fever. He had sort of malaise, did not feel well for a couple of days, he said, and then recovered, and felt fine at the time that we talked to him, which was a couple of weeks after he received that second shot.

The first shot, he felt fine with. It was the second shot that caused these symptoms. That's going to be a question mark.


And keep in mind that most of these trial participants are pretty healthy people otherwise. What happens when you give it to people with preexisting conditions, people who are elderly? That is the whole dosing regimen that sort of needs to be figured out here, because it might be different for certain people.

Certain people may need to get smaller doses, and then a booster, and so forth.

TAPPER: And, of course, we need to continue addressing this with humility, given how little we know about this and why it kills some people and not others.


TAPPER: So, I want to -- before you go, I want to ask you about this piece you wrote for called "If the United States Were My Patient," a really interesting piece.

And you write -- quote -- "We have been infected, and we are only partway through the miserable therapy. If we stop now, however, it may not just be back to square one. We may be worse off than we started. The metaphorical resistant bacteria may be unleashed."

Explain what you mean by that. Why do you think we could be worse off?

GUPTA: There was two points.

You know, keep in mind, Jake, when we started the pause in this country, sort of encouraging people to start staying at home in the middle of March, there were some 80 people who had died at that point and around 4,500 people who'd been infected.

And it was enough of a concern at that time to say, we need to initiate these stay-at-home measures. It seems a little hard to understand why now, when we have as many people as you see on the screen there infected, and as many people who've died, now we're saying it is time to reopen.

The virus hasn't changed. It's still out there. It's still contagious. My concern is that, if you have that many people who are infected, and you start to open things up, you could start to get significant clusters, even more so than at the beginning of when we started this whole process.

By the way, I should just clear -- clear -- the bacteria is obviously treated by an antibiotic. This is a virus. But the point I was making there was that, if you give an antibiotic therapy, you're always told to take the full course, right? If you stop halfway through, then, sometimes, what you do is you kill the easy-to-kill bacteria, and the hard-to-kill bacteria remain.

They start to replicate, and the infection overall becomes harder to kill. I was trying to draw a metaphor there. But I was in the hospital taking care of patients over the weekend, thinking about, how do I have these conversations with patients, and realizing that, over the last few months, it's been a very similar conversation about what's happening in the country.

So, I thought to sort of humanize this a little bit for people, to make them understand why this therapy is necessary, why we have to be diligent and thorough with it, I thought I would draw on this example of the country as a body.

TAPPER: Well, people should check it out. It's on

Sanjay, thanks so much, as always.

GUPTA: You got it.

TAPPER: And be sure to listen to Sanjay's daily podcast, "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction." You can get it wherever you listen to podcasts.

Coming up: As the death toll nears a devastating 90,000 people in the U.S., Trump administration officials are publicly arguing over who is responsible, with a dispute over the CDC happening all over television.

Plus, man's best friend can detect many diseases in humans, but are dogs able to sniff out coronavirus?

That story ahead.



TAPPER: In the politics lead today, a feud between top Trump administration officials and their own health experts has spilled into the public view. Today, after the White House trade adviser went on national television and accused the CDC of letting the country down when it comes to testing, the Department of the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar rebuked those comments as, quote, inaccurate and inappropriate, and a senior CDC official accused the Trump administration of ignoring the science.

As CNN's Jeremy Diamond now reports for us.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the U.S. death toll nearing 90,000, President Trump and his top officials are shifting blame, finding scapegoats everywhere but inside the White House.

Peter Navarro, a top White House official, pointing a finger at the Centers for Disease Control, whose initial coronavirus test kits malfunctioned.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down. That did set us back.

DIAMOND: A senior CDC official telling CNN in response, this administration has shown time and time again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science and they don't seem to want it.


DIAMOND: And Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also firing back, putting the infighting out into the open.

AZAR: The comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate.

DIAMOND: Azar instead tied the U.S.'s high death toll, higher than any other countries to preexisting health issues among Americans, not the administration's response.

AZAR: We have a significantly disproportionate burden of comorbidities in the United States, obesity, hypertension, diabetes. It's about simple epidemiology and stating that if we have hypertension, if we have diabetes, we present with greater risk of severe complications from this coronavirus.

DIAMOND: As for the president and his spokeswoman, they are firing at a familiar target.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Perhaps I should redirect your question to President Obama who left the stockpile empty. President Obama left it empty and it took President Trump to refill it.

DIAMOND: Today, President Trump echoing that false criticism, claiming he was little by Obama even though he was in office for three years before the coronavirus began to spread.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, he was an incompetent president.

DIAMOND: Trump is also attacking Obama on other fronts, implicating his predecessor in a baseless conspiracy via Twitter, as Obama spent part of the weekend taking veiled swipes at Trump's handling of the coronavirus.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: This pandemic has fully finally turned to back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing.


A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge.

DIAMOND: As Obama addressed graduates, Trump was at Camp David, huddling with conservative allies, where one source said he was finally focused on how to make his latest Obama conspiracy theory stick.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, the president today was once again unable to define the crime he claims that the former president committed, saying only that he believes President Obama directed the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign. Earlier today, though, Jake, the Attorney General Bill Barr said that he does not expect that the review of the Russia probe will lead to criminal investigation into former President Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden. President Trump today responding to that, saying he was surprised by those comments and insisting once again he has no doubt that President Obama and Vice President Biden were involved, again, without any evidence -- Jake.

TAPPER: No evidence. He likes to make things up like that all the time.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much.

Coming up next, the Fed chair's theory on how long it might take for the U.S. economy to recover as a critical industry returns to work.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our money lead today, hope of an economic jump-start today as the big three U.S. automakers reopened idle U.S. factories, 59,000 workers could restart today at Ford, 16,000 at Fiat Chrysler, and 15,000 at General Motors. Each plant promised to take precautions to protect workers such as temperature checks as employees arrive, spacing out workstations and allotting time in between shifts to clean. Fiat Chrysler put up plastic dividers and dining areas to separate workers.

Let's bring in CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley now to talk about this.

Julia, you say re-opening is a big test for the automakers.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR, FIRST MOVE: It's a huge test. Can you run an efficient business while keeping thousands of workers safe? That's the bottom line. But there are other big tests here, including the supply chain, also end consumer demand -- does that recover?

But cars need parts and these suppliers that feed these automakers have been without money for weeks too. That's a huge risk and they're struggling at the same time. In the end, this is an industry that supports 10 million American jobs. There's now a bipartisan push to get targeted loan support to some of these businesses.

TAPPER: There's talk, I've heard, of bringing back the Cash for Clunkers program from the great recession, 2009, when the Obama administration offered consumers rebates to buy new cars. Might that be motivation enough, motivation to convince people to spend money on cars now?

CHATTERLEY: Some consumers, yes, but one of the big criticisms -- well, over ten years ago was that it favored wealthier buyers. You can argue that's more of a problem with the jobless rate that we've got right now. It also meant more sales from automakers but it also crashed the used car industry, and the after-care service.

In the end, it's going to come down to desperation. Morgan Stanley thinks we could see sales drop 30 percent this year, and that gets the cash for clunkers mark two across the finish line. I'd argue there are probably better ways to spend this money.

TAPPER: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell had a number of headlines in his CBS interview. One of the biggest was that economic recovery may stretch through the end of 2021. You believe that his comments made on "60 Minutes" were intentional.

CHATTERLEY: For a couple of reasons. He can't tell lawmakers what to do, but, oh, boy, can he spell out the risks, and that's what he did once again, depression era jobless rates, growth collapse in this quarter, a long and drawn out recovery. He used it basically say, more support is required. Congress, do the math and are you explaining? You need to spend money and you need to do it quickly. But he also sent a message of confidence to the American public. He said, look, we will recover, we'll get through this. Don't bet against the American economy. We just have to get to that point first.

TAPPER: And we're going to hear directly from Powell and the Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin tomorrow at the Senate. They're going to testify. Again, the audience is going to be important for Powell.

CHATTERLEY: We're going to get polite Powell as always. He's always very cautious about the way he approaches this. But the message again is clear, businesses need to be in a position where they can rehire. Workers need to be incentivized to go back to work, but at the same time protected.

Do we have those conditions right now? Not yet. And that's Congress' job to fix it, not the Feds.

TAPPER: CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley, as always, thanks so much. Good to see you.

CHATTERLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, President Trump has now fired or replaced four watchdogs of his administration in just the last six weeks. He just addressed the latest move moments ago. The president's comments, next.