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Promising Vaccine Trial; U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Top 90,000. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 15:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

It is early data. There's a long road ahead, but it appears to be giving some hope today. The biotech firm Moderna is reporting early data from its vaccine trial, saying it shows patients developed antibodies against the coronavirus.

Again, it is early, and it is a small study. But the company says that it will soon be moving to the new phase in the trial, which is much larger involving something like 600 people.

This is still far from conclusive, but people are definitely looking for some good news today, all the time at this point, let's be honest.

The death toll in the United States from this coronavirus is now near 90,000. Looking at the overall continued spread of the virus, the numbers are staggering. They continue to be. Almost 1.5 million people in this country have been infected.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, she's been following the very latest. She's joining us now.

Elizabeth, what more are you learning about this early reporting from Moderna on this vaccine trial?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what we're learning is that they looked at eight participants who were vaccinated, and they found that even at a relatively low dose that they developed neutralizing antibodies to the novel coronavirus.

So what those antibodies do is, they bind, they latch on to the virus and they disable it from infecting human cells. I spoke earlier with the chief medical officer at Moderna, Dr. Tal Saks. Let's take a listen.


DR. TAL ZAKS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: These antibodies were proven to be able to block the ability of the virus to infect cells. Even at the lowest dose that we tested, the 25 microgram dose, we are already seeing an immune response at the level of people who've been infected with this virus and are believed now not to be susceptible to further disease.


COHEN: Now, they did see some side effects. A few people developed flu-like symptoms, but that was at a very high dose. So they're going to move forward to clinical trials with lower doses.

So speaking of moving forward, let's take a look at the timeline. Right now, Moderna has vaccinated somewhere between 60 and 100 people. In July, they plan to start large-scale clinical trials, and that typically involves tens of thousands of people.

And that's where the rubber hits the road. That's where you find out if this vaccine helps people in the real world, not just in a laboratory. And so they hope to have this vaccine on the market sometime between January and June of next year.

But, Kate, I will be very clear. Dr. Zaks was not making promises. He was not guaranteeing anything. He said that is what they hope. They think that's realistic, but they're not 100 percent sure that they will have their vaccine in the first half of next year -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, hopes running up against expectations, running up against reality.

Great to see you, Elizabeth. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is Dr. Paul Offit. He's director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Offit, it's great to see you. Thank you for coming in.

I want to get your thoughts on this news from Moderna. What do you think of it?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, I can't emphasize strongly enough how preliminary these data are.

I mean, we don't yet know that this vaccine is safe in large numbers of people. We don't know that it's effective. We know that it's induced an immune response, a so-called neutralizing antibody response. But that doesn't necessarily mean that people are going to be protected against disease.

The only way to know that is to test that vaccine, frankly, in at least thousands, many thousands of people, in a prospective, placebo control trial, where you can prove that it's safe and prove that it's effective.

Right now, it's been tested in the amount of people that you would invite to a small outdoor barbecue. That's not enough.

BOLDUAN: That's right. And your caution is so important.

And I have heard that from others who are experts in the vaccine realm. And that's why I wonder. The White House's new vaccines czar, Moncef Slaoui, he -- on Friday, he said the following: "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."

We don't know exactly if he's specifically talking about this trial. But just, in general, what is your reaction to the White House or anyone setting expectations like this right now?

OFFIT: I wish they would be a little more humble about this.

I mean, nature gives up its secrets slowly, gradually, and often with a human price. We have learned sort of time and time again to go slowly and carefully, because, often, there's surprises, things that were unprecedented, unanticipated.

And now you have a technology, messenger RNA, where, for the first time ever in vaccines, we're not giving the -- in this case, the virus, or, in this case, sort of the purified protein on the surface of the virus that we care about. We're giving the genetic material, so that then the person themselves makes the protein, to which they then make an immune response.


That's never been done before. And I think we should be open-minded to the fact there may be things that we hadn't anticipated that are about to happen.

The only way to know whether this is vaccine is safe and effective is to test it, frankly, in tens of thousands of people in a prospective, placebo control trial. And, hopefully, that will begin in July. And, hopefully, we will be able to get the kind of numbers that show us that.

But it's then and only then that I think we can step up to the microphone and say, I think we have something.


One question with any new medicine -- and that, of course, includes vaccines -- is the potential of side effects. And these are concerns that you know well as a leading expert on vaccines. And this is a discussion that has led to misguided fears in recent years relating to vaccines.

Vaccines are so unique, because you're giving them to healthy people. You're not giving them an experimental drug when they're sick. What level of side effect do you think will be acceptable for a coronavirus vaccine?

OFFIT: Right.

I think we'd be willing to accept the side effect that Elizabeth Cohen mentioned earlier, which is to say, say, low-grade fever, flu-like symptoms, to prevent a disease that's killing 1,000 to 2,000 people a day, I think we wouldn't be willing to accept is any more severe side effects.

And that's what people are concerned about. You want to make sure, as has happened occasionally in the past, that sometimes when you give a vaccine and then you're exposed to the natural virus, you develop something called a vaccine-induced immunological, pathological response.

That, we need to make sure doesn't happen. And we can do that before approval, if we do a large enough study, so that we can reassure ourselves, when we put in tens of millions of people, that doesn't happen, because, remember, most of the people who are going to get this vaccine are healthy young people who would not normally die of this virus.

So you want to make sure you hold it to a high standard of safety.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly.

One quick question, because this kind of runs up against herd immunity, this idea that you don't need a vaccine because, if enough people get exposed, the population will essentially be protected and the virus will go away, I have heard that from a member of Congress.

But you also heard kind of the concept from the president when he said that the virus will pass with or without a vaccine. Can you just speak to that?

OFFIT: I don't think that's true.

I think, as a child of the '50s, I had measles. That meant I was protected against measles for the rest of my life, as was everybody who was infected with measles. And yet, every year, there would be about several million cases of measles, causing 48,000 hospitalizations and about 500 deaths, because, every year, there would be a susceptible population of people.

That would be true here too. The only way that we're going to get true population immunity is with a vaccine.

BOLDUAN: Period, honestly.

Dr. Offit, thank you so much for being here. Great to have you.

OFFIT: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: So, by now, nearly every state is reopening parts of their economies or making plans to do so.

Over the weekend, we want to show you some scenes in some places. What used to be, honestly, just normal everyday life now seems anything but that when you see this, crowds on beaches, at bars, restaurants across the country and appearing, in some cases, that folks are just clearly ignoring social distancing guidelines. When you -- then, when you look at the national picture, take a look

at this. In a majority of the states, the rate of new cases is trending down right now. That is good news. But look closer at individual states and the picture continues to be complicated.

In Texas, the rate of new cases is popping up, not just going up, but spiking over the weekend. This Saturday saw the largest single-day jump in infections.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Dallas. He's joining us now.

Ed, the governor is speaking soon. What are officials saying about what's behind the jump and what are they planning to do about it?


Well, the governor here in Texas is just sitting down, beginning to make some new announcements. No headlines that we can report to you just yet. We will have that here shortly.

But there's been a great deal of concern about what the state of Texas saw over the weekend. State health officials reporting on Saturday a jump of 1,800 new coronavirus cases being reported here in the state. This comes as some 32,000 tests were being reported as well.

Now, if you take a look at the average over the course of the last 14 days, which now includes all of that time period inside the beginning of this phased reopening of the Texas economy, you can kind of see how it slowly kind of upticked.

And then you might notice there at the very end of that graph how it drops dramatically. Yesterday, it was 785 -- I believe in 785 coronavirus cases being reported here in the state of Texas. But if we look a little bit deeper at those numbers, it was almost less than half of the tests that were reported yesterday.

If you do the math there, the percentage works out to be about the same. So, if you compare to where we are today as to where we were about two weeks ago, a slight uptick in those number of coronavirus cases.


The governor here in Texas moving full steam ahead with the idea of reopening the Texas economy in what he describes as a phased approach.

Opening up today, gym, exercise facilities can open up at a 25 percent capacity. Nonessential manufacturing is also getting the green light, as well as offices and businesses inside of office buildings, and those getting the green light to reopen as well today.

So, having said all of that, there is still a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty about where all of this is headed. If you look at some of the other medical data that the governor here in Texas saying he is relying upon, much of that has been kind of stagnant and flat for the better course of the last two weeks as well. So, that's why many especially big city leaders here in Texas feel

that we're in a very precarious situation right now -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thanks, Ed.

So, any moment now, researchers behind that very influential coronavirus model are going to be updating their -- updating their projections. In the past few weeks -- we're talking about the IHME.

In the last few weeks, the IHME model has projected that the death toll would be higher and projected -- last week projected a big jump of 10,000 cases and deaths in terms of their projections last week.

Now more and more states are reopening. There is more movement among those states.

Let's figure out where things stand now today.

One of the professors behind the study joining me now with a preview, Ali Mokdad, professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

Ali, it's great to have you back.


BOLDUAN: What are you -- what -- give us the update today.

MOKDAD: So, we're going to release new numbers this afternoon.

And we are seeing the -- we're monitoring mobility right now. And we're trying to find out if increase in mobility means increase in mortality. But, clearly, what we are seeing right now that people, as they move, they're more likely to wear a mask and keep a social distance.

So, this is the good news that will come out this afternoon.

BOLDUAN: So, good news.

Tell me what you think that could actually mean, because, last week, when we spoke there, a big jump in the projected death toll, 10,000, up to 147,000 deaths projected through the beginning of August. That was our conversation we had last week.

This week, you're seeing a very different change.

MOKDAD: No, we see -- Kate, that's a very good question.

We're seeing right now some states still have problems and they're increasing, and some states are doing much better. Right now, it's a function of testing. And we are seeing right now about 90 tests per 100,000 in the U.S., on the average. We need about 300 per state.

And there is a huge variation, where you see some state around 45. Some states are doing 350, huge variation in the number of testing. The problem we are facing in the data, Kate, is we don't have from -- only from 10 states how many admissions of COVID-19 are happening right now.

And we need this information, because, as testing increases, we need to make sure that we take out people who are symptomatic and focus on those who are symptomatic to have a better idea of what's happening for the virus. That's one.

The second one that we're having a problem was from the data standpoint. We don't have a coordinated national sample right now by state that is done exactly the same way, that we figure out how many are detected every day and how many are new.

Right now, we don't have that. New York did one survey like this. States are doing their own different things. There is no coordination for us to get a good picture and enable us to compare apples to apples across the states.

BOLDUAN: One thing I know that you all have discussed publicly in the last couple of weeks, I guess, would be trying to find a way to account for one element of -- one factor in all of these policies and strategies that we have seen across the country, which is wearing masks.

Have you been able to account for that?

MOKDAD: Yes, Kate.

We are going to release data that's accounted for wearing masks, and we will release on our Web a map by the U.S. how many people our wearing masks. It's very important to remind everybody that masks do work. And we see an effect of masks for reducing the transmission of the virus.

And we hope, as we are moving outside of our homes, everybody is doing their part by wearing the mask and keeping a safe distance from each other.

BOLDUAN: One part of our conversation last week was talking about how the full effect of the early opening up in the states was not really yet able to bear out in your projections because more time needed to pass.

Do you think you're now in a place where you think the full effects of early opening are accounted for in your projections?

MOKDAD: Yes, for some state, we can see that. We can see what's happening in these states.

And you and I talked last time about Georgia and North Carolina. And we will see that effect in North Carolina and the effect on Georgia. The fact when Georgia relaxed was flattening, when North Carolina relaxed when it was going up, so you see a diversion here between what we see in Georgia and North Carolina in terms of infection and mortality, unfortunately.



Ali Mokdad, thank you so much for coming in. Again, we will look forward when those projections do release very soon. Really appreciate it.

MOKDAD: Thank you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us: the Trump administration now fighting amongst itself, the White House vs. the CDC, all over testing and the coronavirus.

And later: a new study revealing what could have happened if states had not put social distancing orders in place -- what they found and what that means now that states are opening up.



BOLDUAN: In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, the administration is now publicly fighting amongst itself for who is to blame or for not moving fast enough when it comes to testing.

One top White House adviser, Peter Navarro, he blamed the CDC yesterday. And, today, HHS Secretary Alex Azar fired back.


PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: 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 with the testing, because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy.

They had a bad test. And that did set us back.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate. The CDC had one error, which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the tests that they had developed.

There was a contamination that didn't affect the accuracy of the test, just led to inconclusive results. They fixed that within weeks and got it out.


BOLDUAN: How's that for a coordinated response? And where does that leave the status of widespread testing, which is the cornerstone in containing the virus?

Joining me right now is Dr. Rajiv Shah. He's the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, former head of USAID under President Obama.

It's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: So, testing is the whole ball game.

First, on this fight within the administration, you now have a CDC official who told CNN this.

I will read it to you: "This administration has shown time and again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science, and they don't seem to want it."

That's a top CDC official about this White House.

What's your reaction to this?

SHAH: Well, my reaction is that I actually believe there's plenty of capacity for Republicans, Democrats, scientists, industry leaders and local officials to come together and create a testing strategy for America that can get us from the one million tests a week we were at just a couple of weeks ago, then up to three million tests a week, which is achievable and achievable very quickly, and then to the 30 million tests a week that the Rockefeller Foundation has called for.

And I know that because we have created a testing action plan by bringing those partners together, and we included in our expert group former Republican officials, former Democratic officials, because this is not really about politics or assigning blame. This is really about, in the midst of battle, coming up with really evidence-based solutions to expanding testing.

Testing is the only way to keep the U.S. economy operational during a period of time where we're still waiting for a vaccine and a treatment.

BOLDUAN: This seems like absolutely no time, maybe the worst time to be finger-pointing, when you're still in the middle of trying to ramp up this key fact -- or factor of testing.

And I want to highlight -- you mentioned it, but the Rockefeller Foundation has done some great work in the realm of testing, laying out these markers of where the country needs to be really get a handle on this, as you mentioned, one to three million people tested a week, 30 million tested by the fall.

And that's by week, I believe. The CDC reports that, right now, 10.8 million people have been tested since the start of this crisis. That's not per week. That's not per month. Do you think the country -- I know you think -- do you think the country is going to get there? Why does the country need to get there?

SHAH: Well, America desperately needs to get there.

And so we will pull together partners from the public sector, private sector, both sides of the political spectrum, to make sure, as best we can, we do.

The reason I believe it's possible is because two-thirds of the molecular testing capacity in America that is still underutilized is sitting in research labs and university labs that are now starting to come online, but can allow for this quick expansion from one million to three million tests per week just in the next few weeks.

In order to get to 30 million tests a week, we need that kind of focus on innovation and new technology that we know we're capable of. We see more than 80 companies have emergency use authorizations for moving forward with different types of tests.

They still need to be evaluated. But we're hopeful that point-of- service tests, home kits that are affordable and effective will allow us to have a very high level of testing. And that's necessary, because, right now, the official guidance is still primarily people with symptoms are -- should be getting tests. And we know that, obviously, they need to be getting tests.

But we also believe that a lot of America's essential workers in health care settings, but also in meatpacking plants, in any setting where their work is both essential and requires them to be exposed to risk, they need to have access to tests as well, some sort of protocol so that they can report back that -- to their families and their communities that they're safe, and so that, if they're positive, they can do what's happening in Germany and Switzerland and other countries, and self-quarantine for two weeks and take themselves out of the loop of further contagion.


BOLDUAN: Look, I want to play something.

This reinforces this whole discussion of people needing to not take our eye off the ball of how important and crucial this is. This is what we were hearing the president say about testing recently, which is surprising.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could be that testing is, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated.

We have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases.


BOLDUAN: He's saying, to me, testing is overrated.

Can you respond to that?

SHAH: Yes, I led the Ebola response in West Africa in 2014. And America deployed nearly 3,000 troops. We very quickly, in the fall of 2014, tamped down that incredible

pandemic threat. And we did it by getting testing to work. When we started, it was taking eight, nine, 10 days to confirm a positive.

By the time we were succeeding, we had that down to four hours. And we were doing everything from laboratory -- helicopter transport of lab samples, to the deployment of Department of Defense bioterror labs, in order to do it with focus and effectiveness.

That's what we need in America. We need to focus on getting quick, rapid, ubiquitous testing access for symptomatic patients, but also for people who do not have symptoms, but are essential workers, both in the fight against the pandemic and to keep the rest of the economy at least functional, so that we're not losing the $300 billion to $400 billion a month that we have estimated is lost in a full lockdown.

So testing is necessary. Every part of pandemic response is test, collect the data, then trace the contacts of those that are positive, test them if you need to, and prevent contagion, so that you can get ahead of this crisis.

And that's just what has to happen. There's only one way out until we have a vaccine.


And that comes with, as you have mentioned, a clear message of who should be tested, changing the guidelines, because it has to go past people who are symptomatic at this point. It must, in order for us to get our hands around it.

Dr. Shah, thank you.

SHAH: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us: What would have happened without social distancing? There's a new study that actually puts a number to that very question.

And it's startling.