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AstraZeneca Pauses Vaccine Trial After Unexplained Illness in Volunteer; Justice Department Wants to Defend Trump in Defamation Lawsuit Linked to Rape Accusation; Fauci Stresses Importance of Minority Participation in Vaccine Trials. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Two of the nation's top medical experts will testify in just a matter of minutes. That's a live picture there from the Hill. The Director of the National Institutes of Health and the surgeon general will address the role vaccines play in preventing infectious disease outbreaks and protecting public health. But this morning, there is a new obstacle in the race for a vaccine.

HARLOW: Drug giant AstraZeneca is completely pausing its global trials of their COVID vaccine after one of their volunteers became unexpectedly sick. This halt, they say, is normal. It's a normal precaution as the company gathers more data to figure out what it was that made this person sick.

All of this as a group of 11 directors of the National Institutes of Health made their plea for more testing. Their message, test, quote, as many people as possible.

Let's begin with our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. We'll get to the NIH news, which is really significant, in a moment, but just explain why AstraZeneca is pausing the vaccine trial and the broader implications of that.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Poppy. This is the way it's supposed to work. When you do these trials, you are enrolling tens of thousands of people. There is a chance that one or more of them are going to become seriously ill. You don't know if it's because of the vaccine or if it's just a coincidence.

And so we don't know exactly what this illness is, but this is the right thing to do. You pause it, you investigate and you see, is it because of the vaccine or isn't it.

This is one of many reasons, Poppy, why vaccine trials are so unpredictable. You never know what's going to happen. So, folks at the University of Oxford who are doing this trial with AstraZeneca, they were bragging last spring about how they were going to be first, about how they were the best, the others ones weren't very good. This is why you don't brag like that because you never know what is going to happen.

We need -- pharmaceutical executives and President Trump, they need to have humility about how fast these are going to happen.

HARLOW: That's so right. Elizabeth, thank you very much.

Joining us now is the executive director of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Georges Benjamin. Doctor, it's really nice to have you back.

GEORGES BENJAMIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION: Poppy and Jim, thank you very much for having me here with you.

HARLOW: What is your response to this news out of AstraZeneca?

BENJAMIN: Well, it tells me that the world works the way it normally works. Getting a vaccine created is a complicated process. And so I'm glad to hear that, you know, they're doing exactly the right thing by looking into it and pausing at least vaccinations for this particular vaccine for now. It tells that none of this is a sure thing.

SCIUTTO: Yes. This is why you do phase three trials, is it not, test a vaccine over a broad swath of the population, thousands of people so that you can make sure that it's safe. But you've been watch this and you're an expert and you've seen the political pressure apply. You've heard the president apply a political timetable to the release of a vaccine by the election as opposed to a medical one, which is completing those trials.

Does something like this give you confidence that science will rule the day here, right, on ultimate approval for a vaccine?

BENJAMIN: Yes. One of the things that's really true in the world is the sun comes up every morning and that science will rule the day because, look, the human body is very, very complicated. And so doing these kinds of studies on a broad number of people tells you what's actually going to happen when you get it out in the real world and not in a lab.

I think the more important thing here is that this may have nothing to do with the vaccine, this one case.


But if it does, then we need to know about it right now before they give it to a lot more people.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. I mean, it's also why the trials take a really long time usually, because if people get sick, then they have to pause and they have to start again. If we could get your take on the pausing or slowing, I should say, of some of the trials by Moderna and others because they don't have proportional representation of minorities, specifically black Americans involved. You have been so outspoken on this issue of representation of medical field, and about your call for years to declare racism a public health crisis, speak to your reaction to them slowing the trials down and if you think these ads that they're playing to encourage minority enrollment are going to work?

BENJAMIN: Well, I think, obviously, slowing it up so you can get more minorities in the study is very important and they add to a good first step. But you've got to have to have people talking about this in church. You're going to have to have radio ads. You're going to have to have lots of verifiers on social media really encouraging people to come out and get the test. They're going have to really put the full court press on this if they're going to get enough minorities in these studies, and that hasn't happened.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Doctor, millions of students are going back to school. A lot in distances and many with the hybrid kind of program and colleges we're seeing people go back too. And you are seeing infections as folks come back. How do you see schools and universities handling this? Are they doing it well? Are they testing, contact tracing, et cetera, because -- and, obviously, this is going to be a challenge for the country for weeks and months going forward.?

BENJAMIN: Yes. Let me just say that they are all over the place. Some are doing better than others, some much better than others. But everyone should understand, this was 100 percent predictable, particularly young kids who were at home and weren't exposed to the virus and the other folks who are going to college are now mingling. And so we should expect to see these outbreaks.

The real issue here is whether or not there are lot of people getting really sick from it and that we really don't know.

HARLOW: Dr. Georges Benjamin, thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it.

BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me again.

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Well, as of this morning, there are more than 37,000 cases of coronavirus at colleges and universities in all 50 states.

HARLOW: Wow. And just in the last 24 hours alone, we've learned that Bradley University in Illinois is requiring all of their students to quarantine for two weeks and temporarily revert to remote learning due to concerns over clusters linked to off-campus gatherings. West Virginia University also and reverting back to online classes after they have seen a spike. San Diego State University confirmed nearly 400 cases among their students since the first day of the fall semester, and that's just a few.

Our Bianna Golodryga has been following the story. Good morning, Bianna.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hey. Good morning, Jim and Poppy. And this is a perfect follow-up to your conversation with the doctor in the months leading up to the fall semester. I spoke with school administrators who had planned to open. Only 20 percent of U.S. colleges are offering in-person classes and they felt confident. They said, we're going to have lower attendance, so that's good, fewer people on campus, we have PPE and we have testing.

But look at where we are now, tens of thousands of students now who are infected.


GOLODRYGA: Just a few weeks into the school year, colleges and universities across all 50 states have reported more than 37,000 cases of COVID-19. UNC Chapel Hill among the first and largest schools to reopen for in-person classes was also one of the first to reverse course, sending students home to complete the semester online after just 130 COVID cases were reported.

Several colleges, including Towson University, East Carolina University and SUNY Oneonta have now done the same. For schools who had plans, PPE and ample testing, the question quickly turned to what went wrong. The answer may be as simple as campus life getting in the way.

Despite warnings, guidelines and pledges, students continue to gather off campus mostly for parties. That has led some local officials, like the mayor of Tuscaloosa, to close bars for at least two weeks.

MAYOR WALT MADDOX (D-TUSCALOOSA, AL): The ever-increasing numbers of coronavirus on campus will create two major disruptions for Tuscaloosa if left unabated.

GOLODRYGA: The governor of Iowa following suit.

GOV. KIMBERLY REYNOLDS (R-IA): So while we still know that this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community and it's spilling over to other segments of the population.


GOLODRYGA: The Greek system is also facing heavy scrutiny with outbreaks traced back to fraternity and sorority parties. Indiana University now recommending that all students living in Greek housing reconsider their live living situation.

NYU, Ohio State, Purdue and West Virginia University have all suspended students for violating safety precautions. Northeastern University in Massachusetts went a step further, dismissing 11 students for the semester without returning their tuition.

Along the way, public health experts have urged schools to keep students on campus as opposed to sending them back home even if community spread was detected.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Please isolate at your college. Do not return home if you are positive and spread the virus to your family, your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents.

GOLODRYGA: The jury is still out on whether colleges can successfully pull off in-person classes. Experts say the more planning and options a school offers, the better.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The ones who are doing that and who have the capability of handling students who ultimately get infected seem to be successfully been able to open.


GOLODRYGA: Now, Jim and Poppy, we should note that the Tuscaloosa mayor has since lifted that bar ban despite the fact that there hasn't been a steady decline in cases at the University of Alabama. as for those counties where there was a ban instilled on bars in Iowa, that goes into effect through September 20th.

But just gives you a sense of these college communities outside of campus where there are so many bars, there are so many restaurants, there's a larger community more vulnerable and older. And these mayors and local officials are really trying to mitigate the spread and keep it isolated, like you heard from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx on campus if we do see a spread in colleges.

SCIUTTO: I mean, data just shows here, right? The parties spread the virus. And let's hope the students learn. Bianna Golodryga, thanks very much.

The Justice Department now wants to step in to defend President Trump from a defamation case involving a woman who has accused the president of rape. But does that mean that taxpayers are paying for it? Does this break with precedent?

Plus, an all-out push to recruit minorities for coronavirus vaccine trials ahead. We're going to speak to one participant on why she answered the call.

HARLOW: Also ahead for us, millions of Americans, millions, still out of work and many now out of food. Officials in New Jersey say they are seeing more and more families lining up for the first time ever at their food banks. We'll speak with them.



HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

So there are some really interesting and important new questions this morning about the role the Justice Department is playing in the president's personal matters. The DOJ now wants to defend the president in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll. You'll recall, she accused the president of raping her in the '90s. The president has denied that allegation.

SCIUTTO: In response to the Justice Department's move, Carroll said, today's actions demonstrated that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying.

Here with us to discuss is Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law and CNN Contributor Steve Vladeck. Steve, good to have on this morning.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, big picture here for a moment before we get into the details of this, how unusual is it for the Justice Department, funded by you and me and taxpayers around the country, to take on what appears to be a personal case. I mean, you look at, for instance, Paula Jones who accused Clinton of a sexual assault, he used a personal lawyer for that case, not the Justice Department. So, how unusual is this and what's the argument?

VLADECK: Yes. I mean, it's unusual to hear, Jim, I think, largely because of just how broadly the Justice Department is construing the president's official duties arguing that when he allegedly defamed Jean Carroll, he was actually doing it in his capacity as president. That itself is not that ridiculous. I mean, if a food inspector hits your car with his government vehicle while he's on the job, we usually do have the Justice Department come in and defend him against a negligence lawsuit.

What's weird about this case, Jim, is the president in a capacity where it's not clear he was doing anything presidential and the timing. DOJ should have made this argument a year ago when this case was filed but they waited until yesterday. The deadline for discovery suggests this is less about the substance of principle and more about doing whatever they can to avoid letting that go forward.


HARLOW: So, if I understand this right, Steve, if the Justice Department prevails in this by proving, yes, the president was a federal employee and the comments, therefore, are somewhat protected, if you will, then the whole thing may get dismissed, right?

VLADECK: That's right. So the way the statute works is it takes what was a New York tort claim against Donald Trump, it turns it into a federal tort claim against the federal government, and congress has not authorized defamation claims against the federal government. So that's that.

The endgame here for DOJ is actually not to defend this case, it's to get it thrown in its entirety (ph). And, Poppy, of course, that depends upon the courts agreeing that Trump was acting in his official capacity and that he actually is covered by the statute of the Westfall Act.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I want to ask you about something else because this gets to the law and the election. The president, as you know, for weeks now, has been calling into question the election results just across the board, but particularly if there is no answer on election night given that you'll have more people using mail-in voting.


Kayleigh McEnany -- so this is now an official White House position because the White House press secretary has made the same argument. I want to briefly play her comments this morning and then I want to get your reaction from a legal perspective. Have a listen.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we want election night to look like a system that's fair, a situation where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That's how the system is supposed to work. And that's ultimately what we're looking for and what we're hoping for.


SCIUTTO: I mean, fact check, that's not actually true. I mean, results on election night historically are unofficial and particularly when you have to count absentee ballots, mail-in. But from a legal perspective, Steve, and tell us the significance of this argument, this attack really coming out of the White House.

VLADECK: Yes. I mean, it is not even remotely true as a legal matter. I mean, legally, Jim, the way this works is under a statute called the Electoral Count Act of 1887. States have up to 35 days to certify their results before we start getting into questions about whether Congress should override the certifications.

States have a 35-day window, five weeks from Election Day, to count all the ballots, to make sure all of the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed. And it's the certification, Jim, by the state that is conclusive, not what the network calls on election night, not what the president declares.

Jim, this is not a new thing. I mean, the election of 1800 wasn't decided until February of 1801. This has been a theme throughout American history. It is only when it's not close, and when networks like CNN are able to make projections based on exit polls and early returns that we actually know the results on election night. And even then, nothing is official until the states have all certified the results.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we don't have to go back that far. Just go back 2000, right? It's a few weeks before the Supreme Court, in fact, decided --

VLADECK: And to the 2000 example, right? The whole fight in the Supreme Court was about Florida and whether Florida could certify its electoral votes without having completed a recount. It was mid- December, and we were still talking about whether Florida -- who won Florida. That should be all of the proof the president needs that there's no requirement and there's not a tradition that we actually have final, verifiable results the night the polls close.

HARLOW: She knows. Kayleigh McEnany is a smart woman. She went to Harvard Law School, right? I mean, she knows the law on this stuff. Steve, we appreciate you setting it straight for us. Thanks.

VLADECK: Thank you, guys.

SCIUTTO: Well, experts are stressing the importance of minority volunteers in coronavirus vaccine trials. Up next, hear from a doctor who decided to participate herself in one of those trials to honor her family.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the race for an effective coronavirus vaccine has created a very intense political atmosphere, understatement of the year. The nation's leading infectious disease doctor also acknowledging the importance of public trust and the need for people of all races to be included in ongoing clinical trials.

Our next guest is a doctor who felt a duty to participate in one of those trials in hopes of being part of the solution and as a means of showing accountability. The decision made even more personal as her father died of COVID-19 and her sister, a breast cancer survivor, continues to fight the various effects of the virus.

Dr. Chris Pernell joins me now. She is also a public health physician and advocate for health justice and racial equity in medicine. Dr. Pernell, thanks so much for coming on this morning.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Good morning, Jim. Nice to be here.

SCIUTTO: So, first, if I can, let's talk a little bit more about your personal experience of this. You lost your father, sadly, who, I know, you described as a survivor and he overcame so much and your sister, though she's recovered from this, is still going through the long-term effects, a long hauler, as they're called, because for a lot of people, this doesn't just disappear in a day. Tell us how that experience helped drive you to do your part in these trials.

PERNELL: Sure. It's been surreal, right? I've always been a woman driven by a sense of purpose and ultimately that's why I became a public health physician. And then to see my family, you know, so devastated and disproportionately impacted. I lost my father to this pandemic, and I have a sister, as you mentioned, who is a breast cancer survivor, who is a long hauler. So it's given me a sense of fire in my belly to be a part of the solution. It's given me a deep and abiding resolve to help communities that are vulnerable and marginalized because we've borne this on our backs, right? Black and brown communities, we've borne this disproportionate burden. And given my interest in health equity, given my interest in racial justice, this is personal. This is a personal fight for me.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You mentioned how destructive and devastating it's been in the black community in particular. It is important, we talk about this on this broadcast frequently, participation in these trials among black Americans so that we know, right?


I mean, this is all about testing this across a broad swath of the population so you know what's safe and what's not safe.