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BioNTech, Pfizer to "Adapt" Vaccine Trial to Hit October Deadline. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 16:30   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our health lead today, the race for a vaccine just got tighter. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer which is developing a COVID vaccine with a German drugmaker announced it is going to adapt vaccine trials to have a vaccine ready by the end of October, right before the U.S. presidential election, the same timeline that President Trump keeps pushing.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports, this comes as almost half the country, 23 states, are seeing an upward trend in cases.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moderna hopes to know in November if its vaccine works.

STEPHANE BANCE, CEO, MODERNA: That's our best plan. Our best plan is October, I think it's unlikely, but it's possible.

WATT: Pfizer and its German now saying they'll probably submit their vaccine for approval by end of October. The president has a date in mind, wants a vaccine by Election Day. Many experts say that's dangerous.

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: It makes people who are not by any means vaccine skeptics normally, it makes them skeptical of the vaccine.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you have a vaccine that is highly effective but very few people get vaccinated, you're not going to realize the full important effect of having a vaccine.

WATT: A former CDC director weighing in on the current director's assertion that masks might be more effective protection against coronavirus than a vaccine, which sparked that brutal presidential push back.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CDC: It's really kind of an apple versus theoretical orange. Masks are really important, a vaccine, we don't know what the effectiveness is yet. We don't have the studies. No one knows. WATT: Meanwhile, another packed party on the Jersey Shore. According

to the governor, this is --

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): An egregious display of knucklehead behavior in Seaside Heights.

WATT: Unsurprisingly, cases are rising among young people in New Jersey right now as they are on college campuses across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in the middle of a pandemic, and the fact that people think it's okay to party now is the biggest mistake.

WATT: Meanwhile in Massachusetts; nearly 30 high schoolers now forced to quarantine after parents sent their COVID-19 positive kid to class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Parents knew they shouldn't have done that. The student knew he shouldn't have done that.

WATT: New York City schools were supposed to open in person Monday, most now pushed to end of the month.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: We made a move here of a few days to get it right.

WATT: Good news, nationwide, there are about half the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19, compared to mid July. But 23 states are now seeing their average daily case counts rise. Perhaps the best indicator of where we have tests coming back positive. Under 5 percent is the aim. Two weeks ago, we were there, averaging 4.7 percent. Now, 5.79.

ANNE RIMOIN, PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UCLA: What science says is that if you give the virus an opportunity to spread, it will.


WATT: Now, getting back to Dr. Fauci's point about, it doesn't matter how great your vaccine is, you've got to get people to take it, well, there is a new Pew Research poll that suggests that only 51 percent of Americans would definitely or probably get a COVID vaccine. And that is way down from May.


Here is perhaps one reason why. This new poll also shows that more than three-quarters of people think it is very or somewhat likely that a vaccine will be approved before safety and efficacy are fully understood -- Jake.

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

Joining us to discuss, CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, Sanjay, Pfizer and BioNTech are going to, quote, "adapt" vaccine trials to meet this October deadline. First of all, what does that mean? And second of all, this really is continuing like everything we keep hearing from the White House, keeps feeding into the idea that politics are at play more than science, or at least too much.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, Jake. And I do hear that from a lot of public health people who have nothing to do with this administration who are just scientists who call me up, often times unsolicited to share just that, telling me they can't disentangle anything they're doing from politics.

With this particular trial, the idea that they're adapting basically means they're going to try to recruit patients from other places around the world, specifically Brazil and Argentina here. I don't know if we have a graphic. But part of the reason is that you have a faster pace of growth, at least right now, in other places around the world, and they need patients, volunteers in this trial to become infected in the placebo group to be able to actually show that the placebo is not working and the vaccine is.

So, that's the adapting that's happening here. They're trying to move fast, you're right, the fact they use end of October before Election Day as sort of a target makes it seem even more political, but I speak to these vaccine manufacturers and they say our goal is to do it as quickly and safely as possible.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, just what's so disturbing about this is that Operation Warp Speed, which is the Trump administration's effort to develop this vaccine in super speed is really quite impressive and it's really been heralded, and rightly so, by all sorts of scientists.

And yet, President Trump and the White House keep making politics part of the conversation. You know, President Trump with hydroxychloroquine, with plasma, with whatever that My Pillow guy was pushing having to do with oleander extract.


TAPPER: By making his politics part of this conversation, corrupting the FDA process at least to a degree. We all want to take a safe vaccine. Do they really not even understand they're undermining their own great accomplishment here?

GUPTA: I don't think they do. I mean, I really get the sense that this is that, you know, the homerun that they want to hit and take full credit for and they keep sort of accelerating these timelines, even though to your point, Jake, Operation Warp Speed, I talked to Moncef Slaoui last week, and he said, look, it's very unlikely this is going to happen in October, probably not November, maybe December. Even at that point, we're only going to have limited doses of the vaccine available.

They're doing at risk manufacturing of the vaccine. Meaning, they're starting to manufacture certain doses even without authorization or approval. It's a bit of a gamble. But that's how they're trying to stay ahead. But you're right. I mean, it's a weird thing, Jake. Like you're

saying, pace of medical innovation has never been faster, and that should be celebrated. I mean, you know, there are remarkable things that happen from medical innovation standpoint around this vaccine. But the discouraging thing is as Nick Watt was just saying, only half the country will take the vaccine now because while it may be safe and effective, and I think there's a good regulatory process in place, the trust has been very significantly eroded.

TAPPER: Yeah. And to that point, take a listen to Dr. Fauci, one of the nation's top infectious disease experts, talking about this conflict.


WATT: I don't want to even create more of the confusion. I did not hear what the president said, I did not hear back and forth between Dr. Redfield and the president. So, that's why I kind of stay away from trying to pit one timetable against another timetable when we don't even know if we have a safe and a vaccine -- safe and effective vaccine.


TAPPER: Fauci between a rock and hard place. You know, he doesn't want to like referee. Dr. Redfield from the CDC says probably not until 2021 will we be able to get a safe vaccine to the public.

President Trump saying that Redfield is confused, he doesn't know what he's talking about, it is coming imminently. I mean, it's really very difficult for somebody like Fauci.

GUPTA: It was astonishing to watch that yesterday, Jake. I mean, I say that again as more with a medical hat on, and again, talking to lots of public health people. We knew the CDC has been undermined for several months now, maybe since the beginning of the pandemic. I mean, even people who are sounding the alarm about it being a pandemic early were marginalized at the beginning, I'm talking before end of February, early March.


But it was so obvious yesterday. I mean, that was just a complete -- complete contradiction of the CDC head. You know, the CDC -- our CDC in this country is one of the most widely respected medical organizations in the world, and China organization, called CDC in deference to our CDC, just to give you some idea. It's also quite striking, Jake, as I know you noticed, that press briefing yesterday, there's only one task force member with the president, Scott Atlas. No Fauci, no Birx, no Redfield.

I mean, people that we're used to seeing are just really nowhere to be seen when it comes to the task force briefings.

TAPPER: And we should note, Dr. Atlas is not an infectious disease expert. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and

expertise as always.

GUPTA: Yeah.

TAPPER: Attorney General Bill Barr didn't just compare COVID lockdowns to slavery. Who he's not comparing to preschoolers -- that's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today: Just days after a top prosecutor at the Department of Justice resigned, reportedly in part due to the politicization of the DOJ, Attorney General William Barr compared his remaining prosecutors to preschoolers.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest-level employees' decisions are deemed sacrosanct.

They aren't. There aren't any. Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency.


TAPPER: A Montessori preschool.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me now.

Evan, that's pretty tough stuff for his own employees. Have you heard any reaction to this from within the Department of Justice?

I think we're having trouble with Evan's feed right there.

Let me just go right now to CNN senior legal analyst and former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Trump. He joins me now to discuss this.

We will bring back Evan when the camera gets under control.

What's your reaction to Attorney General Barr comparing his own prosecutors to Montessori preschoolers?


I think it's another example of this attorney general shouting into the air, needing to prove something to himself or I guess the president of the United States.

Initially, this is a matter of leadership in an organization. You don't disgrace yourself by calling hardworking public servants in your agency those kinds of things. He should probably get out of the analogy business altogether.

I don't know why he sees the need to sort of thump his chest and say: I'm the boss of you. I'm the boss of you.

Everyone understands in the U.S. attorney's office or any other organization that there's a chain of command. I oversaw hundreds of assistant U.S. attorneys. And nobody is saying -- this is the straw man part of the argument. No one has said that I have ever heard that the lowest-level person at the Department of Justice should be setting the agenda for the department or making every final decision.

But -- and this should be especially clear for someone who's never tried a case, as far as I know, never been a line prosecutor himself. Maybe that's why he has so much disdain and disrespect for the backbone of the department.

But the people who are on the line are the ones who know the facts, are the ones who interview the witnesses. And they're the ones who make recommendations up to the chain of command about what the right thing to do is.

So, he's talking nonsense, and his nonsense has gotten more and more, I think, voluble of late.

TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to Barr comparing the coronavirus lockdown measures put in place to protect Americans to something else fairly stark. Take a listen.


BARR: Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's the -- it's the -- it's -- other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.


TAPPER: OK, first of all, that's nonsense, because you can just look at the internment of the Japanese during World War II.

I mean, there are any number of much greater civil liberty violations.

But, beyond that, I think, to African-Americans, it's offensive. What was your reaction?

BHARARA: Exactly the same as yours, Jake. It's offensive. It's nonsense. It's absurd.

Remember, these other things that he's talking about were malicious, evil, government-sanctioned impositions on people's liberty, the one you mentioned, slavery, obviously.

These lockdowns are being done for the purpose of protecting people and saving people's lives, and particularly the lives of communities of color that are more adversely affected by the coronavirus. So, again, as I said before, he should stay out of the comparison and analogy business, because it doesn't make any sense.

TAPPER: What do you think about, like, the general effect and legacy of Bill Barr and the comments that he's made as of late and actions he's taken as of late?

What do you think will be the legacy, not just among Democratic prosecutors and DOJ officials, but Republicans as well? I mean, I think there was an impression when he was nominated to replace Jeff Sessions that he would be an institutionalist, that he had done the job before, that he was an establishment guy, he could be trusted.

And I know there are a lot of never-Trump Republicans who are very dismayed. What do you think his legacy will be?

BHARARA: I was one of those people who thought that he was an adult and served before and was an institutionalist. And I was completely dead wrong about this.

So, his legacy so far, I think if it were to end today, would be a poor one, as someone who is an arm of the president, works on behalf of the president, as opposed to the people, interferes in cases only when they're associates of the president, as with Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.


But the reason I pause is because I'm concerned that his legacy is going to be much, much worse, because what we have seen so far is only prologue to the election. And with increasing frequency, he's making comments about -- without evidence, and he perfectly admits that he's making them out evidence -- he calls it logic, without evidence -- that there will be widespread voter fraud through mail-in ballots.

All sorts of other things he says will be true about the election. And so what I'm worried about is the foundation he's laying so far to do things as a bad actor on November 3, because that's what the president wants him to do.

So the legacy is not yet complete, and I worry it's going to be much, much worse.

TAPPER: Not to mention there's this thing called I think it's the Durham report, U.S. attorney who is investigating whether or not there were acts of criminality in investigating Trump during the Russia investigation, et cetera.

And there's reporting out there saying that Barr is pressuring Durham to release information before the election, even if the overall investigation is not done.

I have never heard of anything like that. Usually, these investigations end when they end, and then the information comes out when it comes out.

BHARARA: You see the sort of ironic inverse what happened with the Mueller report. That report was completed when it was time for it to be completed in

the view of Bob Mueller. And, in that instance, right, to protect the president, Bill Barr -- and he's been criticized about this by a federal district court judge -- he delayed the release of the report, so he could put out his own misleading summary of the report.

Now, when the shoe was on the other foot, and it's something that he thinks will be helpful to the president politically, he wants to rush it out. Both things were wrong. They're two sides of the same coin of someone who, as we have said, that I have said, is someone who's out to protect the president, and not much else, it seems.

TAPPER: I hear a lot of outrage from Democrats, but, I mean, they control the House of Representatives. They have seats in the U.S. Senate. I mean, if they are so outraged by the attorney general's behavior, could they -- is there nothing they can do?

BHARARA: You can begin impeachment proceedings of the attorney general. Some people have suggested doing that.

I think, with the election so close, and the possibility of new leadership everywhere in Washington, maybe they decide it's not worth doing, because they have so many other things they have got to deal with, including the pandemic.

I think, at this point, it's just a matter of waiting the number of days until we see who the next president is.

TAPPER: Preet Bharara, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

BHARARA: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next: how far people are going to not only save their homes, but their own lives, as unprecedented, record-breaking wildfires take over parts of the West Coast.



TAPPER: In the national lead today: Wildfires have now burned a record 4.7 million acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington state. The death toll is up to 34, with at least nine people missing.

On top of the devastation, crime is a growing problem. Just outside of Portland, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office says new reports of burglary and theft in areas that are supposed to be evacuated.

And about two hours south, CNN's Martin Savidge found homeowners taking it upon themselves to protect their property, or what little of it is left.


MELINDA GRIFFIN, OREGON RESIDENT: That, that's what we found when we came back.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oregon residents getting their first looks at the destruction left in the wake of wildfires still burning across the state.

GRIFFIN: This was going to be our retirement house. This was where we were going to do that.

SAVIDGE: Many in the town of Lyons finding, if they left anything behind, it's now gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a World War II town hit by firebombing, and thousands of homes destroyed.

SAVIDGE: Tens of thousands remain under some level of evacuation order. Lisa Updike is sheltering her horses at the state fairgrounds.

As for her?

LISA UPDIKE, OREGON RESIDENT: So, there's a mattress up here. And that's where I have slept the last two, three nights.

SAVIDGE (on camera): This is a horse trailer.

UPDIKE: This is a horse trailer.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Nearly 80 active wildfires are burning across the Western United States from California to Canada, consuming more than four million acres.


SAVIDGE: But, in Oregon, they're fighting more than fires. At least 15 people have been arrested inside fire zones and a variety of charges, including burglary.


SAVIDGE: Adding to challenges for law enforcement, armed citizen patrols.

Jim Perkins found us outside Lyons, where he and some friends have been keeping guard.

JIM PERKINS, OREGON RESIDENT: We weren't vigilantes. We were just -- had a deterrent.

SAVIDGE (on camera): What would you say to people who you knew were not from here?

PERKINS: Should just turn it around. Make it real simple. Just turn around. You have no business here.


SAVIDGE: There is good news. Firefighters have actually been making progress on a lot of the fires,

getting the containment numbers up. The weather is going to change tonight, rain moving in, which, of course, is also good news, except it may be too much rain, anywhere from half-an-inch to an inch.

In fact, this area now is under a flash flood watch. They worry about what they call debris flows, and they worry about landslides now -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, the dystopia of our discontent.

Martin Savidge, stay safe. Thank you so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, at Twitter @JakeTapper, or tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

Our coverage continues right now.