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Trump Contradicts CDC Chief's Testimony on Masks and Vaccines; Torrential Rain Causes Flooding in Florida Panhandle and Alabama; Biden Campaign Launches New Battleground Ads Today. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


The nation is bracing forks, well, a tough fall, and Americans need facts as a result of that on this pandemic, how to protect themselves, their families, everyone else. But the president is questioning the government's own scientists, the experts, the folks who study this stuff, and the data, undercutting the director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, on very simple questions, vaccines and masks.

HARLOW: On the same day, Dr. Redfield testified under oath that a vaccine would not be widely available to most Americans until next summer and the president then said we could have one in just four weeks. We're following all the details on the race for a vaccine. We'll get to the that in a moment.

Let's begin with our John Harwood at the White House with this very public contradiction. And it's not just about, you know, undercutting someone in an embarrassing way, it's about what that does to the health of the American people if the CDC is basically neutered.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question, it's a confidence question for the American people. And what we're seeing is six months into a pandemic, Poppy, that has taken more than 195,000 American lives, still 1,000 every day, the president and his struggling reelection campaign are increasingly bumping up against the calendar.

So what he's doing is redoubling his efforts to downplay the severity of the pandemic, something he told Bob Woodward months ago he liked to do. He did it yesterday by contradicting Robert Redfield, his CDC director, including on the issue of wearing masks, suggesting that they are not necessary. He sees masks as a sort of wedge issue for him, politically, even though it would save American lives, and more significantly on the issue of a vaccine, which so many people are looking at as a ticket out of this question. Take a listen.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: If you're asking me when is going to be generally available to the American public so that we can begin to take advantage a vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We think we can start sometime in October.

We'll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.

I think he made a mistake when he said that.


HARWOOD: Of course, Robert Redfield didn't make a mistake. He was repeating the consensus of public health experts. Everyone wants a vaccine. We appear to be making good progress. We could actually get approval in a matter of weeks.

The question is how quickly can it be generally available. Health care workers, vulnerable people first. But what the president is trying to do is give hope to ordinary Americans as they are judging his response to the coronavirus that it would be more widely available faster than it actually will be.

Robert Redfield, as I mentioned, was repeating the consensus of public health experts, and for that, the president smacked him down.

HARLOW: Wow. John, thank you for the reporting as always, with us.

New details also this morning about the illness that halted a key vaccine trial in its final stage before approval. CNN has obtained an internal document. This comes from AstraZeneca. And it confirms a previously healthy woman in her 30s who was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder after her second dose of the vaccine.

SCIUTTO: CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been looking into this.

Elizabeth, I mean, this is why you do broad-based trials, right? You want to test across a broad swath of the population to make sure it's safe. What have they learned for what is a serious case but it's one case? Do you know if it was tied to the vaccine, for instance, and what does it mean for the vaccine going forward?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. It is one case. It is unclear if it's tied to the vaccine. What this internal document does is it details the illness that this woman suffered and raises questions about the transparency of the vaccine development process.


COHEN: CNN has obtained an internal document from vaccine-maker AstraZeneca detailing why the pharmaceutical giant paused its worldwide clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine last week.


At first, all we knew was a study participant had a spinal cord problem.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: With an abundance of caution at a time like this, you put a clinical hold, you investigate carefully to see if anybody else who received that vaccine or any of the other vaccines might have had a similar finding of a spinal cord problem.

COHEN: But now, this internal AstraZeneca document shows more was known about the illness than was said at the time. After the pause was announced, The New York Times reported that a trial participant had been diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder which can cause muscle weakness and even paralysis. And Stat News reported that AstraZeneca's CEO said in an investors call that the participant had symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis.

AstraZeneca then called reports of confirmed transverse myelitis incorrect and said there was no final diagnosis. But AstraZeneca's own internal initial safety report obtained by CNN says the participant had, quote, experienced confirmed transverse myelitis and, quote, symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis.

The report describes how the participant, a 37-year-old woman in the U.K., was previously healthy. She had two doses of the coronavirus vaccine about two-and-a-half months apart. Then on September 2nd, 13 days after that second dose, while running, she had a trip, not a fall with a jolt, according to the report. The next day, she experienced symptoms including difficulty walking, pain and weakness in her arms.

On september 5th, she was hospitalized and a neurologist noted that her symptoms were improving. Citing patient confidentiality, AstraZeneca declined to provide more details about the woman's case, so did the University of Oxford, which is running the trials in the U.K.

On September 11th, AstraZeneca distributed its report with doctors involved with its study. That same day, the University of Oxford updated this online patient information sheet. The sheet says, volunteers in the trial, quote, developed unexplained neurological symptoms, including changed sensation or limb weakness. It does not mention transverse myelitis or if that participant's diagnosis changed.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN AND PROFESSOR OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: But we're not being provided any details, so this is creating a lot of confusion.

COHEN: On Saturday, AstraZeneca announced that clinical trials have resumed in the U.K. But in the United States, the clinical trial remains on hold and under review. Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN, it's just a matter of time before trials restart in the U.S. And when they do, investigators will need to be careful and watch out for similar symptoms.

AstraZeneca says it's committed to the safety of trial participants and to the highest standards of conduct in their studies, telling CNN, the company will continue to work with health authorities across the world, including the FDA in the U.S. and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume.


COHEN: Now, we've talked a lot about how vaccines need to be safe and effective. Well, they also need to be trusted so that Americans will get them.

Now, many are concerned that there's a lack of transparency in this vaccine development process and its transparency that breeds trust. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much. Joining us now to discuss this and other news CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, she is Chief Clinical Officer at Providence Health System. Good morning, Dr. Compton-Phillips.

The good news, right, is there are multiple tracks to a vaccine, multiple approaches and a lot of them making relatively fast progress. Where does that stand in terms of timing, for one, when we can expect approval, and, two, a different question, when it can be widely available?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, those two things are definitely one after the other, that you have to have approval first and then you give it to the highest risk groups, including, like you said, health care workers and high-risk patients and then broadly available, right? So there is usually a period of months between those two things.

But more to that first point, that one of the reasons why we keep saying, don't rush this, don't push this, the goal is not to have a vaccine before the election. The goal is to have a vaccine as soon as it's proven effective so that we can actually convince people to take the vaccine. Because without that, we can't.

And, by the way, that's exactly why Dr. Redfield was saying wear a mask. Wear a mask. It has no side effects. You're not going to get transverse myelitis from wearing a mask, right? So what can we do in the meantime while we work on proving the vaccine is safe and effective?

HARLOW: So, the president, Dr. Compton-Phillips, made this claim yesterday about where he believes the virus will be in the United States come Election Day, which is close, November 3rd. Listen.


TRUMP: The most foolproof thing, the thing that really works is you go to the ballot box. It's going to be very safe. I think by that time, COVID will be even lower. It's going to be very low. [10:10:01]

It's going to be a very safe process.


HARLOW: Is there any evidence that COVID will be, quote, very low in this country on November 3rd?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: There is no evidence that coronavirus will be very low. If you just look at the trajectory, you know, right now, our cases are not going down, not broadly anyway. In fact, they are still going up in several states. And we're in the midst of the fall season, where we're starting to have to move everything from outside to inside where we're worried about people being much closer together and the risk of transmitting a respiratory virus higher again.

And so there is very few scenarios I can come up with that are realistic that would have all the sudden coronavirus plummeting like a rock.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So, realistically, it's many months before a vaccine is widely available, just how this works, even with the positive progress we've seen? Interesting comments from the CDC director, Redfield, yesterday talking about a mask not just being a stop gap measure but one that could have broad safety effect across the population before a vaccine. I want to play that and get your sense of this.


REDFIELD: I might even go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a Covid vaccine.

TRUMP: I think there's a lot of problems with masks.

The mask is a mixed bag. There are some people, professionals, Scott, you would know a lot of them, but there are some people that don't like the mask because of the touchiness and the touching and then you're touching everything else.


SCIUTTO: Let's set aside that claim because the science contradicts the president. Let's focus on Dr. Redfield saying that a mask can, in the interim, be as effective as a vaccine and protect you. Do you agree?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I absolutely do agree. Masks not only protect other people, which is what we initially thought early in the spring, right, the fact that you contain your droplets to yourself so that if you happen to have coronavirus, you don't spread it.

But also now, there's evidence to say that even if you're wearing a mask, if you're around somebody else with coronavirus and you do get infected, your odds of having symptoms from that infection are half as high, that if you get infected because you will breathe in a lower number of other people's droplets, you'll get a lower titer of the virus and you'll have less chance.

And so masks protect both you and others. They are great tools.

SCIUTTO: such an important point, because it's not just about any infection because we have talked frequently, Poppy and I, with doctors about how had the viral load makes the difference, right? It's not just the exposure but how much you're exposed. So that's something I didn't know. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks for making us wiser, Dr. Compton-Phillips, we appreciate you very much.

Well, party is over, college is cracking down as outbreaks grow across campuses across the country. We've got more on what they are doing.

SCIUTTO: Plus, catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Sally prompting hundreds of rescues along the Florida/Alabama border. Local officials fear many more people could be in danger over the coming days.

And tensions only getting worse at the Justice Department after Attorney General William Barr has equated hundreds of career prosecutors who work under him as preschoolers.



SCIUTTO: All right, the latest on Hurricane Sally this morning, at least one person is dead, another person missing in Alabama in the aftermath of the storm. More than half a million people without power, that's a huge number, hundreds of thousands as the storm moves further inland. It also takes a long time to restore that power. Downed trees and power lines making roads impassable and this is key, dangerous.

HARLOW: Very. Flooding, a major problem in the Florida Panhandle. First responders rescued nearly 400 people near the Alabama border, and they fear many more could be in danger in the coming days.

Our Correspondent, Rosa Flores, joins us this morning in Pensacola, Florida. Good morning, Rosa.

We are hearing that some counties there have set up curfews just, you know, trying to keep residents inside and safe.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right. And they are also afraid of looting, Poppy. Here is the good news where I am in Pensacola, like you mentioned. There was a lot of rain, this was a very slow-moving storm, about 30 inches of rain in about four hours, but it has receded.

Take a look around me. You can see that it has receded, but there is still some ponding. You can see that some cars are underwater. There's a car back there that's tipped over and there's still some debris. Now, the water has receded significantly, but there are still a lot of signs of the damage.

On this road, if we were to keep on walking, you would see that the blacktop actually lifted off, peeled off and then you've got boats like the one you see over my should that went aground.

Now, we did some driving around just a little while ago to take a look at the lay of the land. There's also barges that look just like this all along the road heading towards the three-mile bridge. And you've probably heard about this.

But the locals call it the three-mile, it's the bridge that connects Pensacola where I am to Gulf Breeze. Well, there was a barge with a crane that hit that bridge.

I talked to a local official here who says that there were very intense moments because a portion of that bridge fell off, and then that barge started heading towards the I-10 Bridge. Now, if you've ever been in this part of the country, you know that that's the main thoroughfare.


And if you've been here, you've been on that bridge.

And so officials were watching this barge, not being able to do anything other than close the bridge for the safety and security of any of the drivers.

And then about half a mile from that bridge, Jim and Poppy, the barge went aground. The Coast Guard then was sent out to secure it.

I should add that Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to be here today. He says that, in total, there were about 600 search-and-rescue missions in these three counties in the Florida Panhandle, and he has activated 500 members of the National Guard. They are going to be out here assessing the damage and also helping folks out. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Rosa Flores, good to have you there.

First, it was the president. Now, it is Joe Biden's turn to face questions directly from voters. What should his message be as we face the homestretch of the 2020 campaign? We're going to discuss with Presidential Historian Jon Meacham, next.



HARLOW: Well, the Biden campaign is blitzing battleground states with new ads. Here is a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I voted for Trump in '16, and I'll be the first to tell you, I made a mistake. The pandemic has been tough on everybody. President Trump is not responsible for this virus. Nobody was going to be able to stop that. But he was totally negligent on how he informed the people.


SCIUTTO: This ad is airing in several states, including Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden will take part in a CNN town hall tonight in his birthplace of Scranton, his first town hall since becoming the Democratic nominee.

We're joined by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Presidential Historian Jon Meacham. He has got a new book out, His Truth is Marching On, John Lewis and the Power of Hope. We should also mention that Jon has a new podcast called, It Was Said, chronically some of the most impactful speeches of our time. Jon, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: You know former vice president well. I want to ask you as you see campaign ads like that, but even the broader framing of this election at this point, do you worry at all that this election is being framed too much around Trump, an up and down vote on him, as opposed to how and what Joe Biden's view of the country is independent of Trump?

MEACHAM: That's a great question. I think that that ad you just showed, which I hadn't seen before is exactly the right thing to do, which is you is can't reach the very few folks who voted for Trump who are actually thinking about re-litigating their choice without admitting that you get it.

2016 was a complicated election. There were people who were voting -- people who had voted for Obama and then voted for Trump. And I used to joke, I wanted to meet those people. But there are a lot of them because they don't believe that the system, as constituted, was responding to their needs, and that's a legitimate impulse to make a change vote, as happened in 2016.

But what happens in America, and what I think Vice President Biden is arguing, is you have to use your brain at some point. You have to use reason instead of giving in to passion. And it's just a clinically- based, historically-based assessment that says, we tried something for four years and it hasn't really worked out.

HARLOW: Jon, I think that actually -- and I've been a listener of your new podcast, It Was Said, and it is hauntingly beautiful and important for people to listen to. The latest episode struck me a lot, and it's about Meghan McCain eulogizing her father, the late senator, John McCain. I want people to listen to this part because I think it really pertains to the election that we're in right now. Let's roll it.


MEACHAM: The style and delivery of the eulogy was not what her father would have wanted but was the essence of his instruction. Passionate and direct, guided but an unflinching devote to country and family, it was the accurate reflection of a man who spent virtually his entire life engaged in America's battles, both military and political.


HARLOW: So much of it is about decency regardless of party. And the moment when McCain corrected that voter in Minnesota who called former President Obama an Arab that she didn't trust. Does America want and value decency and rhetoric anymore from either side?

MEACHAM: I think so. I don't think it's as overwhelming as you and I might want and might like to think. This country is big and complicated, lived under slavery or with slavery from 1619 until 1865, and then we did 100 years of Jim Crow.


And now, we have a de facto systemic racism that continues.