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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Biden Says Troops Could Stay In Afghanistan Past August 31 Withdrawal Deadline To Ensure Evacuation Of All Americans; Biden: Did Not See A Way To Withdraw From Afghanistan Without "Chaos Ensuing"; Biden: Vaccine Boosters Available Beginning Sept. 20 For Pfizer, Moderna Recipients; Miami-Dade School Board Votes In Favor Of Mask Mandate, Defying Governor And Florida Board Of Education. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 18, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Tom, thank you for that. A quick programming note before we go, on Saturday, don't miss the "We Love NYC Homecoming Concert," 5:00 p.m. Eastern exclusively on CNN.
Thanks for joining us. "AC360" starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. President Biden today announcing booster shots for all vaccinated Americans in the coming months, more just ahead on what that means for everyone, vaccinated or not.
We begin, however, with Afghanistan and the President and the administration continuing to grapple with the consequences of the decision to leave that country.
Speaking tonight on "ABC World News," he said that American troops might have to stay in country to secure the ongoing evacuation beyond his announced August 31st deadline. According to the President, now, if there's an American citizens left, we're going to stay until we get them all out.
He did not fully extend that same commitment to Afghan nationals, though he said that's the objective, and it is unclear how many Americans actually remain in Afghanistan. Yesterday, U.S. officials gave differing answers. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby in the morning said it was 5,000 to 10,000.
Yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki said it was in fact 11,000 and congressional aides were told by State Department and Pentagon officials, the number was actually between 10,000 and 15,000, according to three sources familiar with those briefings, and that is the number the President said tonight.
He also answered questions about the execution of the pullout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: So, you don't think this could have been handled -- this actually could have been handled better in any way? No mistakes?
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I -- I don't think it could have been handled in a way that there -- we are going to go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you that was always priced into the decision?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He went on to say in remarks on air tomorrow that he did not price into the decision the Taliban keeping Afghans who cooperated with United States from leaving the country. He was also asked about his earlier rosier predictions about the end game.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in July, you said a Taliban takeover was highly unlikely. Was the Intelligence wrong? Or did you downplay it?
BIDEN: I think there was no consensus if you go back and look at the Intelligence reports. They said that it was much more likely to be sometime by the end of the year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't put a timeline on it when you said it was highly unlikely, you just said flat out, it's highly unlikely the Taliban would take over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joint Chiefs Chairman General Milley also spoke to the subject today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The timeframe of the rapid collapse that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months, and even years following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: With congressional hearings planned to start as soon as next week, expect to hear a lot more on this including from a number of Democrats, some of whom saw multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Last night in the program, one of those lawmakers, Congressman Jason Crow talked about the need for safe corridors to Kabul Airport so people wanting to leave the country can do so safely. Today, though the U.S. Embassy posted this warning, it reads: "The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport." Now, bear in mind, this warning was addressed to Americans. Afghan
nationals likely need no such warning. They are already learning it firsthand.
More now from just what that reality looks like from our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward who has been doing remarkable reporting from Kabul over the entire crisis. Clarissa, I want to get to your reporting in just a moment.
But when you hear what President Biden said that this crisis is not a failure by the American government, the U.S. could not have withdrawn its troops without chaos ensuing. How do you square that with what you've been seeing and hearing from Americans and Afghans?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, if this isn't a failure, I don't really know what a failure looks like, and I think there will be a lot of people on the ground here in Afghanistan, who will be you know, a little troubled by the tone of President Biden, not that they necessarily expected an apology, but maybe at least a recognition of the fact that what's happening is horrendous, it is awful, and that these people very much do feel that they've been cast aside.
There was a glimmer, certainly of hope there in terms of President Biden, as you mentioned, appearing to commit to get Afghans out who have worked with the U.S. military or the U.S. Embassy or other U.S. international organizations. So, that's something positive, but he wouldn't be drawn on the sort of specifics of when that might happen by, if that would happen when U.S. troops are still on the ground, or maybe afterwards.
And so, I think there is still a lot of anxiety and nothing that President Biden said today would really be giving most Afghans a huge amount of security going forward -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. What did you see today in Kabul?
WARD: Well, what we saw is that, you know, even if you've got all your paperwork, which is a big if, the reality is trying to get into the airport is extremely difficult. There are scenes of chaos. Taliban fighters outside with whips, with guns.
We tried to sort of do it ourselves, to get a sense of what was possible and we found that it is not for the faint of heart. Take a look.
WARD (voice over): America's last foothold in Afghanistan is now guarded by the Taliban.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can see the Taliban all over. They don't allow anyone.
WARD (voice over): We've come to Kabul's Airport to see the gauntlet people must pass through to fly out.
WARD (on camera): You can hear gunshots every couple of minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN. CNN. CNN.
WARD (voice over): Quickly we are accosted by an angry Taliban fighter.
WARD (on camera): Can I ask you a question? Excuse me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your face first.
WARD (on camera): Cover my face? Okay. Cover my face. What is this? What is that? He told me to cover my face, but he doesn't want to comment on that truncheon he is carrying.
WARD (voice over): The fighter tells us these chaotic scenes are the fault of America. "The cause of all this is America in Afghanistan. Look at these people," he says. "America is really acting unfairly towards them. Why are they lying and telling them that they can go to America? Why don't they let them stay and help their country?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't want to talk to you.
WARD (on camera): Okay. That's fine. All right --
WARD (voice over): We keep walking to avoid confrontation. A man follows us asking for advice --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How we can enter the base?
WARD (on camera): How you can enter the base?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Because they are sending me e-mails also.
WARD: Do you have paperwork to enter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARD: Show me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To enter, no. But we have e-mail and they are calling me.
WARD: Was this an Italian company?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Italian company.
WARD: Okay, let's -- I don't want this guy to whip you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.
WARD (voice over): Others crowd around us to show their documents.
WARD (on camera): Yes, Phoenix.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is my H.R. letter.
WARD Yes. You're a translator?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. What we are doing?
WARD: They are all saying there, they all worked at American camps as translators for the Americans and they can't get into that airport.
These Taliban fighters are a little upset with that. Keep going.
WARD (voice over): We decide to leave and head for our car. The fighter takes the safety off his AK-47 and pushes through the crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay behind him. Stay behind him.
WARD (voice over): You can see that some of these Taliban fighters, they are just pumped up on adrenaline or I don't know what. It is a very dicey situation.
Suddenly, two other Taliban charge towards us. You can see their rifle butt, raised to strike producer Brent Swales. When the fighters are told we have permission to report, they lower their weapons and let us pass.
WARD (on camera): Okay, now we're going to get in the car.
COOPER: I mean, it's terrifying to watch. That is as close as you were able to get to the airport. I mean, this is what people are dealing with just trying to get there.
WARD: Yes, and Anderson, keep in mind, we're a Western film crew. We're a Western news organization, we get special treatment. What we experienced there sort of running the gauntlet to try to get near the airport, that's like a very different version from what Afghans are experiencing. And that's why you've seen some of those images. You've aired some of them on your show last night of people actually being hurt, seriously hurt, bleeding women, children getting shot.
You can see there's no real discipline with these Taliban fighters and the way that they are trying to restrain the crowds there. I do want to make one point though, Anderson, because I think it's important, which is that while the scenes of the airport are incredibly distressing and incredibly chaotic, the rest of the city is largely calm.
We saw more people on the streets today, more shops open, more cars on the road, and fewer Taliban checkpoints in many areas. So, they are trying to provide law and order, but the situation at the airport is so tense that I worry it's become like a powder keg and that one little thing could go wrong and it really could escalate into a very bad situation indeed -- Anderson.
[20:10:10] COOPER: You know, President Biden is saying to ABC that Americans who
are still in the country essentially are going to be given safe passage out, it seems like the you know, and that the Taliban are cooperating, that member of the Taliban who was you know, randomly, you know, telling you to put on your face covering and, you know, had a device to whip people with, I mean, is there any kind of hierarchy within the Taliban?
I mean, are they -- is there a higher officer on the scene? Or can any of these guys do whatever they want? They can just choose who to whip, who to strike with their rifle butts, and there is no -- they can do it -- they have impunity?
WARD: Yes. Yes, it's a really good question. And to be honest, I'm not exactly sure of how they are organizing the sort of security around the airport. To be honest, it doesn't feel very organized, it feels really chaotic.
I will say that the fighter who sort of accosted us, and then you know, was very aggressive with us and telling me to cover my face. He did at one stage say, oh, okay, you want to leave the country, and I'll take you to the airport and was sort of drawing us in even closer to where the sort of shots were being fired from.
Another important thing, I don't think you'd call that safe passage, though, just to be clear, Anderson. Another important thing that I want to emphasize as well, it's not only the Taliban who are firing, it's just that the Taliban are firing with absolutely no discipline, whereas the U.S. military is also firing trying to disperse the crowd. There have been volleys of teargas.
But they are doing it in a slightly more disciplined manner that might be more familiar to us with sort of traditional mechanisms of dispersing crowds in very tense riot-like situations.
With beggars belief, though, Anderson, against all of this, are these people who are still out there every day, every night, coming along, gathering their papers, doing it again, and you just think to yourself, how desperate do you have to be that even with, you know, whips and guns and having to sort of run this gauntlet, you're still out there, you're still trying, you're still hoping.
COOPER: I mean, you know, the tragedy of somebody showing you their certificate of appreciation given to them, you know, for some employment that they had on a U.S. base or with the U.S. military. A person like that, if they -- can they get to the airport? I mean, will those Taliban just roaming around stop them?
And, I mean, if they go to the airport, and they show a certificate of appreciation, they're not going to get into the airport, are they?
WARD: No, not without someone to help them. But you know, who else isn't getting into the airport, Anderson? When we were doing a live shot earlier on, a young man came up to us, he has a green card. He has a green card, and he can't get into the airport. Because the minute the Taliban sees that it is Afghans who are coming up to try to approach the airport, they just shoo them away.
I think that's partly because it's a chaotic scene, and they're trying to control the crowds and there is communication with the U.S. and they are trying to provide some modicum of security. But there's another side to it too, which is they know how bad these scenes look. They know that it's not good for their image that there's this crush of humanity desperately willing to risk their own life and limb to get out of the country because they don't want to live under Taliban rule. They want people to stay here.
You heard that Taliban fighters say it. He said, why are you Americans lying and telling people that they can get out of the country and go to America? Why don't you let them stay here and build their country? And of course, the reality is, you know, for so many people here, especially in a city like Kabul, a lot of Afghans just are desperate to get out and they're not interested in staying here and rebuilding their country because they're too afraid -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. And if you're an Afghan who has a green card, there's no way you would show that green card to that guy carrying around a whip on the street who could just take it, and then you no longer have your green card and if you can get to the Embassy -- if you can get to the airport, you tell a soldier, well, I have a green card, but you don't have it on you, you're not going to get in.
What do you make of the fact that there's not an accurate count of Americans still there and President Biden tonight said between 10,000 and 15,000? Hardly a precise number. The U.S. just doesn't know exactly what Americans are there.
WARD: I think that just speaks again, to this sense as much as President Biden said there's been no failure. You couldn't possibly have planned for this. Well, okay. But are there some things that perhaps the U.S. should know like how many Americans are in Afghanistan? You would think that might be something that they will be able to track and monitor pretty effectively.
WARD: But then again, when you're on the ground, as we were today, and you're looking at those scenes, and it is chaotic, and teargas is flying, and bullets are flying, and whips are being brandished, you understand that it's very difficult to have some kind of semblance of checks and balance and orderly lines. And it is almost impossible to keep track of who is going through and how many people and you know, I know a lot of Western journalists who are desperately trying to get their staff out of the country, and the only way they can really do it is to physically go to the airport with them, and evacuate them.
But for, you know -- if they're not there, then your Afghan staff or your Afghan translator or your Afghan friend, colleague, whatever it might be, is probably not going to be able to get out -- Anderson.
COOPER: Clarissa Ward in Kabul, thank you so much for you and your team are doing. Appreciate it. Joining us now Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to
Afghanistan, not to mention Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq, Ambassador Crocker, thanks so much for joining us.
You heard what the President said tonight to ABC. Chaos ensuring was unavoidable. It doesn't square with past statements that he made about a safe and orderly withdrawal. But I'm wondering what you made of what the President said.
RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: The President's comments to Anderson, not just this this evening, but going back several days now are deeply disappointing, to say the least. He seems to be blaming everything that's happened on everybody, but him, starting with the Afghan National Security Forces, belittling the fight they have put up for months and years now, the 70,000 dead for their country. They deserve a little bit better than they're getting from the President.
The irony here, of course, is listening to Clarissa's reporting, that this may be the good moment. There may be worse to come, because who are the Afghans trying to get to the airport? Well, they are Special Immigrant Visa applicants. They are individuals who need to flee because they just really fear Taliban retaliation.
And, again, it's a horrific irony that they -- the only way to get to the airport is to pass through a Taliban checkpoint or checkpoints. And what do they say? Yes, I've got a flight out because the Americans are evacuating me because I served the Air Forces, and if I don't get out of here, you're going to kill me.
So again, the disorganization, maybe a few people will get through that way. What happens when they get organized and realize who these people are?
COOPER: Yes. And I mean, if you're somebody who, you know, you have the documents, what are you going to do? You're going to present it to that Taliban guy on the street, who's standing around whipping people and angry about, you know, America and angry about people who worked for them?
I mean, the idea that you're going to show your documents to some fighter who is, you know, could take them or just, you know, beat you up, or shoot you, could do whatever they want, because you have served the United States.
You know, for those who got to the airport days ago, that was probably the smartest thing they could do to try to get to the airport. Now, it seems like unless the U.S. figures out some other way, or, I mean, is there any other brokering of some sort of deal to get Afghans out? It doesn't seem likely does it?
CROCKER: Well, it certainly doesn't, and again, particularly in this chaos. Who's in charge here? Well, you know, we don't know, we have to ask the Taliban. But I think you just put your finger again, on the awful irony here, of people trying to get to the airport, so the Taliban won't kill them, but they've got to explain that to a Taliban checkpoint before they can get to the airport. Well, good luck with that.
CROCKER: Are there alternatives that has been put out there, a safe corridor or something where the Taliban would not be checking documents coming through, that the Marines would do it, or the Army and the Marines would do it. That looks a little like mission creep and that is very scary. Any of those Marines out there can tell you what happened to Marines in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, when they had an ill-defined mission that kind of expanded in strange ways, they got blown up.
So, we are between a rock and a hard place here.
COOPER: We've already seen, you know, the Taliban in "The New York Times," in a piece the other day about what's happened in Kunduz where the Taliban took over, you know, days ago or weeks ago, and they are now trying to get civil servants to come back to the job. And you know, they're starting out by doing it nicely, then they start to threaten and force them back, because they know they need people to, you know, run the garbage collection, to make the water come out of the taps.
At a certain point, as the Taliban gains control in Kabul and figures out what's going on, aren't they going to realize that, or I assume they're going to realize that if they haven't already, that all the people who want to leave are the people who actually know how to do stuff. They are actually the people who have been running things and are educated.
And we've seen in past, you know, Mobutu throughout Haitian civil servants who had come into the country to help run the country after the Belgians left. It doesn't work when your educated class leaves the country.
CROCKER: Well, that's exactly it. And again, it is irony piled on top of irony. These are exactly the people that want to get out because they've got alternatives. They've got the means presumably to get out or more difficult, they have the service with us that entitles them to enter the United States, but I can't see any way to explain that to a Taliban checkpoint that doesn't involve unacceptable risk to the people trying to get there.
COOPER: Yes. Ambassador Crocker, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
CROCKER: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up next, how this may play out politically including the President's defense tonight of his handling of the crisis; and later, what do you need to know about a COVID booster which got the official go ahead today?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:25:01]
COOPER: The breaking news tonight, President Biden saying troops will stay in Afghanistan until the last American is evacuated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So Americans should understand the troops might have to be there beyond August 31st.
BIDEN: No, Americans should understand that we're going to try to get it done before August 31st.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we don't, the troops will stay?
BIDEN: If we don't, we will determine at the time who is left.
BIDEN: And if there are American forces -- if there are American citizens left, we're going to stay there and we'll get them all out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The President also defending his execution of the pullout saying there was no way it could have happened without chaos ensuing, which is not how he built it before the fact.
Perspective now from CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama; also CNN chief political correspondent and "State of the Union" anchor, Dana Bash, currently senior adviser to us.
Dana, so what do you make of what we just heard from the President and moving -- is a moving goalpost?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's almost as if the goalpost that he set up himself didn't exist in the interview and that really is the biggest problem that he has politically, never mind actually getting things calm and the chaos under control, if that's even possible on the ground.
But politically speaking, he has that statement, the fact that there are 300,000 troops that he was confident that they would be fighting, and there was nothing in between there and him now saying, oh, well, we -- I have no regrets and there is nothing we could have done differently. I mean, that is a huge gulf.
And it is pretty clear from the President's body language, from his cadence that he is on the defense, and this is a new phenomenon for him in his eight months that he has been in the office and pretty, pretty big one, considering the fact that he is the guy who -- and stands by this -- but he is the guy who said, I'm going to end the 20- year war. The way it is ending is certainly not how he planned and not the kind of incoming, especially from some fellow Democrats that he's getting that he expected. COOPER: But David, it is also interesting, because there hasn't been a
lot of public interest in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan over the last number of years. I mean, it just dropped off the radar. People didn't want to hear about it, didn't want to think about it. We're tired of it.
Clearly, seeing these images, you know, now people are engaged, they're watching it. And I don't know if that's something President Biden didn't expect, but it is certainly the situation he is facing right now.
For him to claim that chaos was always going to be a factor in withdrawing from Afghanistan, I do want to play what he said only weeks ago in July.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: But it's a rational draw down with our allies, and it's making -- so there is nothing unusual about it.
Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart.
There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an Embassy in the -- of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean, you know, okay, maybe the helicopter wasn't off the roof. But it's -- the pictures were pretty bad.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And there's no way to reconcile those statements, and then say, there's nothing we could have done. Obviously, one thing you could have done was get the Intelligence right. There were clearly screw ups here. They're not his personal screw ups. But you know, they are on his watch.
And so, as I said, the other night, when he made his original speech, sometimes you just have to say, we screwed up, and we're going to fix it and we're going to figure out why this happened. And it's my responsibility.
That is, I think people would respond well to that. But for some reason, I thought he was taking another bite at the apple today in this interview, and that he'd come back and he do the piece that he didn't do the other night. But instead, he dug in more and I don't understand it.
I think he has a pretty strong argument on why it was time for the United States to withdraw, and I think those people you talked about earlier, you know, the vast -- or the majority of Americans agreed with him on that.
But these images have been very, very striking and discouraging and sobering, and I do think it has changed people's opinions, and it is hurting him. You can see it in polling. The polling averages for the President over the last week have taken a pretty significant drop, and I think it would be less bad if he owned up to the fact that no, this hasn't gone the way we expected and we are going to do -- you know, we're accelerating now and we're going to try and make up for lost time.
COOPER: Dana, I'm wondering, what do you think of that? Because I mean, it's interesting idea. He is the guy who you know, ran on supposedly being straight with the American people, not sugarcoating things.
If he had said, you know what? It breaks my heart to see those pictures. This is not obviously what we wanted, things didn't go the way we thought they would, but you know what? Nothing in Afghanistan has over the last 20 years and that's why we are pulling out and we will do the best we can, and we will get Americans out and try to get out everybody who helped us. Would that have been enough?
BASH: Wouldn't have been enough, but it would have been different than the tone and the attack that he took in this interview. And my sense is that that was the plan, as David said, and he's obviously been in these meetings many times.
These kinds of meetings to take another bite at the apple, though, I actually think that one of the reasons why it was so jarring to see President Biden, as defensive as he was in this new interview is because it stood in contrast, even how he was two days ago, maybe he didn't own it as much as David would have recommended. But he did say the buck stops with me.
He did say things didn't happen. It happened more quickly than we anticipated. He was more candid then, than he was today, which was what was quite striking, because it wasn't, it wasn't on brand. It wasn't the kind of thing that as you said, Anderson, that he promised in this campaign that you would get from a President Biden.
BASH: The one thing that I do think is important is that he did say that that August 31 deadline is now no longer really a deadline that they're going to stay in. They're going to change the mission, and they're going to get out as many Americans, all Americans, and they'll do it as long as it takes.
COOPER: Yes. Well, we'll see what the Taliban says about that. They certainly have a say as well. David Axelrod, Dana Bash, appreciate it.
BASH: Yes, they do.
COOPER: Well, all of this is happening, President Biden is also trying to address the other growing problem of course, COVID just ahead why he and U.S. health officials are now recommending the third COVID shot for those receiving the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines. The Director of National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins joins us when we come back.
COOPER: It's breaking news story now in the fight against COVID, but first President Biden today announced the availability of booster shots starting just over a month from now pending evaluation from the FDA and CDC that they would be at least initially for those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Late this evening Johnson & Johnson said he would release more information soon on the question of boosting its one shot vaccine. Public health officials said the reason for third shot is that while vaccines are still highly effective against severe infection, multiple studies indicate they are less effective against milder cases caused by the Delta variant, the source of nearly all new cases now.
The WHO, the World Health Organization, pushback on the announcement saying it was unnecessary, particularly as poorer countries struggle to vaccinate their people. During his remarks, President Biden said quote, we can take care of America and help the world at the same time.
We're joined by the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins. Dr. Collins, appreciate you being with us.
So experts at the highest levels of administration had been saying they hadn't seen data indicating the general public would need boosters right now. Can you talk about the new data and what's changed?
FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, I was one of those experts. And as recently as three weeks ago, I was skeptical too. But now the newer data, some of which is published today by the CDC, and some of which comes from overseas, especially from Israel does show a waning of the effect of the vaccines over time, not enough to worry you too much right today.
What you're seeing, though, is breakthrough infections from people who were vaccinated, who do have infections that may cause symptoms. Fortunately, though, at the moment, they're not ending up in the hospital, they're not ending up severely ill. But you can kind of see the trajectory we're on.
And I think putting all that together, those of us looking at this and trying not to wait to the last minute, sort of said, let's work on this over the course of the next month, let's -- let FDA and CDC do their thing and aim that by September 20th. The people who first got immunized back in January, ought to be at the top of the list then to have access to a booster.
And that wouldn't be particularly people in nursing homes, the elderly, health care providers, all those who were first in line, when we first rolled out the vaccines should now be in a appropriate place to get a booster. I think this is just a safe way to keep us from seeing more trouble from Delta.
COOPER: So how does a person figure out when they should get a booster?
COLLINS: So the way it looks from what we're seeing in terms of the data is that about eight months, it looks as if it's time until rev (ph) that immune system back up again. And we know a booster will do that raise your antibody levels by 10, 20, 30-fold.
So that means that if you were immunized sometime by January the 20th, you would then be lined up to get a booster around September the 20th. And if you got your two shots from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of February, well, then you should be ready for a booster by the end of October just going by the clock. This seems to be what the data is telling us to do.
Now, Anderson there's nothing magic about eight. It's a little bit of a Goldilocks thing here. But we don't want to be too late. We don't want to be too early this looks like about the right place to aim the effort in order to try to save lives.
COOPER: Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine doctor Brigham and Women's Hospital who like a lot of physicians had been on the front lines, obviously the pandemic. He said, based on what he heard for the administration say he wouldn't get a booster right now. He said it's not clear there's actually need for the general public to get a third shot.
And he says not enough is known about side effects of a booster. So what do you say to someone like Dr. Faust, who we should say is a strong supporter of the COVID vaccines in general, his hesitancy seems only to be about the booster.
COLLINS: I totally understand that because this is sort of a clinical judgment situation. But from my perspective, having looked at all of the data, I think the case is going to be there in about a month. You know, Anderson, think about this, like it's sort of like you're in your car and you're driving for a long time.
And you check it you notice that the gas gauge is getting kind of low, and it's like, OK, maybe it's time to do something about that look for a gas station. And that's kind of where it is with people who got those first doses back in January. They're not in a crisis right now. But it's time to start making a plan. That's all we're trying to do here.
And again, the likelihood that the boosters are going to cause severe side effects, we don't have evidence to expect that. Israel has been doing this already for more than a month and they have not seen much more than what you saw with the first and the second dose. Some people got a sore arm and some people were a little feverish for 24 hours, but nothing outside of that has been reported.
So, it's just when you're trying to balance benefits and risk and spent -- especially when you're thinking about people in nursing homes, people who are elderly and with medical conditions, who are coming up to that eight-month period pretty soon, it seems like the wisest thing to do.
COOPER: The Surgeon General said today that data on a booster for the 13 million or more people who receive the J&J vaccine, which is one shot that's expected in the next few weeks. Some doctors have already recommending patients who got the J&J vaccine receive a dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. I know San Francisco's health department is already allowing people got the J&J vaccine to do that. What do you say about it?
COLLINS: I think we need to see more data. You're not surprised to hear me say that are you? And there is more data coming, I think J&J mentioned that in a press release this evening. And I know we are at NIH, running a number of trials to try to see what happens when you mix and match. If you start with J & J, and then you boost with Moderna or Pfizer.
We're going to have a lot more information about that in the coming weeks. And I would say don't let's rush into a plan until we have some really good evidence to know what's going to make the most sense.
COOPER: And just briefly, is there any danger -- I mean, if someone watching this says, well, I why if it's good at eight months, why not just maybe I'll just do it now, even though it's only been five months since I got the other. What do you say to that person?
COLLINS: Well, we know that there are people who've already been doing that before today. I would say there's pretty good evidence from other vaccines. And probably this will be true for COVID-19 that you want to leave a pretty good interval between your initial immunization and that booster.
You want to give the immune system a chance to mature its potential to generate new antibodies. And that probably means going quicker than say six months might actually give you less benefit than if you can hang on and wait until at least six and better yet eight.
COOPER: Interesting. NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Want to get perspective now from our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and author of the new book Lifelines Of Doctors Journey In The Fight For Public Health.
So Sanjay, what do you make with Dr. Collins just said?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even up until yesterday, there was a lot of back and forth on this not a slam dunk decision, so to speak. Because, you know, as CDC was telling clinicians that yesterday that there was no basis, at least at this time for getting booster shots.
The other thing that sort of strikes me is that, you know, that you're hearing really sort of a rationale for anticipating what may come and trying to get ahead of that. There's not the data showing a decrease really in the effectiveness of these vaccines for hospitalizations, and people dying of this disease.
There, there may have been more people who are getting mild or moderate illness, but what they're saying what he's saying and we're hearing all day long today is that there may be a connection there if people are more likely to get mild or moderate illness now, that may mean that people may be more likely to be hospitalized or died later.
So, they want to get ahead of it. It's interesting, but I think, as we've all talked about, the vast majority of the problem still is, you know, the 85, 90 million people in this country who are not vaccinated. When it comes to hospitalizations, 95% of the people in the hospitals are the unvaccinated transmission, primarily among the young unvaccinated. So this is really bolstering up protection for people who already have good deal of protection. But there's a bigger problem in this country that still exists.
COOPER: And Dr. Wend, I know you're one of the more than 13 million people who got the J&J vaccine. Was Dr. Collins answer that more data is needed about what you should do. Was that satisfactory?
LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't. Although I will say that I like the rest of Dr. Collins' the answer. I think it's really good that the Biden ministration is being proactive. During this entire pandemic we've been behind. We have not been anticipating what's ahead. So, I'm glad that the Biden ministration is laying out this general booster plan.
But we'll note that this plan still applies to people who got the mRNA vaccines. So far, the people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were feeling increasingly left behind. Many people got the J&J vaccine, because they did what they were told, they were told, get the first vaccine that you have access to. And now they feel like they're being punished that the advice is not being offered to them.
I think at this point, we actually have enough data from other countries. There are mix and match studies for AstraZeneca vaccine, which is similar to J&J. And mixing that and Pfizer, Germany, the UK allow this mix and match approach they even recommended, it looks like you have an even better immune response with that approach. I think there's enough at this point to say and people who got the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine should at least consider getting a booster.
I don't need our federal health officials to say we recommended I just want them to say we allow it and that way patients can make a decision with their doctor and do what the San Francisco Health Department does, which is to allow people to not have to sneak around to get the J&J vaccine.
COOPER: Dr. Wen, do you think people who don't choose to get a booster dose at eight months are going to be at a greater risk for a worse breakthrough case?
WEN: That's an interesting question. I don't think we know the answer to this. I do you think that we're going to see two groups of people as then there are some people who will say, it was hard enough for me to get the vaccine in the first place. I really don't want to get a booster shot. I actually think that that's a reasonable decision.
It's also reasonable for somebody else to say, I'm older, I have chronic medical conditions, if I land in the hospital because I have a breakthrough infection or if I get a breakthrough infection. I'm much more likely to land in the hospital because of my other medical issues, and so I should get a booster dose.
I think this is the time for us to shift how we think about risk. Everybody's calibrating risk in different ways. We should also be calibrating whether somebody wants to get a booster dose based on their own medical circumstances and risk tolerance too.
COOPER: Sanjay, you've been following infection rates in nursing homes across the country. Today, the President announced he's requiring nursing homes to get their staff vaccinated in order to continue to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding certainly seems reasonable. If you want to get everybody vaccinated, how much of an impact do you think that would have?
GUPTA: That that's the sort of thing that everyone sort of, you know, sort of agrees upon, when I talk to all these health officials. We remember, you know, back to last spring, the vast majority of the tragic impact of this disease was on nursing homes and long term care facilities, a third of all deaths at one point.
Plus, we can show you here, I think we pulled some of this data to show you, the vaccination rates among residents of nursing homes, among the staff, and then compare that to the U.S. population. So it's definitely higher and but when it comes to staff, what they find that's an average number, if the staff vaccination rates are closer to the general population, nursing homes in those areas are at really high risk of significant outbreaks much higher than the surrounding community.
In some places, it can be 12 to 18 times higher the rate of new infections. So it this is where people are the most vulnerable. I mean, that that makes absolute sense. And, in a way, the way the president is approaching it, saying, you know, we're going to tie it into federal reimbursements in the federal (INAUDIBLE).
GUPTA: You know, it makes sense.
COOPER: I'm stunned that it's 60% vaccination rate among nurses in nursing homes. And that's really that's amazing to me. Sanjay, Dr. Leana Wen, appreciate it.
Still more breaking news now on the legal fight over mask in schools in Florida, more school districts deciding to institute those mask mandates despite legal threats from Governor DeSantis.
Today, President Biden promises support local school districts and fights against Governor's over those mandates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures that his children wear a mask in school into political disputes for their own political gain. Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning mask in school. They're setting a dangerous tone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Leyla Santiago joins us now from Miami with the latest. What is the latest the debate over the mandates in Miami-Dade County?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I just spoke to the superintendent in Miami-Dade. And he says that he knew if he made the decision, he may deny that he could have some consequences have a back and forth with the Governor but ultimately felt that he was on the right side of the issue and supporting the board that voted seven to one to implement a mask mandate that doesn't have a parent opt out.
And that is something that the Governor says violates the law because it violates his executive order that essentially bans that type of mask mandate. Now we should mention this is significant because this is the largest school district in the state, but they are not alone.
Tonight, Hillsborough County also implemented a similar mask and this is when they have thousands of students in isolation and in quarantine, these school districts are insisting that this is not about politics. This is not about opinions, they are making this decisions based on medical experts advice as well as science.
But I did check in with the governor's office this evening. They told us that they are not -- or they do -- that they do that they do believe that this is a violation of the law. They are doubling down saying requiring children to wear these masks is not consistent with the parents right, something that the Governor has said all along.
And we should also mention that the Board of Education has said that this is a violation of law and they will now move forward with an investigation and all legal means possible which could include punishments like withholding salaries and funds from school district.
So, big night tonight with two school districts making this decision. Now we'll have to see what the Governor does next.
COOPER: All right. Leyla Santiago, appreciate it.
Want to return to the breaking news in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Americans still waiting to figure out exactly what they should do about getting out or should say at least thousands, the exact number of Americans isn't quite known. There's thousands of Afghan allies who also want to escape. You've seen the images of them desperately trying to flee their country. Our Gary Tuchman spoke with one Afghan woman who got out just days ago and worries about her family she left behind. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Back to our breaking news on Afghanistan. As we mentioned, President Biden told ABC News Tonight the 10,000 to 15,000 Americans need to be evacuated after the fall of Kabul. But the administration is not giving a precise number. The President also said between 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans and their families want to get out of the country.
The pictures we've been seeing certainly show the desire images of desperate Afghans at the airport trying to get on military planes. It is impossible to forget the sight of that one U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane pack with more than 600 Afghans thankful to be escaping. But even when some get to the U.S. they worry about of course their families back home.
Gary Tuchman tonight talks with two brave Afghan women who live with that stress every day. One has been here for years, the other just a couple of days. Here's Gary's report.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty-year-old Tamana lived her entire life in Afghanistan until this past Friday, when she flew to Washington after receiving a Special Immigrant Visa allowing her to move to the United States.
(on-camera): How did you feel when you landed in the capital of the United States? What went through your mind?
TAMANA, AFGHAN REFUGEE: Yes, I said that I'm dreaming. It is not possible. That I'm in the U.S.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tamana worked in Afghanistan for USAID the foreign aid organization that's an independent agency of the U.S. government. She applied for a visa four years ago. She increasingly got worried about her safety because she worked with Americans.
(on-camera): You felt your life was threatened.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): If you stay there?
TAMANA: Yes, of course. Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tamana's mother has passed away, but her father three brothers and two sisters remain in Kabul. She financially supported them has no idea when she'll see them in person again, and prays they won't be targeted because of her.
(on-camera): How worried are you about your family right now being there?
TAMANA: Believe me, I cannot sleep every night that I'm thinking about my family. What should I do?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tamana and many other Afghan refugees are being supported by a group called Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area. One of the group's offices is in this Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Virginia, where boxes of donations are arriving by the hundreds to help the expected huge influx of Afghans who will be arriving in the days and weeks to come.
KRISTYN PECK, CEO, LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AREA: Everyone I've met is so grateful to be here. And they're so full of hope. And I find that really inspiring.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): What did you do in Afghanistan?
RAZIA, AFGHAN REFUGEE: I was working as an interpreter for U.S. Army.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Twenty nine- year-old Razia is one of those inspiring people. She arrived in the United States when she was 24 all by herself. Her parents, two sisters and one brother remain in Kabul. She now worked for the Social Services Group, and continues to financially support her family with her American salary.
RAZIA: Taliban always say that we are against foreign our country's to be in Afghanistan, especially United States, and we will kill anybody that helped them. Anyone that works for them.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): So you feared for your life?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The take over by the Taliban and the ensuing chaos have profoundly affected Afghans who have been fortunate enough to receive visas. Their anxiety has dramatically increased.
(on-camera): This may be a painful question, but are you concerned that because people know what you did, working for the U.S. government that your family could be in danger?
RAZIA: Yes. Actually, the other day, I told my sister that burn all the certificates that I had from U.S. government, because I had a lot of certificates. And my mom hanged one of them on the wall, actually, you know, like --
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Because she's proud of you.
RAZIA: Yes. You know, she was. And like, I told them just destroy it, you know, because I was scared if Taliban goes to our house, because I heard they're searching some houses. I told them just destroyed them.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tamana is now looking for a job, a permanent place to live, and not allowing yourself to look back.
(on-camera): You know that it may be a long time before you see your family again. TAMANA: Yes.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): But you felt that your life was in danger, and you needed to be here?
TUCHMAN (on-camera): And you had no choice.
TAMANA: I don't have any choice.
TUCHMAN: Anderson, I asked both these women, what their parents think about this, and they say their parents felt the same thing. They're proud of both the girls. They also believe that their girls need to be safe. So they're happy that they're here in the United States. They want their daughters to be smart. They want their daughters to be educated. They want their daughters to be ambitious. They want their daughters to be strong women. The Taliban of course, has the exact opposite viewpoint. Anderson.
COOPER: Gary, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Have you seen in our reporting tonight, the pandemics far from over, New York City has really come a long way in the fight. This Saturday on CNN, the city is celebrating "We Love NYC The Homecoming Concert." Many big names in music will take the stage Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, LL Cool J., Jennifer Hudson to name a few. You'll see it right here Saturday only on CNN at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
News continues. Want to hand over Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thanks Coop. I'm Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.
First, we have Tony Fauci to take on the vaccine confusion and mask madness.