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At This Hour

Pfizer: It's Time for a Booster Shot, FDA & CDC Says Not So Fast; Heavy Rain Floods NYC Highways & Subways; Police: Foreign Hit Squad Assassinated Haiti's President. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 09, 2021 - 11:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: She's a basketball progeny.


She holds three world records involving dribbling and juggling basketballs. A pretty nice bank shot. She says she wants to play basketball at Harvard and coach in the NBA. NBA notably or work at NASA or pursue a career in neuroscience. That's brain surgery. I bet she has potential in all of those.

Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

AT THIS HOUR with Boris Sanchez starts right now.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and happy Friday. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching for AT THIS HOUR:

Vaccine confusion. Pfizer saying it wants emergency approval for a booster shot but the CDC and FDA say we don't need a booster just yet. What is behind the mixed messages?

Plus, crisis in Haiti. Police say a foreign hit squad assassinated their president. We'll take you live to Haiti's capital for the latest developments on a manhunt.

And space race. Branson's historic flight this weekend as he prepares to boldly go where in billionaire has gone before.

Thank you so much for joining us.

We begin this hour with confusion over COVID booster shots. Pfizer announcing it wants to get emergency use authorization for a booster saying it is seeing waning immunity from the two-shot vaccine.

Last night, though, the CDC and FDA pumping the brakes insisting that fully vaccinated Americans do not need a booster right now. This comes as minutes ago, the CDC just issued updated guidance as schools prepare for students to return to in-person learning. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, walk

us through these mixed messages. What is going on with this confusion?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Boris. This does seem to be something of a mess at a time when the CDC and others are urging Americans to get vaccinated. Pfizer saying, oh, the vaccines we have out there, there is waning immunity. That is not the way to convince Americans to get vaccinated.

And it doesn't seem that we need it. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that deals, that lives on data, didn't really put out any data saying why they thought that a booster was needed. They pointed to some Israeli data which actually says that the vaccine is excellent at keeping you from getting very sick with COVID. So it is unclear why exactly they referenced that data.

Anyhow, through this mess, I'm going to give you the bottom line. The CDC and the FDA putting out a joint statement which by the way hardly ever happens and this is what they said, the language was very simple. Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.

Now, might they need one later? Sure. It is possible. But it is not something that people need to concern themselves with right now.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. And, Elizabeth, walk us through the new CDC guidance for schools.

COHEN: That's right. So, we're expecting new guidance from the CDC for schools.

A couple of interesting points about testing and mask wearing so let's take a look at the guidance that the CDC is saying according to the draft guidance that CNN got a copy of. The CDC is saying it not everyone at your school is vaccinated, practice physical distancing if possible. If you as a student or a staff member or a teacher are not vaccinated, wear a mask indoors while you're at school, and also, schools should offer weekly testing for unvaccinated people although in some areas of the country that they don't have much COVID, children might not need to be tested that often.

Basically, these rules are not all that different from what was out there before. But of course, in most places, kids aren't vaccinated. You can't be vaccinated if you're under the age of 12 right now.

SANCHEZ: Very important for parents to heed that guidance as kids head back to class.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for that.

COHEN: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Let's dig deep we are a doctor. CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, she's an emergency physician at George Washington University and the former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. Dr. Wen, always great for you to join us.

Let's start with this booster confusion. Pfizer wants to get a booster shot approved and the CDC and FDA and World Health Organization lining up against it at this point.

Looking at the data, what do you think?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there was a lot of unnecessary confusion. And here is what we know. The most important thing is that people who got vaccinated, so got the two doses of Pfizer or Moderna with the one dose of Johnson & Johnson, they are extremely well protected against severe illness from COVID-19.

The second thing that I think it does make sense for Pfizer be submitting for an emergency use authorization for a booster shot if and when it is needed. We're not saying that it is needed. In fact, we're saying the opposite. The CDC and FDA have said very clearly, you did not need a booster shot but if it is needed in the future it is good that Pfizer is applying for emergency use authorization if and when immunity might wane, and there are new variants that develop, then at least we have the booster shot available.


And then I think there's a third point that the CDC really needs to collect better data. We need to know when break through infections are happening. So, if you are vaccinated, at what point did you start getting infected even when mild illness? Is there a time point? Is it with certain individuals, for example, with people who are older? I think those are the important questions to answer and CDC needs to do a better job of tracking those break-through infections.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Wen, I want to play some sound from Dr. Fauci now regarding the effectiveness of some of the most popular vaccines on the delta variant. Listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The question is if you get vaccinated, are you protected? And the answer is, next slide, as shown on this study, this story, from "The New York Times," the world is understandably worried about the delta virus variant but studies showed, as I've showed you in the previous four or five slides, that the vaccines indeed are effective against it. The only conclusion one could reasonably come to from looking at what I've told you over the last few minutes is please get vaccinated. It will protect you against the surging of the delta variant.


SANCHEZ: Dr. Fauci unequivocal there, vaccines are effective. I imagine this frustrates you as a medical professional given so much vaccine hesitancy that now there's some confusion about whether a booster will be needed or not. WEN: I think one of the issues right now is that the guidance has to

be nuanced because there are some individuals who may benefit from a booster shot right now? Yes. For example, individuals who are severely immuno-compromised may benefit from a booster shot right now.

That's not same thing as saying that everybody needs to get a booster and we certainly do not want that information to be misinterpreted to somehow mean that you should not get a vaccine in the first place because somehow this doesn't work. That is the opposite.

Right now, what we're saying is that these vaccines protect you extremely well from severe disease. You should get vaccinated if you have not already. But also that we need to do more research to find out who it is that may need a booster. Both of those things could be true at once and I think what happens is when the guidance is not nuanced enough, it sounds like it is one size fits all and that is not the situation that we're in at this point in the pandemic.

SANCHEZ: And, Dr. Wen, you just heard Elizabeth's reporting on the updated guidance for schools. I'm curious what your impressions of it are?

WEN: Based on what I saw in the draft guidelines, I think that the CDC did the right thing here, because they are doing two things at once. They're saying that schools should be open for in person, full time instruction come the fall. We do that and we could do it safely if we have the right mitigation measures in place.

I'm glad that they said masks are required for unvaccinated children over the age of two. That is essential, especially when we have the more contagious variant yet in the U.S. I think it is important that they mention testing. Testing is a great measure, especially if you're not going to be doing distancing. If you're bringing back kids full time, a lot of schools could not do distancing. So in a sense, testing is replacing distancing.

The CDC could do more to encourage vaccination to make explicit if you're vaccinated, you don't need this weekly testing. And so we want to you be vaccinated to opt out of testing and masking. Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at the CDC's balance of caution and also getting kids back in school.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, important as we led into the fall.

Dr. Leana Wen, always appreciate your expertise. Thanks for sharing time with us this morning.

Also developing this morning, two days after making landfall in Florida, tropical storm Elsa is now hammering the Northeast and New England. Check out the flooding on highways in New York City yesterday afternoon. This was ahead of Elsa moving across the region. That heavy rain causing unbelievable scenes like this one for commuters being forced to wade through waist deep water in subway stations, forced to improvise.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in New York City with more. Brynn, I hope you packed your waders or a garbage bag like that guy

with your commute this morning. What are you seeing now? It looks a lot calmer?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris, you know me well enough that that would not be the case. Those are some brave New Yorkers that were packing some garbage bags. I certainly not do that.

But, yeah, it was an incredible scene around the city yesterday. That was again, as you said, ahead of Elsa. This wasn't even Elsa. But, luckily, we don't have Elsa any more. We don't have any more rainfall and luckily you could look down the subway here and it is dry.

And we're talking to the MTA through the last few hours, they control or run rather the subway systems here in New York City and they say no delays.


So that is good news. But wow, what a scene we were seeing here yesterday during the evening commute in New York City where again the subways were flooding like the one we're standing at now. People wading with garbage bags over them and the major deacon highway, a major expressway in the Bronx in New York City flooded where cars were stranded.

The FDNY and NYPD had to get people out of their cars, luckily no injuries reported there. So, good news is that the storm is heading more northeast but quite a scene and what a reminder of how quickly things could turn in a major city like this.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, no question. Also keeping in mind that this wasn't Elsa, this is just the start of hurricane season so hopefully not a sign of things to come.

Brynn, let me know if you change your mind about the garbage bags. I'll some up for you. I appreciate your reporting as always.

Coming up, we're going to take you live to Haiti, where a manhunt intensified for the president's killers. New information about the suspects and their possible motivations. A live report from Port-au- Prince, next.



SANCHEZ: AT THIS HOUR, an intense investigation is underway for members of a foreign hit squad suspected of assassinating Haiti's president. Haitian authorities say a group of 28 foreign mercenaries killed Jovenel Moise, most have been detained. But some of them remain on the run and this morning, there are more questions than answers about how this could have happened and who masterminded the attack.

CNN's Matt Rivers is live in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince with the latest. Matt, walk us through the latest. What do we know?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Boris, we're trying to piece together how this happened. We're actually not far from where this assassination took place. We know that some of the assailants come up this road behind me and they passed the police checkpoint to do so. They came here to this police checkpoint and got past police here and if you look down that road there, you zoom in, about 100 meters down the road, that is the beginning of the compound where the president of Haiti is assassinated.


RIVERS (voice-over): Arrests on street of Port-au-Prince on Thursday after an army police operation against heavily armed mercenaries, mercenaries that authorities say are responsible for the brazen assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise early on Wednesday. Haitian police have detained 15 Columbians and two Haitians Americans suspected to have been involved in the attack.

Police said the men who posed at U.S. DEA agents gained entry to the private presidential residence included foreign nationals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.

RIVERS: This audio circulating on social media purporting to be the time of the assassination. With men shouting they are drug enforcement agents in English but the audio could not be authenticated by CNN.

Police seeming to acknowledge the rising tide of anger in the wake of attack, are urging citizens to the to take the law into their own hands.

LEON CHARLES, NATIONAL POLICE DIRECTOR: We have the obligation to protect the people we have caught. We not have practice self justice.

RIVERS: Still, many in the Haitian capital are asking, just how could such a bold attack come from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did they come from? What country sent them? Who brought them over here? How did guns get here and how did all those ammos?

RIVERS: In an interview with CNN, Haiti's acting prime minister did allude to the context surrounding the assassination, but stopped short of outlining a motive.

CLAUDE JOSEPH, ACTING HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER: We all know that Jovenel Moise was committed to some, I will say, actions against the oligarchs in Haiti, so we know in the last days, he spoke about the consequences that those actions can have on his own life.

RIVERS: Already a nation rife with political instability and gang violence an a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, fears from neighboring nations that the presidential assassination may push Haiti over the edge. But Haiti's prime minister insists that upcoming elections will still

take place despite the nation's upheaval.

JOSEPH: The constitution is clear. I have to organize elections and actually pass the power to someone else who is elected.

RIVERS: But is so much uncertainty in the wake of a coordinated hit on the president, and so much questions left to be answered about just who was responsible, whether or not Haitian officials can keep the nation on track for a peaceful transfer of power remains an open question.


SANCHEZ: That was Matt Rivers' reporting.

As the manhunt for the killers intensify, CNN has obtained a video that appears to capture a shootout between Haitian police and some of the suspects. Authorities say at least three of them were killed during this encounter. Watch this.



SANCHEZ: CNN is still working to confirm details surrounding the circumstances in which video was shot.

Joining us now to discuss further from Port-au-Prince is Jacqueline Charles. She's the Caribbean correspondent at the "Miami-Herald" and covered Haiti for more than a decade.

Jacqueline, I appreciate you joining us to talk about this. I want to get to the suspects, 28 of them in all. Do we have Jacqueline?


SANCHEZ: No, we still have you, at least your voice. I was asking about the suspects.

CHARLES: I'm here.

SANCHEZ: Thank you. I'm glad we're working through the technical issues.

So, 28 suspects, 26 of them Colombia, two of them Haitian Americans reportedly from south Florida, when we spoke with Matt Rivers, our correspondent on the ground, he walked us through how difficult it was to get into that compound.

Do you think it is possible that they could have done this without any help from the inside?

CHARLES: (AUDIO GAP) about this case, the fact that they were able to -- that they were able to get this there and to get to the president's compound and also his private residence, but yet at the same time they had problems getting out of (INAUDIBLE) or Petion-ville. So there is a lot of speculation here about whether or not they were given access or information by people who are close to the president or who knew the layout of his compound and also his private residence.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. And, Jacqueline, you have new reporting about the two Haitian Americans that have ties to south Florida. You report that one of them is a maintenance man. What could you tell us about him?

CHARLES: Yeah, so we spoke to his aunt yesterday. She was surprised to even hear about his involvement in this. She heard about it on Haitian television.

There is some connection also in the past serving as a bodyguard maybe an embassy I think in 2010. I've seen videos of him where he was at a charity and talked about his commitment to schools, students in the southeast of Haiti, and we're still flushing out more in terms of how he became involved in this situation as well as Joseph Vincent, the other Haitian American, both of them naturalized American citizens and the two Americans or Haitians that have been arrested along with the Colombians.

SANCHEZ: There is a chance that this could turn into a massive humanitarian crisis. You have a power struggle over succession, the pandemic and lawlessness if the streets. The "Miami Herald" editorial board urged the U.S. government to get off the side lines and help stabilize Haiti.

What do you think the United States could do to help Haiti at this point?

CHARLES: One of the criticisms that has come out of Haiti is the fact that the Biden administration have not been focused on Haiti. It continues the same policy as Trump.

I think that the U.S. has vacillate the between overly involved sort of big brother, big sister diplomacy in Latin America over the years, basically completely ignoring.

Today, you have a situation where we are already in a humanitarian crisis. Since June 1st, more than 16,000 Haitians have been forcefully displaced out of their homes. This is the only country in Latin Americans and Caribbean, and one of five around the world where the government has yet to give one job of a COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, you have a surge balance in terms of armed gangs and kidnapping.

You know, we have -- while they're not coming up the Florida straits, they are appearing in the southern part of the United States, they're appearing in Turks and Caicos, they're appearing in Guyana, and they are all over the region. So if weigh want to do something to prevent influx of Haitians who are leaving because the country is increasingly unbearable, I think the United States will have to get serious and talk to all of the actors on the ground.

The other big criticism is that members of civil society feel that they have not been taken seriously, that they have not had a chance to talk about their concerns, about corruption, human rights violations and it sort of been a one-sided policy or one-sided discussion. So this is really an opportunity for the U.S. and the international community led by the U.S. to say let's be real, we have a lot of weight here.

SANCHEZ: We will press for answers and hopefully get some for the Haitian people from the White House.

Jacqueline Charles, keep us updated with any new information that you get. We'd love to keep in touch with you. Thanks.


Up next, new CNN reporting on the extent that Kevin McCarthy and his advisers are involved in trying to fix the reputation of controversial lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Details next.