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At This Hour

Pfizer to Brief U.S. Health Officials on Booster Shots Today; Soon: Biden to Talk About Gun Violence with Local Leaders; Cubans Take to Street in Largest Protests in Decades; Haitian Police Arrest 3rd Suspect with U.S. Ties in Assassination Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

And here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

The booster debate. Pfizer meeting with top U.S. health officials today about a third shot as new cases surge among the unvaccinated.

Historic protests. Thousands of Cubans take to the streets in the largest demonstration against the communist government in decades. President Biden just now weighing in.

And scorching temperatures out West, shattering even more records as wildfires threaten a critical power grid.

Thanks so much for being here, you guys.

We begin with an important meeting today between Pfizer and federal health officials on a potential coronavirus booster. The drugmaker announced plans last week to seek approval for a third dose amid concerns of waning immunity. That prompted almost immediate pushback from the CDC and the FDA saying vaccinated Americans do not need a booster right now.

This caused, well, understandable confusion. Just as -- just as for the first time in a long time, the United States is again seeing an alarming increase in COVID cases. Just take a look at this map, 36 states seeing cases up more than 10 percent in the last week.

But look, states in the red again. Eleven states are in the red seeing an increase of more than 50 percent. These increases are being driven by the unvaccinated. The delta variant is now the dominant strain in the United States.

But I want to play for you how one doctor in Missouri which is leading the nation in delta variant cases right now, what he said about this today.


DR. HOWARD JARVIS, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE AT COXHEALTH: Common denominator for the parents that we've seeing that are sick enough to be in the emergency department is that they are unvaccinated. And if they are sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, they are unvaccinated. That is the absolute common denominator amongst those patients.


BOLDUAN: The absolute common denominator. We're going to get to that in just a second.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, what are you hearing about this meeting today between Pfizer and government officials?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're hearing is that this is going to be a chance for Pfizer to clarify why they think we're already seeing waning immunity for some folks who've been vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer's vaccine. What's their proof? What's their evidence? You know, sort of a kid in school, when you have a math problem, you couldn't say the answer, you have to show your math.

So I think that Pfizer will be asked to show their math. They previously pointed to Israeli data as evidence that immunity is waning but that's sort of curious because the Israeli data shows that the vaccine does an excellent job of preventing people from getting very sick from COVID-19.

So Dr. Fauci is saying that the CEO of Pfizer called him to apologize for not giving him more of a heads up about the statement that made it sounds like everybody needs to get a booster which, in fact, is not the case. And Dr. Fauci made it clear this morning saying that Pfizer doesn't get to make the call about when and if people get a booster.

Let's take a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRCTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: What Pfizer did, understandably, they looked at what their data and they say, you know, based on the what we see, we think people should get vaccinated with a boost. Well, that's fine except they're not the official recommending organization.


COHEN: So, again, if you listen to what Dr. Fauci said, he said that Pfizer says based on what they're seeing, they think people need a booster but they haven't really said what they are seeing. And that's why last week, the CDC and the FDA did something highly unusual. They put out a joint statement and the joint statement was very, very clear. It said Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time.

So I think that's quite clear. There is one caveat here, Kate. There are some folks who are immuno-compromised and they know who they are. People, for example, who received an organ transplant, they might benefit from a third shot. They should talk to their doctors.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Elizabeth, thank you so much for that report.

COHEN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now for more on all this is CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a professor of medicine and surgery, of course, at George Washington University and he's advised the White House medical team under President George W. Bush.

Dr. Reiner, it's good to see you again.

First, who do you make of the difference of opinion between Pfizer and government officials on these booster shots being needed now or when?


I'm not a fan of science by press release. And I thought that last week the Pfizer announcement was both ill-conceived and really poorly written. I read that over and over and over again, and I couldn't tell whether Pfizer meant that the amount of neutralizing antibodies waned over time whether sort of the relative effectiveness of the vaccine waned over time because we have more potent variants.


I don't want to hear this information from a corporate press release, I want to hear this from the CDC and the NIH. And that's what I think that is what we need to hear going forward.

BOLDUAN: It looks like something is going to come out of this meeting and in all likelihood they're going to be on the same page with wherever they go, moving forward, we will see.


BOLDUAN: But now to kind of where we are sadly once again in this moment, Dr. Reiner, I mean hearing from the doctor out of Missouri, we played some of the sound as he spoke this morning, that everyone who is getting admitted to his hospital right now with COVID, everyone, the common denominator, he says, is that they are unvaccinated. Sadly, should that be surprising to anyone at this point?

REINER: No. And I could simplify this for the American people. Our vaccines work incredibly well against all of the variants, including the delta variant. And if you get vaccinated, you will be protected from dying. You will not die from this. You will likely not get sick and you will definitely not die from this virus.

So you could do that today. You could go to your Walgreens. You can go to your CVS, you go anywhere and get -- and get vaccinated. But what has happen this country is that the vaccine has been politicized. And we have this red/blue split.

About a third of the new cases in this country are coming out of five states, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada. And none of those states have vaccinated no more than 70 percent of their adults. In each of these states, you see exactly what you're seeing in Missouri, which is all of the folks coming through emergency rooms sick with the COVID -- with COVID are unvaccinated.

It is completely unnecessary. This country needs to get on message and the message is that we have all of the tools that we need to defeat this virus. We can't have it both ways. We can't be both unmasked and non-socially distanced and un-vaccinated.

That won't work. We have -- we have to pick sides and side is we need to be vaccinated. We have the tools to put this down. We could put this down this summer but the way to do that is with vaccination.

BOLDUAN: Look, and you want to talk about in an astonishing number, more than 99 percent of deaths due to COVID right now are people who are unvaccinated. And you look at this map we put up once again, 11 states --

REINER: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- are in the red, seeing 50 percent increase and this is driven by folks who are unvaccinated. With that in mind, and you talked about this kind of -- this political divide, I want to play for you something that happened at the conservative annual gathering CPAC over the weekend which gets directly to this push to get Americans vaccinated.


ALEX BERENSON, JOURNALIST AND WRITER: Because clearly they were hoping, the government was hoping, that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated. And it isn't happening, right. There is a -- younger people --



BOLDUAN: They cheered that people are not getting vaccinated. I mean, what is your reaction to hearing that?

REINER: Those people are cheering for our enemy. And it's an enemy that has killed 600,000 Americans. An enemy that killed one of my cousins, that killed the father of one of my closest friends, the mother of one of my partners here at GW and 600,000 Americans. A vicious enemy, they are cheering for our enemy, right? They are cloaking themselves in the flag of virus when you cheer for inadequate vaccination in this country.

How else do these people think we're going to get past this? They don't want to mask up and they don't want to close down, they don't want to stay at home and they don't want to vaccinate. Look, we need to grow up in this country. We have a solution to this, for this, and the solution is vaccinations.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Reiner, thank you for coming on.

REINER: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: All right. Let's turn now to America's gun violence epidemic.

This weekend alone, 369 shootings were reported across the United States. And in just hours, President Biden and the attorney general, they're going to be meeting with law enforcement officials and local leaders from across the country to talk about this very thing -- this epidemic that just won't quit.

And among those attending is Eric Adams. He is the former police captain who is now the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City.

Joining me now is CNN's John Harwood. He is live at the White House with much more on this upcoming meeting.

John, this crisis of gun violence, it clearly shows no signs of slowing. We've talked about police chiefs across the country have talked about the bloody summer ahead, and the president's promise to take this one. But what are they expecting to get from this meeting that will be any different?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is not going to be a lot of different in terms of the steps the president is going to talk about. But some of the things that he's going to talk about are going to be very well received by people like Eric Adams who is overwhelmingly likely to be the next mayor of New York City.


Adams has talked about how Democrats in Congress devoted more than adequate attention to the issues like going after assault weapons which are the -- behind a lot of the mass shootings in the United States. Very difficult to legislate on adequate attention to the issues like going after assault weapons which are the -- behind a lot of the mass shootings in the United States, very difficult to legislate on that, impossible in the current environment.

And what Adams has said is, no, we need to focus on guns -- on crimes being committed with handguns and that source of gun violence. Well, President Biden is talking about using the Justice Department and other federal agencies to crack down on unlicensed gun dealers.

Also on other steps that state and local governments can take through community interventions to reduce violence, through trying to incorporate former felons back into society, various steps of that kind that could have an effect, including hiring additional police officers.

Eric Adams has been a big opponent of the defund the police slogan and President Biden built into the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion plan, a lot of cushion money for state and local governments that the administration is now saying can be used to hire more police officers and many local agencies are doing just that right now.

BOLDUAN: It is good to see you, John. Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, still at this hour, remarkable scenes playing out in Cuba. Thousands taking to the streets as the government threatened to crack down.

And that is not all. There is turmoil in another country right off the coast of America. That's next.

Also, the woke debate within the Democratic Party. Are you looking at the new rise of the anti-woke Democrats or is this something else altogether?



BOLDUAN: Extraordinary images of a largest anti-government protests in Cuba in decades. Thousands taking to the streets chanting freedom in multiple cities in a major challenge to the island's decades long dictatorship.

Cuba is one of the two countries off the coast of the U.S. that's in turmoil today. The U.S. also sent a delegation to Haiti to help with the investigation into the assassination of its president.

CNN has teams in both countries. Let's begin in Cuba with CNN's Patrick Oppmann who's got the latest from Havana.

Patrick, what are you hearing there today?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not hearing much and that is because the Internet in Havana through much of the island continues to be interrupted. We don't know if the government took it down, which has happened in previous moments of civil unrest or if it's just oversaturated. But certainly that's how we found out about the protests across this island yesterday, something that is unprecedented.

And it's how many people, many Cubans who are fed up with the conditions they are living in found out that their neighbors, in other cities, in other places on the island, were taken to the street an that is when they left their house to begin protests that people have not seen in decades.


OPPMANN (voice-over): Calling for liberty, protests take to the streets in Havana. In front of police, the crowd yells "fatherland and life," a new opposition slogan that has gotten people who say it in public arrested in Cuba.

But Cuba on Sunday seemed a very different place, as thousands of people in cities across the island took to the streets, and took the government by surprise. These are the largest mass protests in years, perhaps decades. Usually any anti-government activity leads to immediate arrest. Protesters criticizing state are simply not allowed here.

But on Sunday, though, thousands of people voiced their anger openly and many people told us they simply have lost their fear. Police surround the protesters and arrested some of them but for the most part they did not or could not stop the demonstrations.

The protests are only the latest sign of the unprecedented crisis facing the communist-run island. Even as Cuba produces its own homegrown vaccines, the number of cases has skyrocketed. On Sunday health officials announced the highest single day increase in new case and deaths.

For months, the Cuban economy has spiraled downwards. The island has been hard hit by increased sanctions under the Trump administration which have continued under President Biden. The pandemic has cut off tourism and the ability to receive help from relatives abroad for many Cubans. Lines for food now stretch around the block and could last for hours.

For many in Cuba, waiting for scarce foods and medicines has become their life.

Every day, there are people out here for whatever there is. Some days, you don't know what products they're going to be selling, Rachel says. You have to be out here if you want to have food.

The economic misery is leading to desperation as Cubans are taking to the sea on rafts in the greatest numbers since 2017 when then- President Obama ended the wet foot, dry foot policy allowing those who reach the U.S. to stay.

Cuba is confronting the worse crisis in decades, without a Castro at the helm, as Raul Castro stepped down from his last leadership role in April.


On Sunday, Cuba's new leader Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed the island's economic troubles on U.S. and vowed to crack down on the protesters.

The order to combat has been given, he said. The revolutionaries need to be in the streets.

As Cuba edges closer to the edge, neither side appears they are backing down.


OPPMANN (on camera): And Cuba's president this morning said that the protesters were hooligans and vandals and would face punishment.

But President Joe Biden issued a statement where he appeared to draw a line in the sand and warned Cuba's government about cracking down on the protests, he said and we'll read from that statement: We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief of the tragic grip of the pandemic and from decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected to by Cuba's authoritarian regime.

The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future must be respected. The United States called on the Cuban regime to hear the people and serve their needs.

So neither side appears to be backing down here and certainly a very different view if you hear Cuba's government, these people are criminals, they attacked police yesterday. But, of course, U.S. government is saying these are people just asking for their freedom.

BOLDUAN: Patrick, it is so great that you're there. Thank you so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

Joining me for more on this is Ada Ferrer. She's a professor of history at NYU and the author of "Cuba: An American History".

Thank you for being here.

I mean, just the pictures, I know that you have watched them but just as we see the pictures and the scenes coming from streets of Cuba, it hasn't been seen in decades. And this is throughout Cuba. This isn't just in Havana.

I mean, what are you thinking as you see this?

ADA FERRER, AUTHOR, "CUBA: AN AMERICAN HISTORY": Yeah, Kate, thanks for having me on. As you say, this is something completely unprecedented. You say we haven't seen this for decades. I would say that we haven't seen this since the revolution came to power in 1959. The protests appear to be spontaneous. As you said there, in cities and towns all across the island.

And the people participating seem to be just regular people coming out of their homes and apartments, just voicing their very deep frustration. And it is a frustration that is both economic, because of the declining and really awful economic situation right now but also political. They're voicing discontent at their government and that is unprecedented.

BOLDUAN: Now there are a lot of Americans who will watch this and will think this came out of nowhere. And I'll just get your important perspective on this. How much of this do you think has to do with the pandemic ant the impact that the virus has had, the pandemic has had?

FERRER: There is no question that the pandemic has made everything much worse. I think the combination of the pandemic and the tightening of the embargo under Trump has made an always difficult economic situation in Cuba much worse.

People have lost access to remittances from family because new American restrictions, the pandemic has meant that travel has been cut off, so people can't get visits from family and friends, bringing supplies and goods and the tourist sector has dried up, so people who are started small businesses catering to tourists have lost their businesses.

So there is no question that the pandemic has exacerbated problems that were already there. You know, Cuba suffered greatly when the Soviet Union collapsed and that initiated a period in Cuba called a special period in which there were protests somewhat similar to this. But, again, these were smaller and mostly in Havana and you didn't have social media to amplify them and to encourage people across the other parts of the island.

But in many ways, the country never fully recovered from that and now in 2021, it's a very different world than 1994. People are that much more tired of frustration.

Most Cubans were born or not most. I would say, about a third of the Cuban population was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So they have -- they have no experience and no memory of a revolution not in economic crisis.

And so, I think -- I think it is a cumulative thing. It is the pandemic. It's the tightening of the embargo on top of an already difficult reality.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And it is an inflection point for that island nation. Thank you, Ada, for being here. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much.


FERRER: Happy to be here. We'll see what happens.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, today and beyond.

Let's now turn to Haiti where agents from the United States and other countries have arrived to help with the criminal investigation into the assassination of that country's president. Haitian officials have arrested more than 20 suspects including two Americans and a man with ties to the United States the police say helped orchestrate the attack.

CNN's Matt Rivers is live in Port-au-Prince with more on this.

Matt, what's the latest?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, that number of suspects detained now at 21 after a press conference last night with authorities here in Port-au-Prince announcing the arrest of a 63- year-old named Christian Emmanuel Sanon. Apparently (AUDIO GAP) recruit and then organize here in Haiti, the 26 Colombian mercenaries and the two Haitian Americans that the Haitian government says actually carried out this assassination in very vague terms.

The police chief here in Haiti actually said that this man, Sanon, wanted to seize power in some sort of way without expanding on exactly what that means. But I could tell you, that just because there was an arrest last night of a central figure, there are a lot more developments that will likely come and there are senior members of the government here in Haiti who believe that there will be more arrests here on the island.


MATHIAS PIERRE, HAITIAN ELECTIONS MINISTER: I don't think mercenaries, Colombians, former Colombians military, would just get in the country. It is obvious. Just get in the country and kill the president. Where did they get the cars that they are driving? How did they get into the country? There is a lot of things that doesn't make sense for foreigners to just do by themselves. So I think and we believe they are mastermind behind that crime.


RIVERS: Meanwhile as the political crisis, the political vacuum continues here, we're getting words there could be protests today, tomorrow here in Port-au-Prince. It's something we're going to be watching very closely, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, Democrats pushing back on wokeness. What started as a rallying call for Americans to wake up and stay informed on social justice issues is now seen by many as a threat to the party. The controversy, straight ahead.