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At This Hour

Admiral Mullen: "I Thought We Could Turn It Around, I Was Wrong"; FDA Grants Full Approval to Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine; Joe Biden: Discussions on Keeping U.S. Troops Past August 31st Deadline; House Intel Committee to Receive Briefing on Afghanistan Today. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 12:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin this hour with a major development in the fight to end the Coronavirus pandemic. The FDA just granted full approval to Pfizer's COVID vaccine, making it the first to secure that seal of approval from the federal government.

Health officials hope this news will convince more unvaccinated Americans that Pfizer shot is safe and effective. Right now, about a third of the eligible population 82 million people still have not been vaccinated. And this is a critical moment.

More than thousand Americans nearly all unvaccinated are now dying - are now dying from COVID each day. That is the highest this number has been in five months the urgency of now. Let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's live at the White House with the very latest. Kaitlan, what are you hearing about this from the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's exciting news. And this is something that the White House has been waiting to hear for a long time. Of course, we have heard FDA officials say that the White House obviously stayed out of their way while they were working on this review process and how lengthy it was, as they were waiting to actually grant this full approval, which is incredibly significant for the first COVID-19 vaccine.

But they are excited that this news came today they had an idea based on what health officials were saying and based on public reporting that this was something that could happen as soon as today from the FDA.

And so officials actually spent the weekend Kate meeting, sometimes in person sometimes virtually to talk about what this rollout is going to look like? Because they know this is a critical moment to get the messaging right and given they believe there are still about 85 million people here in the U.S. who were eligible to get this vaccine but have not made the choice to do so yet. And so when President Biden is going to speak in a little bit on this news from the FDA, this full approval news, part of that message is going to be encouraging people to get vaccinated. And the White House is hoping that this is something that will help those vaccine holdouts who have waited still to get the shot some of them siding that it had not been fully approved by the FDA yet.

This is going to drive them to get vaccinated, how many people that ultimately do drive to get vaccinated Kate? Of course remains to be seen. But that is something that the White House is going to be publicly messaging over the next several weeks, in addition to what they're counting on, which a lot of businesses and public entities is now requiring the vaccine given it does have full approval.

We know one entity that has been waiting on this is the United States Military and the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had warned troops earlier this week, or earlier this month that this was something that was going to be coming down the road once it did get full approval, they were going to have to make some decisions if it had not gotten full approval by mid-September.

But that is just one facet of a group that is going to have to now get this vaccine. And so that is what the White House is counting on. They're hoping it will encourage more people to get vaccinated. It remains to be seen whether or not those people who have said so far that they were waiting for full approval actually take this opportunity now that it has gotten it.

There was Kate a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll that said 3 in 10 unvaccinated Americans said they were more likely to get it once it had gotten full approval from the FDA.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, thank you so much. Joining me now for much more on this is Dr. William Schaffner, Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Paul Offit, who's the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dr. Aileen Marty, a Professor of Infectious Diseases at Florida International University.

Thank you all so much for being here on what is a very important day. Dr. Offit this is something we've talked about the lead up and what this moment would mean for very long time. I'm curious in this moment, what you think this approval does mean?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, in a more rational world, actually, it shouldn't mean much. I mean, for people who are wondering whether or not this vaccine was safe or effective, it's already been given to half of the American population, you know that it's safe, you know that it's effective, you know, that it's been manufactured well.

In terms of mandates, I mean, there are already a number of colleges, universities, healthcare systems and private institutions that have already mandated this vaccine because legally, you can do that under emergency use authorization. So it shouldn't mean much. But if that Kaiser Family Foundation is correct, that about a third of people who are choosing not to get the vaccine, now we'll get it. That's great. I hope that's true. What I worry is that they may just come up with another reason for why they don't want to get it?

BOLDUAN: As you mentioned off the top in a more rational world, which I think is the operative term to make sure you remember right now, Dr. Offit. Thank you for that. Dr. Marty, what does this mean for your hospitals and all of the patients that you see?

DR. AILEEN MARTY, DISTINGUISHED UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, FIU: Well, I think its excellent news. In our - most of our hospitals have already mandated vaccinations of all employees, including contractors and anyone who in any way operates in the hospital.


DR. MARTY: Students, medical students, nursing students, everyone who works in our hospitals already have to be vaccinated. But yes, this, you know, the State of Florida has a tradition of being very good with mandating vaccinations for schools of all ages.

And we are - we hope that it will see the fact that this is a fully licensed vaccine as a call to go ahead and do that for all our schools, for those who are eligible for this particular vaccine, and that will make a huge difference at our university.

I think it's very important what was said before that when the FDA looked at the data, it didn't just look at the clinical trial data, we now have a lot more information that makes it crystal clear that these vaccines are safe and efficacious based on the millions of people around the world that have had the Pfizer vaccine.

BOLDUAN: And Dr. Schaffner, I mean to put a finer point on it just one more time, is there anything different about the Pfizer COVID vaccine that was just given the - the given the stamp of approval by the gold standard here, and the Pfizer vaccine of last week or the week before or the Pfizer vaccine I received?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBELT UNIVERSITY, MEDICAL CTR: Well, Kate, it's the same vaccine, except now it has a wonderful red ribbon around it. It will reassure many people, I don't expect the line forming to the right outside of the vaccination centers this afternoon, or tomorrow morning.

But I think it can now persuade some people. It's also been a socially acceptable thing to say, now that it's not there, we'll have the opportunity to address what the other reasons are. But I'm big on the mandates. This is very important.

You know, we're in a war against COVID and Delta has really stressed us. So far, we've relied on a volunteer army. Well, it's not sufficient. This is the draft. We're drafting everybody in. And I think the mandates will do that. We've done that in other circumstances in our history, smallpox vaccination, for example, we can do it again, and we can get ahead of this virus. But we all have to pitch in.

BOLDUAN: One of the things Dr. Offit that the acting FDA Commissioner said during this briefing with reporters about the approval is that this approval does not mean that it can be used for off label purposes. And what they were specifically meaning was off label meaning for children younger than 12.

Talk to me about what that means for folks. But also, what impact if any, this full approval means for the timeline or the likelihood or anything with regard to getting that emergency use authorization for kids under 12?

DR. OFFIT: Right. Here for the second part of your question, I'm not sure the current approval now this Pfizer vaccine for over 16 is going to have much of an impact on the approval or the emergency use authorization for the 6 to 12-year-old.

I'm not sure when we're going to see that we certainly need it. You know, we have children who were about to now going to school with a Delta variant, you know, which is clearly more transmissible. They're going to - they're - those 6 to 12, now can't be vaccinated because there was no vaccine available for them.

It's going to be the winter, where the virus is more easily spread during cooler, drier climates. So we need a vaccine for kids. Hopefully, we can - we can get it soon. But I'm not sure when that's going to happen. And I'm not sure that this disapproval is going to hasten that happening.

You know, and it is definitely not something one should use off label because first of all, the dose may not be the same compared to the dose that's being given to the - to say the 12 to 17-year-old. So we should wait for those data before we can comfortably give these vaccines to the six to 12 year old.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Follow the science is what you're saying in other words, which is an important thing to continue to do. Dr. Marty with this approval do you think there is any reasons as you've talked about Florida's long history of requiring vaccines? Any reason for schools that they should not be requiring a COVID vaccine for as it is now approved for 16 and up?

DR. MARTY: So no, there's no reason that they should not do it, they actually should do it. I might add that they - the trial is ongoing for younger groups. And yes, they are different doses for different age groups in the clinical trials, both for Madonna and for Pfizer.

Obviously what you would give to six months old would not be the same as what you would give an adult et cetera. And each age range has its own dose. So we - this approval does not in any way affect that clinical trial. We have to do the science we have to get it right.

And I want to point out one other thing that I didn't have a chance to say before, even though we have a proportion of our hospitalized patients that are fully vaccinated, if you look at those patients and compare them age wise and underlying conditions to their peers that are unvaccinated.


DR. MARTY: You still do far better if you're vaccinated than if you're unvaccinated.

BOLDUAN: Real quick Dr. Schaffner, what do you think is going to have a bigger impact on people getting vaccinated? Do you think it is this full approval? Or do you think it is? What could be coming which you could expect is kind of like a wave of more businesses now feeling more comfortable of requiring it schools being - more feeling more comfortable requiring this vaccine and other organizations?

DR. SCHAFFNER: I think the answer is yes Kate both of those. I think it will get some volunteers in, in the next several days. But I think the mandates are going to be required to get us up to 80 plus percent.

And I think the quicker we can get that in there, the better it is. These vaccines are safe, they're effective, the disease, the virus itself is really nasty. So let's all work together to get us vaccinated and get this virus under much better control.

BOLDUAN: Doctors, all of you, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it as always. Ahead for us, the very latest in Afghanistan and a desperate effort to evacuate Afghans who helped U.S. troops in the war.



BOLDUAN: The very latest from the Pentagon on efforts to evacuate Americans and U.S. allies from Afghanistan. We learned earlier just last hour officials say that 16,000 people were evacuated from Kabul within the last 24 hours, nearly 11,000 of them evacuated by U.S. forces.

That is the most in the - in a single 24 hour period since the Taliban took control of Kabul. Yet thousands and thousands more remain at the airport and outside trying to get in as time is very clearly running out. There are just eight days until all U.S. troops are supposed to be out of the country according to the deadline set by President Biden.

Though Biden is now saying that withdrawal could be pushed back in order to continue these evacuations but the Taliban pushing back on that already today. Joining me now for some more perspective on this is Vivian Salama, National Security Reporter at "The Wall Street Journal".

It's good to see you again Vivian. What's your sense that you're getting from? We heard that - we heard John Kirby and the General last, our briefing on the update. But what are you hearing behind the scenes the viewers from the Pentagon as well as from the White House on the state of things here?

It clearly didn't start well but yesterday, the last 24 hour period, the numbers really increased of people of - being able to get people out.

VIVIAN SALAMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's right. They're trying to ramp up the number of people obviously it was a slow trickle at first. And that was causing major concerns, not least of all, because the Taliban is standing at the door of the airport at this point. And we're getting closer and closer to the August 31st withdrawal deadline.

And so, you know, we want to remind people that right now, there's an agreement in place where the Taliban said that we're going to let you get out and we're not going to cause any trouble until August 31st. But the question is, now whether or not the U.S. and its allies are going to need more time because of the sheer number of people that are still on the ground that need to get through.

And obviously the situation growing more and more chaotic by the minute, it's growing increasingly difficult to get a lot of people out. And so President Biden, on Sunday, during his speech indicated that there could be a possibility of having to extend past that August 31st deadline.

The Taliban is saying wait we're not going to actually agree to that. And so it's really precarious situation that's playing out minute by minute. We saw some gunfire outside the airport today, a German soldier got hit and so obviously, the security situation growing direr, by the day, not least of which because also, you know, when you get a crowd of people like that, the security implications are huge.

I mean, I've spent a lot of time in war zones and the first thing you have to worry about in those situations is could a bad actor come in and try to blow himself up because of the fact that they're trying to target some of these people prevent them from leaving. And so a lot of concern builds as we get closer and closer to what is potentially an August 31st deadline?

BOLDUAN: Yes, in your latest article, and I recommend everyone reading it. I mean, you tell the story of a woman named Zahra (ph), an Afghan English teacher and her efforts - her efforts in trying to leave Afghanistan and really in parallel with the timeline of the collapse of the Afghan government. Do you know where Zahra is and how she's doing?

SALAMA: Yes, actually, we just got an update on her today. She hasn't managed to get out thus far. But we were told that there is a possibility of her getting out today. She's still on an airplane yet. So I don't want to count my eggs before they're hatched.

But we're really pulling for her. And we're hoping that she, like so many others, managed to get to a safe place outside of Afghanistan. But her story really kind of resonated with a lot of people because it was really. The situation of the Afghans right now personified in terms of just these people who believed in a future for Afghanistan wanted to create opportunities to teach young people to teach women especially, and have them educated and sit in classroom and have a lot of the opportunities that they did not have, prior to the 2001 invasion.

And suddenly, after 20 years, their lives are turning upside down again, and they really don't know what that future looks like. Folks like Zahra and a lot of teachers, a lot of female doctors, a lot of females in general, just really terrified about what the future holds for them.

The Taliban promising obviously that they're reformed, that they're going to give women opportunities but a lot of people just not wanting to take that and especially those who had close contact with the Americans or any other foreign militaries over these past 20 years.


SALAMA: They just fear the worst essentially. And so her story like so many others we're watching and seeing - waiting, waiting and seeing what happens to them in the coming weeks.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And waiting seems to be just absolutely the worst thing possible, right? Because as you mentioned, every day, you don't know what actually could be happening, especially with the Taliban guarding the gates.

The question of what went wrong is something that's going to be debated, discussed and investigated for a really long time, I'm sure Vivian.

But the Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mike Mullen, he spoke to ABC, Martha Raddatz yesterday, kind of about his view, then and now of Afghanistan, and what the U.S. and his view of kind of what the U.S. could have done to help with trying to help them do and could have helped them do listen to this.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Look back on those years is you really kind of beat yourself up over that?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIR OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, I am yes. What I thought we could do and I advise President Obama accordingly, as I thought we could turn it around. Obviously, I was wrong.


BOLDUAN: I really was struck by that. Because we so rarely, these days, hear leaders admitting they are wrong about anything anymore. I wonder what you think.

SALAMA: Well, you know, I think folks at the White House and at the Pentagon will say it's a lot easier to admit you're wrong or to admit problems when you're on the outside than when you are on the inside. And so certainly that has to be taken into consideration.

But I think there's a lot of reflection right now going on for administrations of the past 20 years. And this is something that's really important to remember, I'm talking a lot right now about the Biden Administration's handling of the withdrawal.

As President Biden has noted repeatedly, the buck stops with him. And it's sort of on his administration to kind of execute this and get us out once and for all, and so a lot of blame is going to go to them.

But we can, you know, as someone who's been tracking this conflict for 20 years, there's - there are a lot of issues and a lot of blame to go around, beginning with some of our strategies that were implemented in Afghanistan on the ground from the very early days of our invasion.

You just, you know, failure to kind of really focus on creating strong institutions in Afghanistan and kind of getting through some of the problems helping through some of the problems with the Afghan government to get them more on their feet to prevent some of the infighting that we saw over the past 20 years to prevent some of the corruption that we saw.

I mean, to a large extent, the U.S. can't - that is out of the U.S.'s to an extent it also was in the U.S.'s hands as an invading party. And so, you know, we're going to be dissecting this and doing forensics for many years to come, Kate, I'm sure.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure. That's good to see Vivian. Thank you for your reporting. Also happening today the House Intelligence Committee is set to receive a classified briefing on the situation the ongoing situation in Afghanistan briefed by representatives from multiple intelligence agencies.

The White House is also briefing members of the House today. Joining me right now is Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee, have been in that classified briefing today. Congressman, thank you for being here. What questions do you have for the briefers today?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): I have a lot of questions, but some of them include, you know how many Americans remain and need to be evacuated and how many allies need to be evacuated? And then you know, what is our security posture in and around the airport?

I'm very concerned about ISIS - on ISIS --, potentially staging attacks. We have to do everything we can to rally behind our brave men and women in uniform there who are guarding the perimeter and trying to safely evacuate as many people as possible now from Kabul.

BOLDUAN: Do you think you're going to get a clear picture on how many Americans are actually still in Afghanistan? Right now, from the Pentagon just last hour, they wouldn't even get specific on how many Americans they've been able to evacuate.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I will be pressing for those answers. I can understand why the situation is fluid. And I'm very happy to learn that the number of people being evacuated has increased rapidly over the last 24 hours. But I also want to get a sense of what is the work to be done so that we have a sense of when will the mission be accomplished?

BOLDUAN: You offered some pretty tough criticism of how this withdrawal has played out and you mentioned how in the last 24 hours, the numbers have really changed a lot more people being you know, just under 11,000 being evacuated by U.S. forces. Do you think things are getting better? Are you confident in saying that?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It seems like the evacuation is proceeding more rapidly. I'm glad for instance, that the bottlenecks appear to be being cleared at the airport with regard to the number of flights taking off and of course, the enlistment of civilian aircraft to move people from third party countries such as Qatar and other places to Europe and the United States.


KRISHNAMOORTHI: However, I know that we have about 20 to 30 people that my office is trying to get out of Afghanistan right now. And so I'd like to see the process by which those folks are cleared and move to third countries for further processing to be advanced a little more speedily, because right now, we have to just get people out of harm's way ASAP.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, I was going to ask you about that. So you say there's 20 to 30 people that you're tracking and trying to help get out of the country? What is the holdup that you're - that you're getting from at least - that your perspective that you have here?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: So I'll just give you one example, Kate, just a couple days ago, we had a family that was notified by the State Department that their evacuation flight was that day that they should proceed to the airport, that they should bring their paperwork and passes. They did all that and unfortunately, can't they were turned away at the gate of the airport.

BOLDUAN: Turned away by the Taliban, who's guarding the gate or turned away by U.S. forces who were I guess, manning that door?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think they were turned away potentially by Turkish soldiers who are assisting in guarding the airport. And so there appears to be some communications issues between the State Department and the security who are guarding the airport.

But this is incredibly frustrating as you can imagine, because A, it's impossible, almost impossible to get to the airport right now, and B, doing so involves risk of grave harm, because you're exposing yourself not only to the Taliban, but also to others who might pose harm.

And so these are the types of logistical issues that we need to work through right away. Because, you know, despite our best intentions, if we don't get these people out of harm's way we want to accomplish the mission.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that the United States should stay in Afghanistan beyond the 31st deadline, if not all Americans, U.S. forces and Afghan allies are out even if the Taliban who knows what they'll do in retaliation?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: We have to stay as long as it takes Kate. I don't believe in any artificial deadlines at this point to get our American personnel, especially citizens and others out of Afghanistan. I also think that we have to get our Afghan allies and partners out of there.

That is our sacred promise to them first cooperating with us, and we just have to do it and we shouldn't put any artificial deadlines on it.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you very much for your time, though, you will be able to give us nothing out of a classified briefing. I look forward to hearing what you can tell us after you are briefed later today. I appreciate it. Coming up for us -


BOLDUAN: --search and rescue efforts underway in Tennessee. The pictures and video from Tennessee are truly unbelievable the devastation. 21 people killed in severe flooding still at least 20 missing. We're going to go live there now.