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At This Hour
Pfizer Says Booster Protects against Omicron; Biden Says U.S. Troops on the Ground in Ukraine "Not on the Table." Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 08, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news on the pandemic.
Pfizer announcing this morning that two doses of its vaccine may not provide sufficient protection against the Omicron variant but also, importantly, announcing a booster dose neutralizes the fast-spreading new strain. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKAEL DOLSTEN, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER, PFIZER: So, yes, you could say, to be protected of Omicron, you really need a three-dose series of vaccination. And that's how we should look at it right now, the three-dose series is what you need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Even with all the attention on the Omicron variant, it is still the Delta variant that is leading to a new surge in America right now. Right now, the United States is averaging 118,000 new cases per day. That's up 61 percent in the last month.
Here are the important metrics: more than 62,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID, an increase of 36 percent in the last month. And 1,500 Americans are dying each day from the virus still.
The U.S. death toll now approaching 800,000. Joining me right now for more on this news coming from Pfizer is CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.
Doctor, thank you for being here. So the two-dose regimen of Pfizer may not hold up against Omicron. But adding a booster improves efficacy dramatically, according to the company, the antibody level rising 25-fold.
What's your reaction to this?
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Oh, cautiously very optimistic. This is very good news.
The question that we had, once we understood how many mutations Omicron had, was whether or not the existing vaccines would be effective or whether we would need to rapidly develop mutation- specific vaccines to deal with this variant.
So the good news, at least this preliminary data from Pfizer suggests, that the existing vaccine, when given in a three-dose regimen, will work and neutralize this variant.
Now this just underscores what we've come to understand over the last several months, which is the mRNA vaccines are three-dose vaccines. And in order to effectively treat Delta, you need three doses of this vaccine. And in order to effectively neutralize Omicron, you also need three doses. So this is -- I find this overall very, very optimistic.
BOLDUAN: Do you think, when it comes to the three-dose question, do you see it as settled at this point, with the reporting this morning from Pfizer?
REINER: Well, I don't know if it's settled. This is laboratory data. They create what's called a pseudovirus and then they add sera from people who have received vaccines and they look to see how dilute you can make the sera and have it still neutralize this virus that they've created.
In the laboratory, this suggests that the boosted sera will neutralize -- effectively neutralize this virus. But the proof is in the pudding. The proof will be when we start to see what happens in the community, how effective is this in actually preventing boosted people from getting sick.
The other data that Pfizer announced this morning was that the T cell response, which is the cellular immunity -- which is really part of the immune package that prevents you from getting seriously ill or dying from this virus -- is very well maintained.
So I think we have a lot to be grateful for. Having said all this, I think it's very reasonable for the American people to understand that, going forward, we're almost certainly going to have boosters coming in the next several months that are tailored to whatever the specific variant is circulating around the world.
We're going to have to just become accustomed to getting vaccinated for COVID the way we're vaccinated for influenza, where the vaccine is changed every year, to tailor to whatever new strain is circulating around the world.
And this is the new reality. And I'm grateful we now have technology. This mRNA technology can be changed very rapidly.
REINER: Pfizer has announced they can have a new booster, if they needed to have a new booster, specifically tailored to this variant, ready in 95 days, which is unimaginably fast. BOLDUAN: Yes, they said they can have it and likely will have it
ready in March, is what I heard the scientific officer say this morning.
Thank you, Dr. Reiner.
Important for all of you, coming up in just a moment, President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is going to be joining us live to talk about this news and much more about the pandemic. Stand by for that.
We also have more breaking news we want to get to. The chairman of the House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection has just notified the attorney for Mark Meadows that he has no choice but to move ahead with contempt proceedings against Meadows.
Donald Trump's former chief of staff, of course, indicated that, at first, he would cooperate with the investigation and then abruptly stopped. Let's get over to CNN's Paula Reid, who is live in Washington with all of this.
Paula, what is the chairman laying out here?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the chairman in this letter released this morning, he tells Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff, that the committee has no choice but to advance criminal contempt proceedings against him, given that he's decided to no longer cooperate with the committee.
In the letter the chairman writes that the committee is left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Meadows once served must refer him for criminal prosecution.
Interestingly, Kate, the letter also reveals new details about the previous correspondence between Meadows and the committee. We know he had shared some documents but, for the first time, they go into greater detail about what exactly he's voluntarily turned over to the committee.
It includes an email, discussing the appointment of an alternate slate of electors as part of a, quote, "direct and collateral attack" after the election. Another email references a 38-page PowerPoint briefing, entitled "Election Fraud, Foreign Interference and Options for January 6th," that was to be provided on the Hill.
It's not exactly clear what these emails mean. But they'll absolutely be of interest to the committee and help to illustrate why the committee is so interested in talking to Meadows.
Now Meadows will be referred to the Justice Department for criminal contempt. It will ultimately be up to the Justice Department and the attorney general whether they want to proceed with charges.
They have of course charged former Trump official Steve Bannon with contempt. But that was different for a couple reasons. First of all, he was not a White House official on January 6th. He also didn't engage at all with the committee.
Meadows, he has shared some documents, has signaled a willingness to cooperate but then did an about-face. It's unclear if this set of facts will be enough for the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges.
Kate, really importantly, we're also waiting for ongoing litigation about executive privilege and what rights the former president has related to this investigation. The resolution of that case really could have some implications potentially for Meadows.
So it may be a while before we learn if there will be any criminal charges filed. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you. Really appreciate it.
We're also learning more this morning about what happened during that two-hour meeting between President Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday. In a speech in Moscow moments ago, Putin says his talks with Biden were open and constructive.
And breaking just now, President Biden just spoke about that meeting as well as he was leaving the White House. The president in part insisting that putting U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine, not on the table still.
Joining me is William Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
It's good to have you back. Thank you. I wanted you to translate for me or translate Putin-speak if you could.
If Vladimir Putin is saying today, the talks were open and constructive, what does that tell you about how this high-stakes meeting went?
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Kate, it sounds like Mr. Putin may have had greater expectations going into the conversation than he had coming out.
It sounds like he didn't get any response from President Biden to Mr. Putin's request or demand or red line about what Ukraine could or couldn't do, about what kind of sanctions would be put on.
So I think Mr. Putin is putting the best face on, saying it was constructive, which is a good thing. It's good for the two leaders to be talking.
Indeed, that might be what has come out of this conversation; that is, a way forward, that Mr. Putin can express his concerns in a dialogue that has to do with European security, a conversation that clearly has to take place with Europeans, including Ukrainians and Americans.
But if Mr. Putin wants to make the case for his security in that context, that may be a good thing coming out of those discussions yesterday.
BOLDUAN: So then what then are you looking for specifically now, to see if President Biden is actually successful in warning Putin off?
BOLDUAN: What would be the first sign?
TAYLOR: The first sign has to be a demobilization of significant numbers of troops, Russian troops on the border, several borders of Ukraine. As we know, the Russians have moved forces up close to the border in Crimea that they illegally occupy on Ukraine's western border and on the northeast, to the northeast toward Belarus.
So the first sign and, indeed, a precondition really, for any kind of useful, constructive conversation, negotiation on European security, has to be a demobilization, a deescalation -- he has to -- President Putin has to, again, pull back his troops.
As we recall, he did that as a response to President Biden's phone call in April, when President Biden said, pull back your troops and he did. He needs to do that again.
BOLDUAN: We know Putin also made clear once again that he wants to keep Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO. That's obviously one of the major motivating factors, his intention there. In 2008, that country, Ukraine, was promised membership eventually into NATO. I want to play for you what former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: We are to be very measured in actually bringing Ukraine or any other new nation into NATO, Michael. We have 30 countries in NATO today. We've added several in the last few years in the Balkans; 30 is a pretty good number.
But that does not mean we cannot have close partners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The admiral suggesting that now is not the time to bring Ukraine into NATO.
Do you agree?
TAYLOR: Kate, I think no one is pushing to have Ukraine come in to NATO now. It was not an issue of now or even the next year. The prospect for joining NATO needs to be out there. As you indicated, the alliances said, some day, you will be in NATO. But the time is not immediately. The time may be in the future.
There's a lot of work that needs to be done. Actually, there are other ways that the United States and Ukraine could interact. There could be some other agreements between the United States and Ukraine that would not require other NATO allies to be on board, to agree.
Right now, for Ukraine to join NATO, which, again, is not on the table immediately but, as it stands now, all other NATO allies would have to agree; whereas, if the United States were to have a relationship, some kind of a stronger relationship with Ukraine that addresses their security, we could do that ourselves.
BOLDUAN: Ambassador, thank you so much. I'm just getting a couple more notes from the control room on what President Biden was saying as he was leaving the White House just now, saying the United States would not unilaterally use force against Russia for invading Ukraine.
President Biden also saying he is confident that Putin got the message. So much more to come on that. Ambassador, thank you as always, really appreciate it.
TAYLOR: Thank you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, much more on the breaking news from Pfizer saying its coronavirus booster will protect against the Omicron variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me live next.
BOLDUAN: Back to the breaking news, Pfizer saying, when combined with the original vaccine regimen, its booster shot neutralizes the fast spreading Omicron variant. The company reporting today that the third dose shows a 25-fold increase in antibody levels, compared to just two doses when it comes to Omicron.
Joining me for more on what this means is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Biden.
Thank you, Dr. Fauci, for being here.
What's your read on the news from Pfizer?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF COVID-19 MEDICAL ADVISER: The news is encouraging. With the new Omicron variant, the initial study shows that, for people with two doses of an mRNA vaccine, the protection against infection -- at least as projected by laboratory data; we don't have clinical data yet -- diminishes significantly.
However, as the people from Pfizer pointed out, when you get that third shot boost, it dramatically increases the level of laboratory projected protection.
In other words, if you look at the level of antibodies and very likely other immune parameters, that you still stay within the level of protection, which is really very encouraging news, because everyone obviously is concerned about the appearance of this new variant, which has mutations that are somewhat concerning. This is good news about the booster protection.
BOLDUAN: One key question with Omicron has been, are current vaccines sufficient, do they hold up?
So now with this lab data, are you now confident and comfortable that the answer is yes with three shots of Pfizer?
FAUCI: I believe so. We should remember that the vaccines that we've all received were against the original ancestral Wuhan strain. Yet they protect very well against Alpha, Beta and Delta, when you get the level of response high enough.
That's what we're seeing now with Omicron. So one can project that, if you get a high enough level of protection, induced by the current vaccines, they will hold strong.
However, having said that, Kate, we are still, together with the pharmaceutical companies, going ahead to make a variant-specific boost, just in case it turns out that the boost with the current vaccine doesn't give that kind of durable response.
But from the preliminary data that you just mentioned, we have every reason to believe that the booster with the standard vaccine should hold us well.
BOLDUAN: You said this is good news.
Are you breathing a little easier this morning with this news?
FAUCI: Quite frankly, I am, Kate. When you're entering into an arena of a new variant with very many unknown aspects about it, you always have a degree of anxiety about how it's going to turn out. So there were three major unknowns.
Is it much more transmissible than Delta?
Does it elude or evade the immune response?
And is it clinically more severe?
As the days and weeks go by, in real time, we're learning more and more. The news we got last night and this morning about the effect of boosters does make me breathe a little better. I'd like to learn a little more, as we will, over the next few days to weeks, about the degree of transmissibility and severity of disease.
BOLDUAN: Pfizer's chief scientific officer said this morning on CNN that he thinks fully vaccinated against Omicron, it means three doses.
Do you think the definition of fully vaccinated should now change?
FAUCI: Well, you know, as you say, it's a technical, almost semantic definition. And it is the definition for requirements if someone says, are you fully vaccinated to be able to attend class in a university or college or be able to work in a workplace.
Right now, Kate, I don't see that changing tomorrow or this week or next week. But when you want to talk about optimal protection, I don't think anyone would argue that optimal protection is going to be with a third shot.
Whether or not it officially gets changed in the definition, I think that will be considered, literally on a daily basis. That's always on the table.
BOLDUAN: And this discussion has been going on for a bit.
With this data coming in this morning, I'm kind of stuck with, is it a matter now of when, not if, the definition of fully vaccinated changes?
FAUCI: My own personal opinion, Kate, is what you said is correct. It's going to be a matter of when, not if.
BOLDUAN: Does timing of that matter?
FAUCI: Well, timing of that matters, Kate, with regard to the lawsuits that are now about OSHA and whether or not a fully vaccinated person -- as you know, that point that was made by the president, that private businesses with 100 or more people either should be fully vaccinated or get tested regularly.
The federal workers, as you know, are required to be vaccinated, certain people who come under the Medicare/Medicaid. It has implications for that. And that's the reason why it matters.
BOLDUAN: Because there are -- there's broad implications for who and when and how -- but, for you, is it sooner rather than later that you'd like to see the definition change, if this is just what the data is showing us?
FAUCI: You know, Kate, for me, as a public health person, I just say get your third shot. Forget about what the definition is. I just want to see people be optimally protected. That's what I'm concerned about. For me, that's unequivocally and unquestionably getting a third shot boost.
BOLDUAN: You mentioned that Pfizer -- you said that the government is also working with Moderna on continuing to still produce a variant- specific booster for Omicron.
Why is that necessary if we're seeing that this -- that these original vaccines, with a booster shot, are holding up?
FAUCI: Well, Kate, you always want to stay ahead of the game. You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. It looks like that a boost with the current vaccine will work. But you never know what happens if the durability might actually fall off very rapidly.
And that's one of the things you want to be prepared for. And I'd hate to be caught short and find out that, even though temporarily, that boost works.
FAUCI: But then it falls off rapidly and you might need a variant- specific boost. So you want to always try to stay a step or two ahead of the virus. And that's what preparing to make a variant-specific booster does.
Separate from the Pfizer announcement, you said yesterday it appears that, with the case of Omicron confirmed so far, you're not seeing a very severe profile of disease.
And I'm wondering if, from the data that you've seen so far, is that among both vaccinated and unvaccinated?
FAUCI: Well, that's a great question. The overwhelming majority of clinical data -- we don't have any clinical data yet in our own country because we don't have enough people with Omicron infection.
But in South Africa, they have a very interesting demographic breakdown. They have people that are vaccinated -- but their level of vaccination is about 30 percent, way below us and most other countries. They have many more people percentagewise that have HIV infection, which would put them at a greater risk of severity of disease.
They have a lot of people infected with Beta and even with Delta. But in specific answer to your question, it appears the level of severity when you look at the relationship or the ratio between number of infections and requirements for hospitalization, duration of hospital stay, it looks like at least it's not more severe and likely might be less severe.
Overwhelmingly, unvaccinated are always more vulnerable to all aspects of disease. But if you look at what we can gather from the entire cohort in South Africa, the initial suggestion is that it can be less severe.
But we've always got to be careful, Kate. Don't make an extrapolation based on data that's five days old. You've really got to get it confirmed over a longer period and with many more people.
BOLDUAN: When you're talking about the vaccination rate, it made me remember, I think the CDC put out new data just this morning that only a quarter of Americans right now eligible are actually boosted. A quarter of those eligible for a booster shot are actually boosted.
And now in this -- I'm going to call it the new world of what we're learning of what Omicron requires -- what does that mean?
It means a lot of people are a far way off from being fully protected from Omicron.
FAUCI: You're absolutely correct. That's the reason why we're out there, I'm out here with you, telling the public, if ever there was yet another spur and another incentive and another reason to get a booster shot, please do it.
We have about 35 million to 40 million people who have received their booster. But we have 100 million people who are eligible to be boosted who haven't gotten boosted. Not only do we have to get the unvaccinated vaccinated but we've got to get people fully vaccinated boosted.
It's very important. I hope this news that's now spreading about the Omicron variant and the vaccinations are going to get people to re- evaluate the need and get on there and go get boosted if you're vaccinated and go get vaccinated if you're not.
BOLDUAN: Before you go, the return to office continues to be a big issue for -- across the country and for many countries. Google and Uber just announced they're pushing back their full return to office date again in the midst of the uncertainty about Omicron.
From a public health and scientific perspective, is it safe to go back to the office?
FAUCI: Yes, it is. That's one of the reasons why we have requirements in many, many of these venues of people getting vaccinated. Here in my own place, where I work, at the NIH, we have 99 percent compliant and 97 percent vaccinated. That's the reason why we're pushing hard to get people back to work.
It's an order of how many and what percentage of people are vaccinated. That makes it safe and allows people to get back to where they should be, namely at the workplace.
BOLDUAN: Dr. Fauci, thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it.
FAUCI: Good to be with you, Kate. Thank you for having me.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.
Breaking news we need to get to: President Biden just spoke with reporters moments ago as he was leaving the White House about the Pfizer news as well as his call with Vladimir Putin. Let's listen in together.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have some good news this morning. That Pfizer lab report came back, saying that the expectation is that the existing vaccines protect against Omicron.
But if you get the booster, you're really in good shape. And so that's very encouraging news. And that's the lab report, that's the lab report. There's more study going on. But that's very, very encouraging.
QUESTION: What do you think you achieved by talking with Putin yesterday?
BIDEN: He asked about you a lot. He talked about you a lot.
QUESTION: Are you confident that -- ?
BIDEN: Yes, I will.