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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukrainians Left Reeling, Grieving After 50 Days Of Civilian Deaths; Eastern Ukraine Bracing For Russian Assault On Donbas; Russia Says Its Warship "Moskva" Sank In Black Sea; Biden Weighs Sending Senior Administration Official To Ukraine; Pfizer: Booster Shot Gives "High Immune Response" For Children 5-11. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 14, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And good evening. I'm looking out on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on day 50 of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine. I'm Jake Tapper, welcome to this special broadcast of THE LEAD live from Ukraine.

We'll get to today's top headlines in just a moment, but I want to take a second to step away from the news of troop movements and negotiations for more arms to look at the human cost of what those of us covering this war are seeing on the ground.

The hideous wholesale slaughter of innocents and their loved ones left behind. Moms and dads, neighbors, friends, rescue workers who tried to save them, such as a 6-year-old girl in Mariupol, the coastal town that Russia has been pummeling for seven weeks.

We should warn you these images will be disturbing. An "Associated Press" photographer captured the final moments of this girl's life. Her mother weeping outside the ambulance, her father covered in blood at her side as an EMT desperately tried to revive her. Doctors and nurses crowding over her tiny body in the hospital, still wearing her unicorn pajamas.

A doctor pumping oxygen into her lungs turned to the "A.P." journalist and said, quote, show this to Putin, the eyes of this child and crying doctors. That girl could not be saved.

Consider the countless Ukrainians killed or maimed by Russian land mines and booby traps. Ukrainian fighters unable to find them all in town.

Oleg Naumenko worked as a driver in the village of Huhuliv, outside of Kyiv, according to "The New York Times." This is about 30 miles from where I'm standing right now. He was a whiz at repairing cars. When neighbors showed him an abandoned car, he opened it up to see if he could fix it.

In this case an apparent land mine in the car exploded and killed him instantly. His wife Valeria told "The Times", I died with him in that moment. She found out about his death in Poland where she had escaped with their 7-year-old son. Quote, what was left was the car with the door still open and pool of blood and a big emptiness.

Think for a moment of your best friend from childhood. Sergei Lahubski (ph) lost his friend Igor this month in Bucha. Sergei told "Reuters" he believes his friend was beaten, then shot in the head by Russians and dumped unceremoniously in a stairwell. Sergei and some neighbors found shovels and dug a shallow grave in the grass alongside the road.

He said, quote, I knew him since childhood. I knew his parents, his brother, everything. We went through life together. I don't have words.

Millions of Ukrainians left behind reeling from these attacks, reeling from unfathomable loss and grief, senseless unprovoked deaths carried out in the most terrorizing ways imaginable.

And yet, so many Ukrainians refuse to surrender. They refuse to back down and leave, even as Russian forces threaten the Donbas region right now. These residents who live just west of the Donbas are refusing to evacuate their homes.

Nine evacuation routes opened today for civilians to leave Ukrainian cities after zero were available yesterday. A senior Pentagon official says the Russian troops who left northern Ukraine are headed south to the Donbas preparing for a major Russian offensive.

Another defense official telling CNN the pentagon is mindful of the clock as the U.S. scrambles to move $800 million of weapons, ammo, security aid into Ukraine as quickly as possible.

And to the south, Ukrainian officials claim a Russian warship, the Moskva, was hit by cruise missiles fired from Ukraine. The Russians say sailors evacuated the ship after a fire onboard. The loss of this important warship, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, would be a massive blow to Putin.

And for those paying attention, remember when the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island in February said, quote, Russian warship go F yourself? They were talking to the Moskva.

Turning now to the looming fight in Eastern Ukraine. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said today that officials do not know when the Russians will begin their offensive but it is clear Russian forces are preparing for a major battle.

Joining us live to discuss, retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt.

General Kimmitt, always good to have you on.

So, this Russian offensive will be fought in different terrain, on the open plains of southeast Ukraine, terrain that plays into Russia's natural military advantages as opposed to urban areas or wooded areas in the north where Ukraine's forces were successful in using drones and ambush tactics. [16:05:06]

Whom do you think is going to prevail?

BRIG. GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RET), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, that's yet to be seen. It may be Russian tactics but this is Ukrainian land. They have been fighting in this area for the last ten years. And it's going to be a tough fight one way or the other. Knowing the land the way the Ukrainians do gives them an advantage.

But I would tell you that given the long history of Russian offensive operations and this new pretty cruel general, I think at this point, it's too hard to handicap.

TAPPER: And, General, how might this potential Russian offensive unfold? Would it be an immediate attack as the French are now suggesting or do you think it will take time and be more slow going as Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby seemed to suggest this morning?

KIMMITT: Well, I kind of agree with John Kirby right now. The advantage that we have is we know where they're moving from and where they're moving to. You know that they're coming from this area down into this area, and that, quite frankly, is going to be fairly easy to see by our overhead platforms.

So not only when they conduct the attack, plan to conduct the attack, how they conduct the attack, I think we're going to have a pretty good idea of how it will happen and of course we'll pass that intelligence on to the Ukrainians.

TAPPER: So, General, President Putin said this week is goal is now to take control of the Donbas region in the southeast of the country. What do you think he has planned for the towns and territory along the Black Sea?

KIMMITT: Well, that's a very good question because if you take a look at this area down here, this is what he has wanted for some period of time. He's wanted to be able to completely control all the sea routes into Ukraine. Candidly, if he owns all of that land from Odessa up to Russia and that part of the Donbas, he makes Ukraine a land-locked country, and that just completely changes the dynamic of a country like Ukraine who depends on exports of wheat and other agricultural products to fill their treasury. That gives Putin a lot of leverage that he doesn't have right now.

TAPPER: All right. Retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, thank you so much for your insights, as always.

Joining us live to discuss, Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana. He's the first senator on the ground here in Kyiv and just returned from a tour of Bucha where Russians left behind mass graves of Ukrainians as well as bodies in the streets.

Senator, thanks for being here. So, the top prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, he

visited Bucha and Borodianka as well, and he says Ukraine is a crime scene. Do you agree?

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R-MT): I completely agree. What we saw today was shocking. It was numbing. We're parents of four children, we have three grandchildren.

To see these shallow graves and to watch these investigators who are with shovels digging, shovelful by shovelful extracting these bodies, the bodies of women, of small children, civilians across the board, it is -- it's mind numbing. It's terrible.

And we were there, in fact, looking as they're excavating, taking these bodies out, you could see the rubble. Like an earthquake had destroyed these residential neighborhoods. We met with the mayor of Bucha today. He said, Senator, can I show you my home?

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

DAINES: So we followed him to his home. Completely destroyed by the Russians.

TAPPER: You have some photographs you took of the mass grave.

DAINES: I do, yeah.

TAPPER: And we want to put those up, during your trip to Bucha. As always, we want to warn our viewers they are upsetting to see. So tell us what you're looking at.

DAINES: Yeah, so this is the site there in Bucha where they were excavating and taking shovel by shovel the bodies out. You can see the black bags that the bodies were in. And then they would open up the bags.

The stench was horrific. They would take these bodies back to the tents that you saw there and they were basically doing autopsies, forensic examinations. I'm covering my nose because the stench was terrible, the smell of death.

It's a very quiet and somber scene. It's sitting right next to a church, which just kind of adds to the whole perspective of what we're seeing there.

TAPPER: The savagery.

DAINES: It really is.

TAPPER: Vladimir Putin is out there and his minions throughout the world and in pro-Putin propaganda saying this is all fake. You were there.

DAINES: The truth is what was just shown around the world on CNN. And that was why it was so important to have American officials come to Ukraine, come to Kyiv. And I had dinner just minutes ago, Jake, with a Ukrainian military



I asked him, I said, what we saw in Bucha today, what's going on like Bucha around Ukraine? Just as you said, Jake, Ukraine is one great big crime scene. This is going on in Mariupol as we speak.

TAPPER: Yeah, at probably a much, much bigger scale.

DAINES: It is. I mean, when history is written about what's happened here in Ukraine, it's going to be a terrible, terrible story.

Let's not forget, the Ukrainians sent a very strong message today as I was going through the devastation. They said this -- these war crimes will not end until this war ends.

TAPPER: Right.

DAINES: This war will not end until the Ukrainians have the lethal aid they need to defeat the Russians.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that because President Biden just approved another $800 million. It's been about $3 billion total.

What are your concerns about it getting here fast enough? Because obviously, logistically, it's difficult to get helicopters, et cetera, to a place from around the world.

DAINES: Well, we need to speed up the cadence at which that lethal aid is made available and then delivered to the Ukrainians. There's a couple of places that it is coming in. We've got to speed that up.

We have to make sure that we are listening to the Ukrainians and what they need. I met with leaders here today. They said they need heavy artillery, 155th, 155mm howitzers. They need a heavy armor.

TAPPER: I think they're getting howitzers, right?

DAINES: Well, we've got to talk about how many they need as well. They have to get them here quickly. As you watch that battle we just looked at minutes ago, the Russians are on the move. They're in a part of Ukraine where they have a better territorial advantage. They had, when Ukraine defeated north of the Kyiv here because they had better battleground. The territory is not as friendly for the Ukrainians down south. That's why we need to accelerate this lethal aid.

TAPPER: President Biden called this genocide. He said that wasn't a legal ruling, it was his opinion, but he thought it was pretty obvious. Do you agree?

DAINES: I'll tell you, what I saw were atrocities, they were war crimes. At this point I don't know if we get involved in definitions. This is a terrible, terrible situation. These are war crimes. It's irrefutable these are war crimes. They need to be prosecuted and

Vladimir Putin and those who committed these crimes need to be held accountable.

TAPPER: Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate your time.

So many Ukrainians, especially in towns near the front lines of this war are living in sheer terror every day. Specifically those living in or near the Donbas where Russia is planning its next big offensive.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward joins us live now.

Clarissa, you traveled to the Donbas today. How are the people there surviving?


Well, the situation there is absolutely awful. We were in a town called Avdiivka. It is literally less than a mile from the front line, from those positions of pro-Russian separatists and Russian forces. They have already started relentlessly bombarding these areas in anticipation of this new offensive. There's roughly 2,000 people still left in the town. The mayor is begging them to evacuate. Many of them are saying they don't have the money and they don't know how to get out.


WARD (voice-over): The down of Avdiivka is no stranger to war. For eight years, this has been the front line of Ukraine's battle with Russian-backed separatists. People here are used to shelling. They have never experienced anything like this.

A missile can be heard overhead as an emotional man approaches us.

They smashed the old part of town, he says. As we talk, the artillery intensifies.

I told him it's better to go home now because there's a lot of shelling. He said there's more shelling where he lives.

As Russia prepares a major offensive in the east, front line towns like Avdiivka are getting pummeled.

So you can hear constant bombardment. This is the bomb shelter down here, but you can see this building has already been hit.

More than 40 people are now living in what used to be a clothing store. Leta (ph) and her two sons have been here for three weeks. She wants to leave, but says her boys are too scared to go outside.

We're afraid to stay and afraid to go, she tells us. But it's fate, whether you run or don't run.

On an apartment block, an icon of the Virgin Mary has been painted, a plea for protection.


But there is no respite in the bombardment.

If you look over here, you can see the remnants of some fresh strikes.

Thirty-seven-year-old government worker Rodnislav (ph) looks at what remains of his family home. He takes us inside to see the full scale of the destruction.

It's completely destroyed.

Mercifully no one was at home at the time of the strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was photo albums. My children's photo.

WARD: His family has already left, but he says he plans to stay.

I'm afraid like anybody else, only the dead aren't afraid, he tells us. But a lot of people are still here in Avdiivka living in bomb shelters and we need to support them. Authorities say roughly 2,000 people remain in this town. There is no water, no heat, electricity is spotty.

The local school has become a hub to gather aid and distribute it to the community.

Volunteer Igor Golotov (ph) spends his days visiting the elderly and disabled. Today, he is checking in on 86-year-old Lydia. Petrified and alone, he has yet to find an organization willing to come and evacuate her.

When there's no electricity and it's so dark and there's shelling, she says, you can't imagine how scary it is.

She tells us she recites prayers to get through the night. I never imagined that my end would be like this, she says. You can't even die here because there's no one to provide a burial ceremony.

For Igor, it is agony not to be able to do more. I promise you, he says, I will help you to be evacuated.

As we leave, Lydia is reluctant to say good-bye. It is terrifying to live through this time. To do it alone is torture.

It's so nice to see real people, she says. Probably it's going to get worse.

A prediction all but certain to come true, as a second Russian offensive draws near.


WARD (on camera): So what Ukrainian officials are saying now, Jake, is that this appears to be a sort of three-pronged offensive from the Russian side coming down from the north, moving up from the south, and also pushing in from the east. They are already meeting stiff resistance in the form of Ukrainian forces as they have in the north above Kyiv where of course they were forced ultimately to retreat.

But the fear for many on the ground is because they face resistance, because they have had humiliating defeats, they are going to double down, use even more brutal tactics, and they look to the southeastern city of Mariupol as a potential harbinger of what could be to come, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. And they have this new commanding general, the so-called butcher of Syria.

Clarissa Ward reporting live for us from Dnipro, thank you so much. Incredible reporting.

Coming up from here, CNN is on the ground in another front line town with the fear of more Russian forces moving in.

Plus, President Biden weighing in on reports of a senior member of his administration traveling here to Kyiv, soon. And the chances of that person being Biden himself?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Breaking news in our world lead. The Russian warship Moskva just sank in the Black Sea. The announcement comes from the Russian defense ministry via the Russian news agency, TASS.

Now, Ukraine claims that they hit the ship with land-to-sea missiles. Russia says a fire caused munitions onboard to explode.

Meanwhile, CNN's Ben Wedeman has been to the easternmost town still under Ukrainian control where he met civilians that not only decided to stay, they volunteered for the even more risky job of braving the local roads, despite the constant threat of Russian soldiers and Russian shelling.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Denis loads food in his car for a delivery run. The supplies sorted by volunteers in this old warehouse were donated from around Ukraine and abroad. Denis was a musician before the war.


WEDEMAN: Destroyed.

DENIS: Destroyed.

WEDEMAN: Severodonetsk is the city furthest east under Ukrainian government control and under constant bombardment from Russian forces nearby.

The supplies Denis and other volunteers deliver are what keep this city alive.

Two missiles landed outside Nadia's decrepit Soviet era apartment building. The strain of living under the shelling more than she can take.

It's hard, she says. I can't stay in this room, I'm so afraid. I want it to be quiet and calm again. With Russian forces massing in the east, there will be no quiet.


There will be no calm.

Sitting on a hospital bed, Uliana recounts the night her house was hit.

I was in the kitchen and it started, she says.

Her home is now in ruins.

More than 20 corpses lie scattered in the hospital's morgue, wrapped in sheets and blankets, awaiting burial.

On the outskirts of the city, more evidence of the toll war has taken.

This is a hastily dug graveyard that was started since the war began. Just look at the dates -- 7th of April, 9th of April, 3rd of April, 4th of April. It goes on and on and on.

And more graves will soon be filled.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And going around the city, what we saw is that almost every building was somehow damaged by what appears to be utterly random shelling in areas where there's no military targets. There are just civilians.

And it appears that there was extensive use or there is still extensive use of cluster munitions in that city. The only real rhyme or reason to this madness seems to be a desire to terrorize and demoralize the population before the onslaught -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that important report.

Coming up, the operation happening to get supplies, such as food and medicine, to Ukrainians who have not left this country.

Stay with us.


[16:31:30] TAPPER: We're back live in Kyiv for our world lead -- 4.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Putin's war began 50 days ago, heading for neighboring countries, mostly Poland. Some residents are staying nearby to help those who stayed behind, including my next guest.

Vlada Galan is the president and chairwoman of the International Ukrainian Crisis Fund. She's also an advisor to the mayor of Kyiv. She joins us now from Krakow, Poland.

Vlada, thanks so much for joining us.

So, you're building medicine supplies and food -- you're supplying medicine, supplies and food to Ukrainians from the Polish border. Explain to our audience how your operation works.

VLADA GALAN, PRESIDENT AND CHAIRWOMAN, INTERNATIONAL UKRAINIAN CRISIS FUND: Well, Jake, first of all, thank you for having me. It has been just a full-scale effort. When this war first started, I have a very close professional and personal connection to Ukraine, professionally just because over the last five years I've been very active in Ukraine in the political scene and personally because I'm originally from Ukraine.

I was born in Odessa. When this war started, I desperately wanted to go back and help. I have even a home in Kyiv.

So what I decided to do, since I could not pick up a gun and go fight to defend the country, I started the International Ukrainian Crisis Fund. The goal of the fund and how we've been working is providing humanitarian aid, which is primarily focused on food and medical supplies. We have done some evacuations. But at this point the most critical need is food.

And we're bringing that in from Poland, from Austria, from Spain, from Montenegro. We have tons of donated food supplies that are coming in to the country and we've received tons of donations, but the need is so great and we have to continue this effort. But currently, we have a logistics network that's distributing nationwide and we're very humbled that in the early stages, we were greatly supported and endorsed by a lot of the mayors in Ukraine.

TAPPER: So just to be clear, you're getting this food to places like Lviv and the western part of the country where there are a lot of internally displaced people. You're getting it to -- and also you're getting it to places like Mariupol or wherever you can get to here in Kyiv, Kharkiv, other places where people have stayed behind?

GALAN: Yes. In fact we are really focused on getting food to critical places, so recently our team went into Bucha right after the occupation of the Russians. They were able to feed a lot of people. We were one of the early teams that came in during this period of time. And so we go into very high-risk areas. Very often we go into smaller villages where the occupiers just left and we're really nationwide.

And while we do help, leave as much as we can, our focus is really the hot zones and areas where the need is really, really critical. That's where we find people that are starving. Many don't have shelter, have just come out of shelters and are facing the worst of it.

TAPPER: You're also an advisor to the mayor here in Kyiv. Now that it appears Russian forces are focused on the east and the south, what is it going to take to rebuild Kyiv and its surrounding areas? When we drove in today it was just devastation everywhere you looked.


GALAN: Well, you know, first, I want to say that the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has just been incredible in the leadership he's shown not only for the capital city but for the country. But it's going to take billions and billions of dollars. Some of the rough estimates are from $240 to $540 billion. I think by the time we're done with it, it's going to be trillions to rebuild Ukraine.

But there could not be a better team to rebuild the country and the strong leadership is really being shown in the capital.

TAPPER: So you've been getting updates from your organization's director who was recently in Bucha, as you noted, the site of those horrifying images, dead bodies lying in the streets, buildings totally destroyed, especially in Borodianka, which is nearby.

What resources do people in those areas need right now?

GALAN: The number one resource that's critical is food. Food -- and the country is going to be a facing a lot of shortages when it comes to food. While in the beginning of the crisis, food was coming in quite readily from all over Europe, some of those loads have slowed down. We really encourage that people continue to do that.

The second is really simple medical aid and medicine that people take on a regular basis that they haven't had access to for the last 30 to 40 days. Those are critical so we've teamed up with a lot of clinics where people are submitting their needs and what medicines they need and we receive those lists from the clinics and we work really hard to make sure that we can fulfill those. So far we've done a great job of doing that.

TAPPER: Yeah, I met a woman in Lviv who only went to Lviv from where she was from, I think in the Kyiv area so she could get pharmaceuticals for her mom and ship them back. The post office still working here.

Vlada Galan, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for the important work you do.

If you would like to donate to the International Ukrainian Crisis Fund, please visit

Thanks, Vlada.

GALAN: Thank you, Jake. Thank you. TAPPER: President Biden is promising Ukraine more heavy weaponry, possibly also a visit from a high-level member of his administration. How else could the U.S. help? That's next.



TAPPER: Turning to our politics lead, as Russian forces prepare to launch a massive offensive in eastern Ukraine, the United States and its allies are unveiling a new military package for Ukraine, one that includes more sophisticated and heavier duty weaponry than previous shipments made. This comes as President Biden says he is weighing whether to send a senior member of his administration to Ukraine as a demonstration of support.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins now live from the White House.

Kaitlan, what are you learning about whom the Biden administration might send here to Kyiv, Ukraine?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not going to be President Biden or Vice President Harris anytime soon based on what we've heard so far. But they are having talks inside about sending a senior official inside the Biden administration to Ukraine as a show of support. And, Jake, some of the names thrown out there to me have been Defense Secretary Austin, Secretary of State Blinken, maybe one of those two, though it doesn't seem close to being decided yet.

But this came up really because you saw the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, go to Kyiv over the weekend. He made this surprise visit. It took a lot to get him there. He had to travel by car, my helicopter. He was on a train several hours because you can't just fly into Ukraine and Kyiv like a head of state normally would.

So that has prompted these conversations inside the White House about maybe sending a member of their own delegation there to go and visit as a show of support. But President Biden said today they're still making that decision.

And, Jake, based on what we've heard privately, it doesn't sound clear they have decided who would be going or whether or not that trip is going to materialize.

TAPPER: The Biden administration says that they are expanding their intelligence sharing with Ukraine. What does that mean?

COLLINS: Yeah, so right now, what you've heard from Western officials is they do believe that Russia is preparing to launch this major ground offensive in eastern Ukraine. They have moved away from those attempts to try to capture the capital of Kyiv and other major cities and instead are focusing on this eastern region.

And so, that has prompted two things from the White House. One ,which is changing the type of weapons that they're sending to Ukraine to include much heavier duty ones in this latest package that you were talking about, but also, they're changing the way that they're sharing intelligence with Ukrainians -- something they have been doing since the beginning, something Republicans say they don't believe they're doing enough of.

But officials are expanding the intelligence they're sharing, especially about Russian forces in the region in the hopes of helping the Ukrainians in this way. So basically saying, simply put, Jake, they're making it easier to share intelligence with the Ukrainians on the Russians as it can help them for what they expect to be a major ground offensive.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us -- thank you so much.

We are also following important news on the COVID front with new encouraging data for parents with young children.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, there is new data out today showing promising results of a third shot for kids. Pfizer and BioNTech say a study of children 5 to 11 years old shows a high immune response from a booster shot which helps fight off the omicron variant. The company said they would be sending this data to the FDA and requesting emergency use authorization to deliver that third shot to this group in the coming days.

Here to help us understand what this means for families is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, good to see you.

So, you've dug into this new data. Tell us what it shows.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So what they did in this case, Jake, six months after these children received the first two shots they gave them this booster. Now, this is a third of the dose of what adults get. It's 10 micrograms. And what they were looking for were three things -- how well do they tolerate this third dose?


How safe is it? And does it create antibodies? How many more antibodies does it create?

And it's relatively small study, but let me show what they found here. First of all, with regard to the antibodies, a significant increase overall, 36-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies against omicron specifically. So, obviously, this is the virus that's circulating the most. Well-tolerated, no new safety signals. As you point out, they're now

going to take this to the FDA to see if this should be authorized under emergency use. This is -- you know, 12 and older in this country already have emergency use authorization for a booster, so this would be basically adding or expanding the age group for boosters, Jake.

TAPPER: So how important could that booster shot be to that age group?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, I think it's pretty clear that kids aren't getting as sick from this. They're not being hospitalized or at risk from dying from COVID but if you look at omicron compared to other variants, young kids were oftentimes more affected by this.

So it could potentially be a significant deal. We also know that the vaccine efficacy sort of did wane pretty significantly against omicron. So if you look back at mid-December, for example, the effectiveness overall around 68 percent. That's against infection. That's just against getting infected. Then it really just dropped off to 12 percent by late January.

Having said that, the protection, again, against getting severely ill still seemed to hold up pretty well. Kids are at low risk of that anyway and the protection held up pretty well. We'll see what the FDA said but there may be this thing where kids who are particularly high risk because of pre-existing conditions, they may be a better candidate for this.

We'll also see what the numbers look like in terms of infection spread at the time that this is possibly authorized.

TAPPER: Sanjay, we heard from the White House COVID response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, this morning. He expressed caution over the omicron sub-variants. Take a listen.


DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: BA.2 is much more contagious than BA.1, the original omicron variant. Our vaccines still work, not any more severe, but it is spreading across our country. And so, we want to watch it carefully and monitor where it goes. I'm hoping that it does not lead to a major surge in infections.


TAPPER: Do you share his concerns?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, there's no question this is a really contagious virus. I think the issue is a lot of people have adopted the stance that it's preordained that I'm going to get this. I think that that's not necessarily a good stance to have. I mean, there's still lots of unknowns about this virus, even if people don't get super sick, could they develop long-term symptoms. As you know, some studies have shown 30 percent of people develop long COVID regardless of how severe their symptoms were in the first place. The other big question mark is you've got about two-thirds of the

country vaccinated. A lot of people had COVID, but how well does your immunity work if you had delta in the past? How protected are you against this new omicron subvariant? We don't really know the answer to that.

The point is there could be a lot of people that are still vulnerable. If we had really good solid, consistent immunity, it would be less of a concern. But I think because of the contagiousness of this virus, there maybe a lot of people who are vulnerable, may not realize it, and could potentially be at greater risk.

TAPPER: Yeah, we're still losing 500 people a day because of this virus.

Sanjay, quickly, if you're living in an area of high transmission, do people need to consider going back to wearing masks indoors?

GUPTA: You know, I hate to be the guy to say yes to that because nobody wants to do that, but yeah. There's a lot of virus out there, Jake.

And still to your point, I just put up the numbers quickly. I mean, you know, we sort of plateaued and uptick a bit now in terms of cases, 38,000, close to 40,000, 15,000 people still in the hospital and close to 500 people dying.

So, you know, Jake, I mean I still carry my mask around. If I'm going to be in a building where I'm not confident that everyone around me is vaccinated, I wear a mask. If everyone around me is vaccinated, less of a concern, but I think for the time being, we're not in that endemic phase as of yet, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, good to see you as always. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

TAPPER: A new heavy round of arms heading to Ukraine from the U.S. Will that be enough? We're going to talk to the Pentagon spokesman.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to the special broadcast of THE LEAD. We're live from Ukraine. I'm Jake Tapper and I'm looking out on the capital city of Kyiv on day 50 of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine.

We begin this hour with a major blow to the Russian military. The pride of Russia's naval fleet, the Moskva, has sunk according to Russian state media. Ukraine claimed that they struck the vessel with a cruise missile. Russia blames the damage on an accidental fire.

U.S. officials said they cannot confirm at this point exactly what happened, but either way, this is a major loss for Vladimir Putin. The Moskva has sunk.

You might remember this is the same ship involved in that famous exchange at snake island in February when a Ukrainian soldier said, quote, Russian warship go F yourself. Well, apparently that's what happened.

There's even been an official Ukrainian stamp commemorating this message serving as a rallying cry for defiant Ukrainians.