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CDC Says Daily Pace of Full Vaccinations Hits Lowest Point Since January; Some Conservatives Now Encourage People to Get Vaccinated; Tokyo Olympics Underway Despite Threat Of COVID; Senate Votes on Whether to Advance Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal; Joe Biden in Cincinnati, Ohio for Town Hall Meeting. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 21, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Many people have expressed hope that the full authorization of the coronavirus vaccines by the FDA could reduce people's hesitancy. So what's the hold up? When will that happen?

Dr. Mark McClellan is the Director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and a former FDA Commissioner. Commissioner, thanks so much for being here. At this -- today, 186 million Americans have gotten a COVID vaccination with very few cases of any issues. So why isn't there full FDA approval and is there a way to fast track it?

DR. MARK MCCLELLAN, DIRECTOR, DUKE-MARGOLIS CENTER FOR HEALTH POLICY: Well, Alisyn, first off, it's important to know that based on the analyses that FDA has done so far, and as you said, it's based on lots and lots of people. We have three vaccines that have been authorized for use in this public health emergency with COVID and they are very safe and very effective. That conclusion is not going to change as a result of the full approval of a vaccine.

But the full approval is for making this vaccine available not just in the public health emergency but for all time. Hopefully one of these days at some point we will get to a point where we got COVID under more control. It's in the background. It's just something we need to make sure we have immunity against.

And for that the FDA wants to be really sure that the vaccine is very safe and effective for long term, so it requires a lot longer term data. Data from use in the real world on these hundreds of millions of patients not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Studies of how safe the manufacturing is, how long the vaccine can last in storage on the shelf. It's really a lot of long term issues.


So it's not going to really effect the short term use of the vaccine but very important for making sure this is going to be there and something we can count on for the long term -- CAMEROTA: Doctor, I hear you.

MCCLELLAN: -- and that will take some time

CAMEROTA: I understand. But here's the problem, I have done some panels with vaccine hesitant people who say that until there's that FDA approval, they won't feel comfortable because we're just being used as guinea pigs.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I appreciate that and it's important to understand that this is not an experimental approval. We do make sure people know when they get the vaccine that they know it's an emergency use. But that's not the same thing as an experimental use. The experiments have already been done. Now we are looking at big time, long term use of the vaccines. And the catch here is that if FDA rushes this process, Alisyn, you're going to undermine that confidence that people say they want that comes with a full approval.

So what FDA is doing is they've accepted the information from the companies as quickly as the companies can produce it. They've said they are going to review all of that data as expeditiously as possible and I think this is going to happen over the next couple of months. We're not talking about months and months. We're talking about an FDA that's working as quickly as possible without lowering those full approval standards.

CAMEROTA: OK, so from your experience at the FDA, you think that what? By September, somewhere in September we could have this?

MCCLELLAN: I think that would be really helpful. The FDA is very cognizant of everything that's going on around them. They see just like all of us do this rise in cases. The remaining people who are uncertain about getting the vaccine. The companies and others who are thinking about maybe moving towards more of a requirement for using the vaccine once it's fully approved. So they are working as fast as they can. I'd say it's probably an every day, every night effort.

CAMEROTA: In March, you wrote a letter with five other former FDA Commissioners to urge President Biden to name an FDA Commissioner instead of just an Acting Commissioner, which we have right now. So what's the hold up on that and do you think that that would help fast track some of this?

MCCLELLAN: I'm not sure it would speed up this process more but it's important for FDA to have a confirmed commissioner. Dr. Janet Woodcock, the Acting Commissioner, has devoted her whole career to public service at the FDA. I think she's doing a really good job and the leaders of all of the career staff throughout the agency also working very hard. What a confirmed commissioner gets you is somebody who has been able to work more with Congress. Able to work on the long term steps, the strategic steps for the agency. And right now we do really need that.

We're in the midst of trying to not only contain this pandemic but prepare for the next one. So many new drugs and new types of technologies the FDA has to work with. Food safety, tobacco, we really need a confirmed commissioner as soon as possible. And I hope the administration will nominate one soon.

CAMEROTA: Commissioner, while I have you, I want to get your take on what's happened in the past 48 hours basically. We've heard from a bunch of conservatives, some in Congress, some in conservative media who had previously expressed vaccine skepticism who now seem to have had change of heart. And they are publicly, I'm talking about Congressman Steve Scalise, Sean Hannity, Senator Mitch McConnell coming out publicly and endorsing getting the vaccine. What do you think that's about?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think they are seeing some of the same trends that you've just been talking about where especially in areas of the country where vaccination rates are low and there are pockets of low vaccination rates everywhere. Los Angeles, and not just red states. People are seeing that the vaccines can make a difference. This is now an epidemic of people who have not been vaccinated. If you've been vaccinated, you may have a chance of -- a small chance of an infection if there's a big spread going on but you're very, very unlikely to have serious consequences from that.

So it's becoming very clear just how safe and effective the vaccines are when we need them. And I hope we'll see more public officials making those kinds of statements.

CAMEROTA: And I want to be clear. I don't know if Senator Mitch McConnell ever expressed skepticism but just this week he is saying in a full throated way if anybody out there is willing to listen, get vaccinated. So that's just a much bigger push than we had heard before.

But Mark McClellan, thank you very much. Really appreciate getting your take on all of this. We'll hope that by September there's that full authorization.

MCCLELLAN: Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: You too -- Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: So the Olympic Games, they've begun. More athletes are being forced to drop out after testing positive for COVID. We'll talk about their safety, next.



BLACKWELL: The Tokyo Olympics are happening as Japan sees its highest rate of new coronavirus cases since January. At least 79 Olympic athletes have tested positive so far including four Americans. The latest U.S. case is an American Beach volleyball player.

So let's talk now, joining me Dr. Annie Sparrow, Assistant Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Sparrow, thank you for being with us, let's start here. You say what the IOC is doing, the testing and the temperature checking and the masking, the attempt at the bubble, it is not enough. So what should be part of this plan that is not?


DR. ANNIE SPARROW, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POPULATION HEALTH SCIENCE AND POLICY, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL: Well, unfortunately, the IOC's whole approach banked on vaccines. And so it failed to follow the science and investing in the other precautions that would actually mitigate or stop the spread.

And what it means vaccines of course are very important but they are not the be all and end all. They are not full proof. We've seen that. Two of those U.S. athletes were fully vaccinated and other athletes in other countries have tested positive despite being fully vaccinated. And not everyone can be vaccinated. There's a lot of teenagers and child athletes who can't be.

And furthermore, what the IOC did was then just ignore the rest of the science and it failed to invest in measures that like state of the art ventilation and air cleaning that would actually control and stop spread. You have to anticipate that COVID might be there, which of course it is. And these measures then can stop spread in middle of the games.

So instead of taking that risk-manage approach, they're investing in hygiene theater, all the surface cleaning, the handwashing. Hand washing is great. It's no protection against COVID.

BLACKWELL: So what can they do now? I mean we're two days out from opening ceremonies, softball starts already. What can happen now?

SPARROW: Well, exactly. That's the big question. And as we see rising numbers there's always a lag time. It's already in the village. A number of athletes are already disqualified despite taking every precaution that the Olympics said. And you know first of all, the athletes have to now bear in mind that since the measures the IOC advised aren't protecting them, what can they do?

We still know that the safest place is outdoors. Stay outdoors wherever possible. Reduce your risk of transmission. Make sure that you have a mask that at least that is effective as possible. N-95 masks and respirators are more effective. If you can get hold of one, do so. And be fit tested, wear it in high risk places. Like the bus drivers.


DR. SPARROW: Like the buses and the transport vehicle.

BLACKWELL: And Dr. Sparrow, let me ask you something about there's an element you're concerned about that I've not really considered but after hearing your concern or reading about it, I'm now concerned about it too. It's that it's not so much about the spread of the virus and the variants that exist. It's that when you bring thousands of people together from hundreds of countries, more than 200 countries represented, there could be now the birth of new variants. Explain that. What could happen here? SPARROW: That's a very real risk. We have seen it with the other

variants. They are smart. They tend to when they get together, they can reproduce, mutate. They basically select the measures from each other that confer the advantage. So we saw that between the alpha variant from the UK and the Brazilian, South African. Pretty much they all shared the same mutations that would were going to make them more transmissible. Now we have delta and India has also said, we've got delta plus.

So there's every likelihood that variants will mix and match. They'll procreate and produce new variants even, that's a hight possibility and then they will be taken home to unvaccinated and unprotected populations.

BLACKWELL: And despite that possibility I want you to listen to what the Director General of the World Health Organization says. Now this is -- just to give the context -- the person who is overseeing kind of the global conversation of how to mitigate this virus. This is what he says about the Olympic games.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The world needs now more than ever a celebration of hope. The celebrations may be more muted this year but the message of hope is all the more important.


BLACKWELL: He says we need this as a message of hope. What do you think about those comments?

SPARROW: I agree, we do need it as a message of hope. But what we want to see is it going forward safely? And the IOC is more concerned with its own pockets and profits. The athletes are being treated as collateral. And we are seeing them pay the price as they are disqualified and as the games move forward, we're likely to see more and more athletes disqualified with their own personal tragedies despite which could have been prevented to large extent had the IOC done the right thing. We all want the Olympics to go forward safely. We all --


SPARROW: -- you know that Olympic spirit is so important as a movable spirit. But it's also a marketable one. And the IOC has based its strategy on marketing and trying to do it on the cheap. And that harms the rest of us.

BLACKWELL: All right. Dr. Annie Sparrow, thank you so much. Listen, I'm following your statements and your reactions to what's happening there on Twitter. And some really fascinating perspectives. Thank so much for being with us.

SPARROW: Pleasure. CAMEROTA: All right, well he's six months into his presidency. And

tonight Joe Biden joins CNN for an exclusive Town Hall. COVID, inflation, police reform, Afghanistan, police reform, voting rights and more. These are all questions we expect him to get. More on that, next.




BLACKWELL: All right, let's go back to Capitol Hill now. Our Lauren Fox is watching this vote on the infrastructure bill. What's happening?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this vote has just failed. So Democrats failing to get those 60 votes needed to advance it. And at the end of this vote if you were watching closely, Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader, changed his vote from a yes to a no. That is just a tactic so that it allows him to bring this up at a later date without having to go ahead and go through the procedural hurdles that he normally would have to go to, to bring a bill to the floor.

And that's important because hat that indicates here, and Democratic leadership has made it clear that this is their plan, is that Schumer can bring this up again. And the reason he might want to do that is because the bipartisan group is getting a lot closer to a final deal, or at least that's what the bipartisan group of members is telling CNN. They feel like in a couple of days they might actually be ready to go forward with the vote, and that the 11 Republicans who have been working on this might be willing to actually advance an infrastructure bipartisan proposal.

So Schumer wants to give himself a little wiggle room here to make sure he can bring this back up. We expect that in just a few minutes, that bipartisan group is it going to have a statement reaffirming their commitment to continuing their work on this bipartisan bill.

CAMEROTA: Lauren, thank goodness you understand the arcane maneuverings of Capitol Hill so we don't have to. We appreciate you bringing us the update on that vote.

All right, so tonight, President Biden will face tough questions from voters at a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati. This is six months into his term. And the president, as you know, is juggling several crises. He faces major headwinds for his top legislative priorities.

BLACKWELL: Yes, some of the issues at hand, an upswing in COVID cases, the fears of inflation, crisis at the border, withdrawal from Afghanistan. Let's talk about it now. CNN's senior commentator, John Kasich joins us. He's a former Republican presidential candidate and was Governor of Ohio. And former Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner, she's now running for Congress. Senator, let me start with you. Democrats have every lever of power. We just saw the infrastructure bill, that vote failed. Hitting a wall on voting rights, gun safety, policing reform. As a Democrat, progressive Democrat, are you underwhelmed these six months into the Biden administration?

NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: Well, we're moving certainly in the right direction. I think there are some bright lights having $600 billion bipartisan bill being debated in the Senate right now is a bright light. Now we got to get those things passed. When it comes to voting rights, we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and we must pass the For The People Act.

But the president is certainly moving in the right direction. The Congress is working very hard. And I do see again bright lights on the bipartisan bill 600 billion. But we got to get that done, the needs are great and we need those investments in our states -- in our state in Ohio but also in the nation.

CAMEROTA: Governor, how do you think President Biden's doing six months in? And what do you think that voters in your state of Ohio most want to ask him about tonight?

JOHN KASICH, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think first of all, I think it's important that we recognize that the mood and the tone coming from the White House has dramatically improved from where we were. People aren't waking up in the morning saying, you know, what the heck did the president tweet out or what did he do or say yesterday? And that's good.

And I would agree with Nina on the infrastructure bill. I don't know why they tried to have a vote today. That seemed to me to be kind of silly. Maybe Schumer thought he needed to bring it up for some reason.

But if we can get an infrastructure bill through. And I've always felt from the beginning of this administration they could get one through because politicians love to cut ribbons and the issue of infrastructure is very important.

I hope we're going to get a police reform bill. I know that Senator Scott's working with a group of Democrats. That should be one that could happen. And that one is critically important. In fact, Senator Turner and I worked together on community and police reform with some really significant people including John Born who ran Public Safety in the state of Ohio. That would be another good one.

But what I'm concerned about, frankly, is the tax and spend. I mean we spend a lot of money. And inflation is -- we're now seeing it. They say it's transitory. I'm not so sure. And so the question is can you take a package that costs like 3.5 trillion, the Committee For Responsible Budget now put it at 5 trillion. And can you break it up and can you work with Republicans to pass something?

If they try to shove it through on reconciliation, I don't think that's smart but you know we'll have to wait and see. BLACKWELL: Senator, with the few seconds we have left, what's the case

that the president has to make now as we see the COVID numbers going in the wrong direction in Ohio and across the country?

TURNER: Well we've got to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. We are not at herd immunity yet. And we have to get there. And so there are countless organizations working very hard. And I hope that the president continues to push that. We must get there. Quality of life is on the line.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: John Kasich, Nina Turner, thank you both, great to talk to you before this big town hall. CNN Exclusive Presidential Town Hall airs tonight live at 8 p.m. Eastern with Don Lemon.

BLACKWELL: The Lead starts right now with Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper.