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W.H. Chief Of Staff Won't Commit To Specific Date For Booster Shots; Nearly 30 Percent Of Israelis Have Had 3rd COVID Vaccine Dose; Israel Coronavirus Czar Says 4th Vaccine Dose Likely; Louisiana Dealing With Power, Fuel Shortages A Week After Ida; Biden Set To Visit Flood Ravaged Communities In NY And NJ; Taliban Claim Victory Over Last Afghan Holdout. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 09:00   ET




SARAH HINDE, STUDENT GIVEN ONLY A SMALL CHANCE OF SURVIVAL AT BIRTH: -- at some point, I wasn't going to be able to walk my goal throughout that whole time when I was learning how to walk was to be a cheerleader.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Well goal accomplish, Sarah got the news last week that she had earned a spot on the cheerleading team and our coach says her spirit is so special that it was an easy decision.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Look, if the goal is to inspire, she has done that.

KEILAR: Sure has.

BERMAN: CNN's covered continues right now with Poppy Harlow.

POLLY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Good Monday morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow. This is a special holiday edition of CNN Newsroom. Jim has the day off.

Well, the back and forth over booster shots, that is a focus right now and the White House Chief of Staff says at this point he doesn't know when Americans will get COVID-19 booster shots despite an initial announcement last month that a third dose would be available to everyone on September 20th. That would be just two weeks from today, now that is not clear at all. This after top health officials warned that more time is needed to review all of the data. Dr. Fauci says he's confident that Pfizer is still on track for a September 20th booster rollout, but that Moderna's may be delayed beyond that.

Right now, grim picture in the United States, these children are returning to the classroom. The CDC says that children's hospitals across the country are filling up with COVID cases. Community transmission is dangerously high. And another troubling development, the seven-day average of new cases of COVID per 100,000 people is 300 percent higher than it was on Labor Day of last year.

We have a lot to get to on this. We'll get there in a moment. But let's begin with our Arlette Saenz she joins me from Wilmington, Delaware. Arlette, where the President is spending the holiday weekend with family. The White House, I mean, Dana was pushing Ron Klain on this yesterday for clarity, I think for everyone, and it seems like their stances, we bought enough boosters, we have them. We're waiting on the FDA and we don't know when that's going to be.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. And the White House had been hoping that they would have two versions of a COVID-19 booster shot available for that September 20th rollout, but it appears that that initial plan is now taking a hit. Officials are saying that Pfizer appears to be on track to be approved before that date, but Moderna might take a little bit longer. As officials are saying they need more time to review that data which they initially found to be inadequate.

But the White House is also insisting that no COVID-19 booster shots will be administered without FDA approval and then the recommendation of the CDC. They're arguing that they set that September 20th target so that a plan was in place so that once the formal approval came through, they'd be ready to roll out those shots immediately. And take a listen to a bit of what White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain had to tell Dana Bash yesterday.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Did he get ahead of the science by setting that specific date for boosters before all the data was in?

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No, Dana, I think what we said was that we would be ready as of the 20th, which was the projection we were given from the senior science team as to when the FDA would it clear the boosters. I wouldn't be absolutely clear, no one's going to get boosters until the FDA says they're approved, until the CDC Advisory Committee makes a recommendation.


SAENZ: And Dr. Anthony Fauci also said over the weekend that studies are underway to determine whether these booster shots can be mixed and matched. So someone who initially received the two Moderna shots might be eligible and able to get a Pfizer shot. He said those studies are still a few weeks away from being completed. But this all comes as there's a real sense of urgency within the White House of trying to get a hold and contain this virus.

As transmission rates remain high, kids are heading back to school and there's a threat of future variants. But this back and forth about the vaccine boosters can cause some confusion at a time when clarity is needed. Poppy? HARLOW: For sure. Arlette, thank you for the reporting from Wilmington for us this morning. Despite everything we know about COVID-19 and the fact that we have safe and effective vaccines, the average number of new daily cases in the U.S. is still more than 126,000.

Our Elizabeth Cohen, our Senior Medical Correspondent is with me now. Elizabeth, good morning to you. Things look very different than they did last year.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. And I will tell you just personally, I didn't realize even quite how different it was until I looked at this graph that I'm about to show you. If you look on the far left hand side, that's where new cases were Labor Day 2020. The far right side is where we are today.

When you -- this is a seven-day average of new cases. We are three times higher than we were a year ago now. On Labor Day last year versus today.


Labor Day last year, we had about 12 new cases per 100,000 people. Now, it's nearly 50 cases per 100,000 people. Two big reasons, the Delta variant, so incredibly contagious.

And also remember last September, we were still pretty much on lockdown. Schools were being done virtually, people were much better about masking and social distancing. Now, I think it's safe to say that in many parts of the country, social distancing is kind of a thing of the past and people hardly are wearing masks. Poppy?

HARLOW: Right. It's completely different now. And yet, this is so contagious and continuing to spread and continuing to especially threaten our unvaccinated kids. Elizabeth, thank you for the reporting.

Let's talk about all of these headlines because there are so many on COVID this morning with our Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, and Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University. Good morning, Doctor, and thanks for your time.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: So let's begin where you think people need to start this morning in terms of understanding if they're going to get a booster, when they're going to get a booster, and if they can mix and match, right? If Moderna is delayed and rolling it out, if you got a Moderna initial vaccine, can you then get a Pfizer booster right away?

REINER: So I think it's safe to say that everyone who's been vaccinated in the United States at some point is going to get a booster. We -- now the problem is that most of our data comes out of Israel. And almost all the vaccine that Israel has used has been the Pfizer vaccine. That's why right now, we stand -- basically ready to give boosters to people who have received the Pfizer vaccine in the United States, because that's where our data comes from -- from Israel.

And we have less data on Moderna. And that's what FDA is insisting on really dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's. And understanding, first of all, whether folks who have been vaccinated with a Moderna vaccine require a booster, and then how safely to do that.

And we have even less data to understand the sort of long-term efficacy, durability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or 14 million people in this country have received the J&J vaccine. And we're still in need of data to understand how to boost that. But I think it's safe to say that about two weeks from now, we'll start boosting the country with the Pfizer vaccine for people who have received a prior dose of the Pfizer vaccine, probably, I would bet, six months and longer after their second shot.

HARLOW: OK, so you're confident the FDA is going to give this -- the green light and things will move forward pretty much --

REINER: Right.

HARLOW: -- as previously thought. OK, that's good news. You mentioned Israel, so let's talk a little bit more about what we're seeing in Israel. You've got approval there for boosters, ongoing, right? Since August 1st, when they started this with 60-year olds and above, and then on down to 12-year olds and above, they've given boosters to about 30 percent of their population. But then if you look at these numbers, you've still got cases in Israel at record highs. Do you anticipate that's going to drop significantly once a majority of the population has their booster?

REINER: Yes, and you're already starting to see clues about that. If you look at hospitalizations for serious illness in Israel, which were doubling every 10 days for weeks, they've now started to drop beginning about two weeks after their booster program started. So there is data from Israel suggesting that boosting immunity with a third dose of the vaccine will not only reduce serious hospitalizations, but also infections. So I do expect that to continue and we'll start to see more of that coming out of Israel.

HARLOW: And it's so interesting there COVID czar is already, Doctor, talking about a fourth booster shot for people. So I wonder what you make of that. And if this becomes the global norm, once there is equitable access to vaccine, which there is not around the world, that we're going to be talking about three, four or five boosters or annual boosters?

REINER: Well, I think that's really getting ahead of ourselves now. I think many people have really become -- have started to understand that our original dosing scheme with the mRNA vaccines, which was done to try and extinguish the fire last winter probably could have been better. In other words, the second dose probably should have been later on to boost the immunity in a more maximal kind of way.

And current thought is that with a third dose, we may get a very durable and much higher immunity from a third dose without having to think right now about, you know, doses every several months. So I would not, you know, at all jump to that conclusion.


HARLOW: That would be great if the third one is --


HARLOW: -- is what we need and it does it. You've got, you know, and tragedy playing out in so many ICU across America. I was just looking at the data from yesterday in eight states, many of them in the south, you got 90 percent of ICU beds at capacity. And now the World Health Organization is watching a new variant, and that's the new variant. And to be clear, it's not nearly as big a concern as the Delta variant right now. There's about 2,000 cases of it in the U.S.

But can you explain to people why it matters that this virus keeps mutating? And does the Mu variant have the potential to become as deadly and contagious as the Delta variant?

REINER: Right. Well, Poppy, the first thing to remember is that the virus will continue to mutate until we have a level of immunity in our communities around this country and around the world.

HARLOW: Right.

REINER: So, continued infection is basically the petri dish for the virus continuing to mutate. And the new variant, which is not a concern of the United States right now, much less than, you know, 1 percent of the isolates in the United States are Mu. The vast majority, 99 percent of the isolates in the United States now are Delta. Delta is the concern in this country.

And around the world, Mu is not at all a significant problem. It's a problem in two countries around the world, Colombia and Ecuador. But again, around the world, it really represents about 0.1 percent of all the isolates.

The reason it's a concern is that some of the mutations that have been found in that variant suggest that it could be more resistant to immunity and vaccines. So that's why the World Health Organization has labeled it a variant of interest. The CDC has yet done that. There is still I think, a widespread suggestion that this variant is still susceptible to treatment with our current vaccines.

HARLOW: We'll keep an eye on it. Thank you so much, Dr. Reiner, for joining us --

REINER: My pleasure.

HARLOW: -- especially in a holiday morning. Thanks again.

REINER: OK. Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Next, millions of Americans are set to lose their pandemic unemployment benefits today. What does it mean for them and the economic recovery? We'll talk about it. Plus, Congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee says the Taliban are blocking plane loads of Americans from leaving Afghanistan. Details on what they're demanding to clear those planes for departure ahead. And we're also live in Louisiana as hundreds of thousands of people remain without power. This is a week after Hurricane Ida slammed the state.



HARLOW: So it's been a week, over a week now since Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast and so many communities are absolutely reeling from the aftermath. Basic necessities like food and fuel hard to come by for many add to that hundreds of thousands still without power, which may not be restored in some areas until the end of the month, the end of September. That's what some are looking at. There are also many questions about why a nursing home in Louisiana was evacuated to a warehouse, seven people ended up dying there.

Our National Correspondent Nadia Romero is in LaPlace, Louisiana with us this morning. I mean, when you look at those projections from the power companies, you know, September 29th for some parishes and beyond, it just doesn't appear that there's any meaningful relief in sight.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, there are some parts of Louisiana that had their power restored over the weekend. And we were there when people were cheering the linemen on. So excited to just have their power back after seven days without having power. Now, it's day eight here in LaPlace, Louisiana and and this is an area that was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Ida.

So we're outside of a Cajun Navy, a distribution center and they serve about 1,500 cars a day. They're feeding about 3,000 people a day. And take a look, this is what they need the most of. They say this is the item that they get asked for the most. They never ever have enough water.

They try to get water out to people because many people's homes are destroyed. They're uninhabitable. So they're without basic necessities. And we spoke with a woman who is volunteering. She's actually sleeping in this tent right behind me. This is her oasis away from home. She is from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She decided to come out and volunteer.

There's no power, there's no air conditioning. So she brought a tent to sleep in to help people in need. Listen to a conversation that she had with someone who drove up to get assistance just yesterday.


REBECCA OWENS, CAJUN NAVY VOLUNTEER: They had like a two or three- year-old child in the home. Everything is gone. And they have a newborn coming home from the hospital today. And they have nothing to bring it to. So things like just being able to give them diapers and wipes and being able to give them just some stuff to start over again, you know, they sit and they cry with you.


ROMERO: So that is just heartbreaking to hear the stories of people who are in need. Take a look behind me. There's the line. It wraps all the way around down the road of people who have been lined up to three hours before the distribution site even opens just to get assistance. Poppy, that's the need that we're seeing and it is unwavering.


HARLOW: Wow. Right. And can you imagine bringing a newborn baby home to the scenario that she just described. God bless her and everyone who's volunteering to help like that. Nadia, thank you for being on the ground cover it.

Well, President Biden is planning to tour some of the other very hard- hit communities from Ida's path including in New York and New Jersey. That'll happen tomorrow. Those states saw catastrophic flooding from the remnants of Ida. At least 50 people died from that in the northeast, hundreds more needed to be rescued.

Our Correspondent Polo Sandoval is in New York this morning. Polo, I mean, you know, we were in the middle of it and luckier than so many, given what happened here in New York --


HARLOW: -- and across New Jersey, what is the hope of the President and what do these communities want from the President's visit?

SANDOVAL: That they will get that financial assistance to try to repair or recover what they lost. And you would know it but we're actually standing right now in one of the neighborhoods in Queens that was hit, perhaps the hardest, not only with the damage but also experiencing also several lives that were lost in this neighborhood, including one in particular that the NYPD released some brand new video on just yesterday. This is video of an incident that took place on Wednesday during the height of the storm.

And in it, you see what is an attempt, we now know and then successful attempt to save a family that was stuck in their flooded out basement apartments not far from where we are here in Woodside, Queens. At one point, the agency says they had to pull their officers back due to concerns over live wires, locked doors and rising floodwaters. It wasn't until they were able to pump out some of that water.

The divers made their way in there and made that just horrible discovery of a family of three inside including a two-year-old toddler and his parents. Those three individuals added to that total death toll or that death toll here in New York City. And you do have obviously those who have lost loved ones. And then you also have those who have lost some of those difficult to replace parts of their homes and appliances. And that's why they are certainly calling on the federal government to try to step in to provide that kind of support. In neighboring New Jersey, residents there waking up to news, the President Biden did approve that disaster declaration that's meant to expedite that kind of individual assistance that's meant to provide that financial relief, Poppy. I heard from Queens residents all weekend long, and they say that is what they want. But still, they consider --


SANDOVAL: -- this as lucky when you consider what that family experienced --


SANDOVAL: -- not far from here on Wednesday.

HARLOW: You just -- you can't even imagine it, right, and it could be any of our children. Polo, thank you for the recording.

And we'll keep an eye, of course, closely on the President's visit tomorrow. Well, overnight, the Taliban say they've captured the final stronghold of resistance in Afghanistan. We're live from there next.



HARLOW: A significant development overnight in Afghanistan, the Taliban say they have captured the last remaining stronghold of resistance in Afghanistan. The white flag of the Taliban seen there flying over Panjshir province, that's just northeast of Kabul.

Our International Diplomatic Editor, Nic Robertson joins me from Islamabad, Pakistan. Nic, to you, I mean, this comes as the Taliban now claim this final victory, if you will, in terms of a land grab and also announce that they are going to lay out their new government in a matter of days. What will that look like?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, it's very hard to tell what the new government's going to look like, because the sort of sources that used to be around the two, our sources that were around the Taliban leadership that used to give us reliable information on this subject, they've gone completely silent. So at the moment, it seems to be anyone's guess precisely what will happen.

We do know from Pakistani sources, that there is a dispute over who could be defense minister. Some of the Taliban military commanders are in dispute over that. We do know from these same sources that the Taliban won't nominate a minister level somebody like Sirajuddin Haqqani who's closely associated with al-Qaeda, because he has U.N. sanctions on him for connections for terrorism. And the Supreme Leader, the Commander of the Faithful, as they call him, Hibatullah Akhundzada, he will remain the sort of Head of State for Afghan -- for the Taliban, become the head of state of Afghanistan. But really, what does that mean for the international community? We don't know. We didn't know how inclusive it's going to be. We don't know if they're really going to give any power at any level in the government to women and what that might look like. The expectations and the bar is really low on that one.

So the reality right now, we don't have a good assessment of what the government looks like. What we do know from the resistance, though, is that they have a call to arms more broadly across the country, outside of the Panjshir Valley as well.

HARLOW: Nic Robertson reporting for us from Pakistan. Nic, thank you very much for your reporting today and throughout all of this.

Well, right now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is flying to Qatar to meet with U.S. allies in the region about how to get remaining evacuees. Some U.S. citizens and of course our Afghan allies out of the country. The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike McCaul says he has received classified briefings that Taliban forces are preventing Americans from leaving literally on planes and they won't let them take off. Listen to what he said.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: They are not clearing the airplanes to depart, they've sat at the airport for the last couple of days, these planes and they're not allowed to leave. We know the reason why is because the Taliban wants something in exchange. This is really, Chris, turning into a hostage situation, where they're not going to allow --