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Expert Review Says, Booster Shots Not Needed for General Public Yet; Dems on House Ways and Means Committee Reveal More Details of $3.5 Trillion Plan; CDC Director Says, Working with Urgency on COVID Vaccine for Younger Kids. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2021 - 10:00   ET



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, I think what we're going to have now is the battle of the boosters. There is one camp, including the camp that wrote this Lancet article, that says, why are we even talking about boosters? The data shows that it doesn't help diminish the number of people who end up in the hospital with COVID-19. Boosters don't help prevent hospitalizations with COVID-19.

Let's look at a quote from one of the authors of this Lancet article that appeared today. What this person said was, what the author said was, taken as a whole, the currently available studies do not provide credible evidence, do not provide credible evidence of substantially declining protection against severe disease, which is the primary goal of vaccination. In other words, these authors, and this is a very well respected group of folks, are saying, look, it doesn't help prevent -- booster don't help prevent severe disease, why are we doing this? What is the point of this? And this group includes scientists from the World Health Organization, from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Now, let's look at the other side in the battle of the boosters. That side is rooted in many ways here in Israel, where I am now. There is lots of Israeli data looking at boosters. Israel has given boosters to about a third of the population over the past six weeks and they say that it does help protect against severe disease and hospitalization. They say they have lots of data that really does show that it helps. And Dr. Fauci, President Biden's senior and medical adviser, has quoted this data many times. Let's take a listen at what he said last week.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you look at Israeli data, and they are about a month or so ahead of us in every aspect of this vaccinations, boosters, et cetera, the data from the Israeli studies are that there is a substantial diminution in protection against infection and an unquestionable diminution in the protection against hospitalizations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COHEN: Erica, the scientists are going to have to figure this out hopefully before Friday's meeting. There is a big meeting of FDA advisers about whether or not to give a green light to the U.S. booster program.

And I want to add another note, which I know just makes it even more confusing, but it's super important, there is also an argument that said, goodness, one out of four Americans hasn't even taken a first shot against COVID-19. Why are we making all of this effort to get people third shots whereas you could say to that, you know what, it is possible to do both? Let's push hard for one out of four Americans to get that first shot, we've got to convince them to get vaccinated, and at the same time give people boosters. That is another part of this that will have to be worked out. Erica and Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: That is an essential opponent here, because you read the report and it cites specifically the limited supply globally of vaccines today. It says, a limited supply of these vaccines will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine. Is that for folks at home who have to hear a lot of this data every other day? Is that part of the questioning here, right, of emphasis, that is focus on the unvaccinated now rather than those who have already vaccinated?

COHEN: So, Jim, that is and isn't at play here. I mean, I hate this because it sounds like something an ugly American would say, but the U.S. has plenty of COVID-19. Supply is not an issue. You could push first shots and second and third shots and still have plenty of COVID- 19. If the argument says, don't go with boosters because so much of -- a lot of the world is missing by COVID-19 vaccinations, don't push boosters, that is basically saying the U.S. ought to ship a whole bunch of its vaccine abroad, which it already has to some extent.

So, there is plenty in the United States. There is not a supply issue in the United States. Should the U.S. be shipping even more vaccine out to countries that don't have enough, that is a whole different discussion and a very legitimate one.

SCIUTTO: And we should note that this study looks at the issue globally, not just about the U.S., so, of course, different perspective there. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

HILL: Turning now to another top story that we're watching this morning. It is really a make-or-break moment for the Biden agenda. This morning, House Democrats releasing more details surrounding the $3.5 billion. According to the latest details, Dems are looking to raise for the country's richest people and corporations as well to pay for it.

SCIUTTO: CNN is following all the major news developing out of the nation's Capitol. Let's begin on Capitol Hill with Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju there.

Manu, it is interesting, when you look at the infrastructure plan, as it was originally conceived that there were loads of tax raises in there, those were essentially stripped out in the negotiations. But as a starting point in these negotiations, there are some real, significant pay-fors here.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there really are. This will be one of the largest tax increases that we have seen in sometime, potentially decades, taxes that would go on corporations mainly, as well as high income earners to pay for the Democrats plan, sort of $3.5 trillion, paid for most of it to expand the social safety net, a dramatic overhaul of a whole wide range of health care, environmental, education, childcare and a number of initiatives that are central to the Democratic agenda.


This plan to pay for it coming out of the House Ways and Means Committee just released earlier this morning. They talked about a wide range of tax increases mostly on high earning individuals, 39.6 would be the new marginal rate for going up from the current rate of 37 percent. That would be for people who make more than $400,000 in their annual taxable income. Married couples jointly filing would be taxed who make more than $450,000 a year. But in addition to that, it would increase the top capital gains rate to 25 percent, up from 20 percent, and including 3 percent surtax on individuals who have adjusted gross income over $5 million.

Now, there are still significant divisions among Democrats about exactly how to pay for this. One of them is from Senator Joe Manchin. He has raised concerns about going higher on the corporate tax rate, the high level that the Democrats want here in the House. They want roughly 26 percent. That is more than what Joe Manchin wants. The current raise was 21 percent. He's been opening to up to 25 percent.

But beyond the details too, there is just significant differences between the moderates and the progressives over the timeframe, over the scope of this proposal, one of which is the price tag. Joe Manchin making clear yesterday on CNN's State of the Union that he didn't really want to see -- certainly won't go to $3.5 trillion as the Democrats in the House want and progressive wants, floating perhaps $1 to $1.5 trillion, pushing back on the aggressive efforts to combat global warning, he coming from a coal-producing state, pushing back on all of those matters.

And, guys, the significant part, they want to have a deal, the Democratic leaders do, by Wednesday, to get the party on the same page. Can they do that? A major question and then they have to have the votes, also a big question, the agenda hanging in the balance there. Guys?

SCIUTTO: A big challenge for the leadership there, corralling the cats. Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

All right, so let's turn to the White House, the Biden administration's of all this. CNN's John Harwood is standing by. John, my question is, is the president or his advisers nervous that this is going to blow up? JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, of course, their nervous because this is very difficult. And there are two ways to look at this circumstance. On the one hand, it is very hard for the reasons that Manu was just explaining, divisions between progressives and moderates within the Democratic caucus.

The reason this is hard is because, fundamentally, what they're trying to do with this piece of legislation is take money -- use the power of government to take money from people who have more power and influence and giving it to provide benefits that expand opportunity for people who have less. In a representative democracy, that is difficult to do.

On the other hand, from the White House point of view, they are moving forward. They're moving forward on a tight deadline. There is a tremendous amount of coordination right now between the House, the Senate and the White House to try to accelerate this, meet the deadlines that Manu was talking about, having a deal later this week, trying to advance the legislation by the end of September.

And when you talk to White House officials, what they say is we are moving forward, compromises are being made, capital gains tax is not going to go up as much as the president called for. The personal income tax rate for -- or, sorry, the corporate income tax rate, like capital gains, is not going to go up as much as the president called for. That is a balancing test. That is a tradeoff.

But what they see is movement down the field. The question is can they get all the way into the end zone and we're going to find out over the next couple of months because time is an enemy in this process. You lose momentum, you lose the ability once you get into 2022, the midterm elections, to advance your agenda. So they have got to keep their Democratic team altogether and, so far, the Biden team has been able to do that with fits and starts. And I think they're cautiously optimistic they're going to be able to keep doing that.

HILL: We'll be watching. John Harwood, I appreciate the reporting as always.

Joining me now to discuss all of this and more, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He sits on the Finance and Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, good to have you with us this morning.

Based on what we just heard there from both Manu and John Harwood and what we're seeing and hearing over the weekend from Senator Manchin right here on CNN that he won't support this $3.5 trillion, looking at something more like $1 to $1.5 trillion. I'm just curious, if it was stripped down to something of around that number, is that something that you could support?


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, right now, we're trying to get as much agreement on the different components as we possibly can. So, we've been working during August and the first part of September in our different committees and we have reached substantial agreement on many parts of the package. You raise a very valid point, how large of a package will the final package be? We've already compromised at $3.5 trillion. Will there be additional compromises? That is always possible and that's something that's under active conversations. But we're trying to get the different component pieces together and looking at it and deciding, look, what do we need to do, how do we pay for it and let's see what size works.

HILL: In terms of what is possible, you said some compromise is possible. I mean, is there a specific area or areas you can point out as areas where you see more potential for compromise at this point with those deadlines looming?

CARDIN: Well, the way that compromise will most likely take place will be on how long these programs will be in place, how large the programs will be. But the different components are pretty well supported at this point. We want to make sure that we take care of the needs of working families. We want to deal with the environment. We want to deal with economic opportunity. And we want to make sure it is paid for.

So I think we know the fundamental issues that we're trying to get done and I think we're going to stick to that. We don't want to compromise the promises that we've made to the American public. The Democratic Party has been firm about these policies and we want to make sure we advance them.

HILL: You're talking about the promises that the party, you believe, has made to the public. I'm curious if you think the message has been effective enough from that standpoint in terms of how that money will be used, how it will be paid for, how it will play out over the next several years. It seems like we do hear about the concerns a lot. But I'm curious if you think there was maybe a missed opportunity there.

CARDIN: Well, remember, we've already shown tremendous success. The American rescue plan is the law of the land and that was a major step forward to help working families. We have a bipartisan package that is ready for passage that will deal with our infrastructure and our broadband and our water infrastructure. And now we're dealing with our commitments to working families as it relates to childcare, as it relates to affordable higher education, the environment, affordable housing, those issues.

So we have a pretty good track record and I can tell you we're going to do everything so we can get this, the last part agreed to. Certainly, there will be more compromised but we need to stick to the major provisions.

HILL: Look, as you know, another really important topic, because you've been so heavily involved in what is happening, we are going to be hearing or there will be hearings over the next two days with Secretary Blinken. There are some tough questions anticipated not just from Republicans but from members of your own party as well. What is your most pressing question at this point for Secretary Blinken in terms of what happened in Afghanistan? CARDIN: First, I want to thank the Biden administration for appearing before Congress and keeping us totally informed, much different than the previous administration and the opportunities that we had to challenge their policies. There has clearly been mistakes made in Afghanistan during four administrations starting with President Bush's decision to remove troops from Afghanistan and going into Iraq.

I'm certain that we will want to understand the intelligence information that was available as to how the Afghan government fell so quickly and whether there could have been more efficient ways to get people out of Afghanistan during this process.

HILL: You know, as co-sponsor of the law that increased the number of SIVs available to Afghans, I'm curious if you're getting the information you need in terms of numbers of people who are still in country who need to get out and also in terms of some of the hurdles. I mean, we're hearing about, of course, some applications that are stuck because they need that in-person interview, which can be done in a third country, but getting to that third country could prove to be nearly impossible for folks.

CARDIN: We have gotten numbers out from the administration as to how many we think are still in the SIV process. Before we started the evacuation, it was taking way too long to process an SIV visa. That is from the Trump administration. We want to see this expedited pretty dramatically. And, unfortunately, in the rush of getting people out, we weren't able to get as many out as we wanted to because of the process. We want to make sure that process is changed so that those people at risk can get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

HILL: And I'm curious too when it comes to this new Taliban government, the acting cabinet that we've seen, some names on that list obviously very concerning for a number of Americans in terms of terror ties, in terms of recognizing that Taliban government. Your thoughts on where the U.S. moves at this point.


CARDIN: Well, I certainly hope that we do not recognize this government until we see their actions. It is very concerning.

Look, we know how the Taliban acts and we know what they do on human rights, on women's rights, on girls. We also know that they're including in their cabinet people who have committed terrorist acts. This is not a government that we want to give our stamp of approval to. We understand we have to have conversations, we have to be able to conduct some affairs in order to get people out of Afghanistan, but I would urge the administration to be very cautious about giving credibility to this government.

HILL: Senator Ben Cardin, I appreciate it. Thanks for your time this morning.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead this hour, the CDC director says that agencies are working with urgency on the COVID-19 vaccine for younger children below the age of 12. Details on when that might happen. It is encouraging. That is next.

HILL: It certainly is. Plus, it all comes down to turnout in California. Does Governor Gavin Newsom have an advantage in getting people to the polls in that gubernatorial recall election?

And a bit later, what do Republicans want to hear from Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he testifies today about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?



SCIUTTO: New this morning, and this is thankfully some good news for parents and children, the CDC director says that the agency is working, quote, with urgency on a approval for COVID-19 vaccines for younger children, those below the age of 12.

HILL: Yes Rochelle Walensky saying that the hope is that those younger kids could be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Now, this comes as a former FDA commissioner says that children 5 to 11 could possibly get their first shot by Halloween, that it could be authorized by then.

Joining us now to talk through all of this, Dr. Jay Varkey, he's Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University. Doctor, good to see you this morning. I mean, full disclosure, I've got a kid on a cusp there who is 11 and changed. The fact that the vaccine could be authorized for 5 to 11-year-olds by the end of next month, that is a really significant move in the timeline. How confident are you based on what we know that that could happen and what would that change?

DR. JAY VARKEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: I think it is easier to answer what it could change because I think, like parents like yourself, Erica, this is what we've been clamoring for, especially in households where you might have one gets vaccinated and one who isn't. Everybody wants to kind of block in that bubble, their family, to ensure the safety for all people in the family but also for kids who are in school and vaccination is a key part of that. We actually now have real life data that show how important vaccination is especially in people who are young to ensure the safety for both of those in school as well as those at home.

When it will happen, this is really hard because I think parents have been very patient throughout this whole process. But I have to emphasize this need to again trust the career scientists of the FDA and vetting this information. The trust that people have in the process, hopefully, will eliminate some of the issues we've had with vaccine hesitancy and refusal who should have experienced actually for the older teenagers and adults since vaccines have been widely available.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We should acknowledge, as Erica does that, this is earlier than some had thought. That is good news. The question I have is there is a lot of talk often about a fall/winter surge, of course, because that is the nature of these viruses, colder weather and more people indoors, et cetera. If you get that emergency use by the end of October, given the pace of these things, is that in time to have kids vaccinated or largely vaccinated before the fall surge?

VARKEY: Yes, Jim, it is a great question. And think most of us are anticipating a surge of respiratory viruses, and whether that is flu, whether that's RSV or whether that's another wave of COVID, I think that the sooner that these safe and effective vaccinations become available, the better for all.

But I think the key thing, I think, for parents who are getting clamoring for this is, one, if you have an eligible child who is 12 or older who is eligible for the Pfizer product or is 18 and older and eligible for the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson product, please get them vaccinated. It is really getting the unvaccinated vaccinated, which is one of the keys in terms of ending this pandemic.

HILL: So, getting the unvaccinated vaccinated is one of the keys. That really plays well into the other headline that we're following so closely this morning, which is this opinion, these findings that are out from a number of international scientists published today in The Lancet, saying, look, and I'm summarizing obviously here, but it is not the boosters right now that we should look at, that we're showing that these vaccines are still highly effective against severe COVID, and even with the delta variant out there, that the focus needs to be for the general population should not be on boosters, it should be more about getting the unvaccinated vaccinated. What do you make of that and are you concerned at all about the messaging and the potential confusion?

VARKEY: Yes, it is so critical, Erica. And it is confusing. Because here is the thing, is that, in the bigger picture, I do believe that boosters will be likely needed, when you think about most infections, and, again, common things, like hepatitis B, which we started that vaccination when we're first born as children, it's often required a three vaccine series.


But timing and nuance of these are hard. We're basically trying to walk and chew gum at the same time in figuring these things out. But this really is a critical week in terms of answering the question at least for the Pfizer-BioNTech program because -- our vaccine because, again, the FDA's VERPAC committee actually has scheduled a nine-hour meeting for this Friday to vet their application for boosters. Their schedule may look a little bit different than Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. And, ultimately, all of these will enhance the safety for those who have chosen to get vaccinated.

But I still feel like we're struggling a little bit of a goldilocks phenomenon here. We have people that have stepped up, gotten vaccinated, that are feeling nervous during the delta variant. They want to ensure that they're safe. They want to ensure that their thur families. But we still have 37 percent of Americans who are eligible who are not yet fully vaccinated. Those are the individuals who we just really need to focus on. And, again, this is one of those things that we could do together but I'm hoping that the data guides the way.

HILL: Dr. Jay Varkey, always good to see you. Thank you.

VARKEY: Thank you.

HILL: Well, tomorrow, California Governor Gavin Newsom finds out whether he did enough to beat back a Republican recall and ultimately keep his job. CNN is crunching the numbers on just how likely that is to happen.