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Pfizer Says Vaccine Is 90 Percent Effective in Children 5 to 11 Against Symptomatic COVID; CDC Endorses Moderna and J&J Boosters and Says Mix and Match Is OK; Florida Surgeon General Questions Vaccine Safety; Laundrie Notebook Is Possibly Salvageable. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Their COVID vaccine is 90 percent effective in children as young as five. So, I'll speak with the CDC's former acting director on what this means for parents.


CAMEROTA: Boosters of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccines are officially available for millions of Americans.


The CDC also approved mixing and matching your extra dose if desired. Former acting director of the CDC, Dr. Richard Besser, joins now. Dr. Besser, great to see you. Help me understand the mixing and matching possibilities here. Because there are different technologies. J&J is different than the Pfizer and the Moderna mRNA, you know, technologies, so you really can mix and match or is that not advised?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE CDC: Well, so this has been a question that's been out there for some time with some people saying, well, if you come at this at protecting with a totally different technology, does it actually give you better protection because you're coming at it two different ways?

And a study from the National Institutes of Health that was presented first to the FDA and then to CDC does suggest that you can give an mRNA vaccine to someone who received the J&J vaccine and they will get a bigger boost in terms of their antibody levels than if you gave them a J&J vaccine for their second dose.

Likewise, they found that if you give someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccine or Moderna vaccine, Pfizer vaccine, you get a good level of protection.

The one thing to recognize is that the companies didn't do these studies. There's not as much data on this kind of mixing and matching, but for people who want to go with a different product and in terms of ease and logistics, it's quite safe, it's quite effective to give someone an mRNA vaccine, regardless of what they got for their first round. CAMEROTA: Right but I didn't hear you say that it's just as effective if somebody gets the J&J vaccine, which is not the mRNA for their booster.

BESSER: Yes, so, you know, first it's important the viewers know that our foundation was founded with money that came from the Johnson family, and we have stock in Johnson & Johnson.

You picked up on something I think that is important to say, and that's getting an mRNA vaccine as your booster looks like it's the preferable way to go. The FDA and CDC in their approval said if you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for your first dose, you should get a booster two months after that first dose, and what it suggests, and what Dr. Fauci has said is that the J&J vaccine probably should have been a two-dose series to begin with. But they tried to get a one-dose vaccine out there because of the ease and logistics around that.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about what's happening in the U.K. because cases have gone up again, and Dr. Fauci suggested that it's because kids have not been vaccinated there. So now that the U.S., as you know, they are on the cusp of authorizing vaccines for 5 to 11-year- olds. So, how much of a dent do you think that will make given that a lot of parents are still on the fence about whether or not to vaccinate their young kids?

BESSER: So, there's kind of two questions in there. First around the U.K. and trying to understand why their numbers remain so high. They didn't recommend or didn't push the vaccine for the 12 to 16-year-old group like we have in this country. I think only 15 percent of that age group is vaccinated in the U.K. here we push that much harder.

When it comes to the younger kids, that's something that the FDA Advisory Committee is going to look at next week, and I'm a pediatrician, and I really want to look and see what their analysis says. The company data that were presented today suggest that the vaccine is 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic disease.

There was no one in that study who had severe illness or was hospitalized and thankfully there was no one who died, but it was looking at symptomatic disease that was confirmed with a test.

And I want to see what they say. Because clearly, you know, on the good news front, COVID is much less severe in young children. It can cause significant illness. It can be important in terms of transmission. But thankfully, children are much less likely to get severe illness. And I'll be looking to see whether they feel they have enough information, enough evidence to make the recommendation that the vaccine is authorized.

CAMEROTA: While I have you just quickly, do you have some thoughts on Florida's new state surgeon general who apparently -- he's just been named by Governor DeSantis, and apparently, he's, I guess, not a fan of vaccines or at least he's trying to spread information like the vaccine doesn't prevent transmission as far as he knows?

BESSER: Yes, you know, rather than talk about him, I would say that, you know, it's -- I think it's absolutely miraculous that a year into a pandemic, we have three vaccines that are incredibly safe, incredibly effective, the data are really, really strong.


I find it concerning if a public health leader is looking at that data and reaching that conclusion because this is really one of those miracles of science that isn't credited, shouldn't be credited to any particular party, but should be credited to our long investment over decades in this technology that's paying off and saving lives.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Richard Besser, great to see you.

BESSER: Great seeing you too, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Listen to this, China is reportedly ramping up its nuclear capabilities, putting defense officials on high alert. So, we're live at the Pentagon next.


CAMEROTA: Intelligence officials warning that China's recent tests of a nuclear capable hypersonic missile marks a substantial military advancement, and a potential threat to the United States. It also raises the stakes for President Biden's plan to scale back America's nuclear arsenal.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now. So now Oren, does the Pentagon consider this a game changing moment?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A game changing moment that's probably a step too far but there certainly is concern over what the "Financial Times" reported China tested in the July/August time frame.

But first, the U.S. test. On Thursday the U.S. went to test what's called its "common hypersonic glide body," essentially a hypersonic projectile. But that projectile is mounted on top of a rocket booster, that booster failed. As part of the test the U.S. is reviewing why to figure out what happened there and what went wrong. But it's certainly not the only hypersonic program in the United States.


There are other hypersonic programs under development. In fact, just a couple of days earlier, the Navy and Army in a joint test had three successful tests to collect data for further hypersonic experimentation and that just highlights the importance, the priority that the Pentagon has placed on developing hypersonic weapons.

Of course, there is a greater concern here as the "Financial Times" reported that China tested a hypersonic glide body in what's called an orbital bombardment system. Essentially a rocket puts this hypersonic glide body in low earth orbit and then it's launched from there. It's not a new technology. The Soviets tested such systems in the '60s and '70s but it is new for China, and officials were alarmed by how fast the Chinese tested it.

The concerns about such a system are the same as it has always been, it could come over the South Pole, which is not where U.S. defense systems are arrayed. And it could have a shorter detection time, a shorter early warning than more traditional ballistic missiles. And that's where the concern is as we see a hypersonic race developing not only between the U.S. and China but also Russia for the development of these hypersonic weapons.

CAMEROTA: Oren Liebermann, thank you for helping us understand the concern.

OK, now to this. The FBI confirms that the remains found in that Florida nature reserve were Brian Laundrie's. Now the Laundrie family attorney is speaking out and raising new questions.



CAMEROTA: We now know that those remains found in a Florida nature reserve were, in fact, Brian Laundrie's. But questions still swirl around what happened in the final days between Gabby Petito and Laundrie. The Laundrie family attorney described what the parents told him about their son's mental state before his disappearance.

Saying quote, Chris and Roberta knew that their son Brian was grieving. They knew that he was so upset and you know they just couldn't control that he was leaving and he left. He walked out the door. And Chris had said to me, I wish I could have stopped him, but I couldn't.

CNN's Jean Casarez has been following all of this for us. So, Jean, I mean, gosh, what an ending. And what are the big questions that investigators still have to answer now?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think one is, who officially murdered Gabby Petito? How did it get to that? What happened surrounding it all? Why did he come back in the van because we know he did without Gabby? What did he tell his parents? What did he tell anybody else?

And furthermore, the cell phones that they had in Wyoming, on their trip from everything CNN knows, law enforcement doesn't have them. They couldn't find them. We learned that they thought they possibly were in that white van that they executed a search warrant on in Florida, and they were not.

Well, this morning Steven Bertolino, the attorney representing the Laundries, answered some very strong, pointed questions by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning." Take a listen.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING": Did Brian tell the Laundries anything about what happened to Gabby before he disappeared? STEVEN BERTOLINO, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING THE LAUNDRIE FAMILY: George, that's not something I can comment on right now and I'd like to just leave it at that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If you can't comment on it, it means you know something about it.

BERTOLINO: Well, I think everybody out there knows that -- whether the family or myself have some information to share, but you know, there's not much we can say at this point in time. And you know, I'm going to leave it at no comment.


CASAREZ: He was also asked by "Good Morning, America" if the family was cooperating with the FBI. And he said, I want to get this right. When it comes to the FBI, we have absolutely nothing to say in regard to the Gabby Petito disappearance.

He was also asked, does the family have anything -- the Laundrie family, anything to say to the Petito family? Not at this time.

CAMEROTA: What about those personal items that we know were found in this nature reserve. There was a notebook. Do we know anything about what was in there?

CASAREZ: We know the FBI has possession. It was the FBI Evidence Response Team that was out there collecting any potential evidence. The personal belongings. They have it. We heard that the notebook was not in good condition because the area had been under water. We don't know if it was in the dry bag or in the backpack but we do know that FBI, out of any agency in this country, has technology that can really discern things that other agencies cannot.

CAMEROTA: So, are Brian Laundrie's parents in trouble?

CASAREZ: I'm sure the FBI is thinking about justice for Gabby's family because Gabby's family is out for justice here. Now what do they know? We don't know.

Cassie Laundrie has said that she doesn't know anything. That was the sister of Brian. She doesn't know anything, but yet she does say that he came to visit her when he got back from Wyoming. That she went camping with the family, including Brian.

So, you know the FBI is wondering, what can we do next to get justice for the family? But that notebook and any other personal effects to find out during the time that she was murdered or shortly after, what communications, anything written after he got to the preserve that could actually discern some answers.

CAMEROTA: Jean Casarez, thank you as always for all the reporting.

Meanwhile, a tragic accident on the set of an Alec Baldwin movie killing one crew member, injuring another. New details on what's next.



CAMEROTA: Razia Jan is recognized as a top ten CNN Hero in 2012 for courageously educating girls in her native Afghanistan. Now with the Taliban in control, her life's work is at risk. CNN's Anderson Cooper has more.


RAZIA JAN, CNN HERO: Which country in the world would fall in 11 days? It took 20 years for women to stand and be recognized and to see that it was awful.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Under the Taliban's all-male government, women have already lost ground. While they're still permitted at some universities in segregated classes, girls cannot attend secondary schools until so-called security concerns are resolved.

Yet girls, grade 6 and younger are still in school for now. Razia says she is determined to build on that.

JAN: I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see these girls in the courtyard playing and also in the classroom and trying to learn. It's just amazing. I am a great supporter of the community, and the girls, they want to learn. That gives me hope. Maybe it won't be the same, but we can do something to educate these girls.