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Booster Doses for All U.S. Adults Could be Imminent; EU Countries Take Aim at Unvaccinated as Cases Rise; Austria to Impose National Lockdown as of Monday; New York Court Exonerates Two Men Convicted of Killing Malcolm X; Japan's Shohei Ohtani Wins American League MVP. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isa Soares. If you're just joining us with our top stories this hour.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has successfully delayed the vote on Joe Biden's Build Back Better Plan. McCarthy has been speaking on the House for now eight hours. In fact, he's still speaking. Democrats say the vote will happen about four hours from now.

Defense lawyers for three white men charged with killing a black man have rested their case. Prosecutors say Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and shot to death while he was jogging. We'll bring you both those stories in about 30 minutes or so.

Now, the U.S. policy on vaccine boosters soon to take another giant leap forward. In the coming days, it is possible that any adult who wants a booster might be able to get one. The FDA is expected to make a decision to approve the Pfizer booster for everyone 18 and over, and the Moderna one could soon follow.

The CDC is also meeting later which means a thumbs up really for one of the vaccines to happen this weekend. The decision by the U.S. agency is a bit behind as a number of states have already made a decision to open up booster shots for all adults.

Well, about 60 percent of the U.S. population is now considered fully vaccinated. But one group appears to be taking the shot to heart more than others. CDC data shows that more than 99 percent of Americans age 65 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Much of this rush to boost and get more Americans vaccinated, is really being driven an increase in COVID case following a recent plateau. Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden explains what is causing the increase. Take a listen.


DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: What is driving the uptick in the U.S. is not break-through infections after vaccination, it's infections among people who haven't been vaccinated. [04:35:00]

So, the main driver of the illness and still a thousand deaths a day in the U.S. is the failure to reach every corner of the country and get that last 30 percent of the country vaccinated.

It's also true that it does appear that the vaccine induced immunity wanes in time. And so, when you're eligible for a booster, get one. But the vaccines are extremely effectively at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.


SOARES: Let's get more on the story. The latest now with Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, Ben Wedeman for us in Bucharest this hour, and Jim Bittermann in Paris. And I want to begin with Jim in Paris. And, Jim, I'm hearing the Austrian government is expected to announce a lockdown for its entire population today. What more should we expect?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Austria definitely is taking the most draconian measures against the coronavirus. They have already instituted a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated that began earlier this week, and at least two regions, they're going to have a generalized lockdown and maybe all over the country, like you said.

So, it's really the vaccination question, is what's come up here. How many people are vaccinated? They believe that that's the real cause, in Austria, anyway, that spike that we've seen in the cases.

Neighboring Germany, same sort of thing. They're thinking that if they can encourage people to get vaccinated, that perhaps the numbers will start to come down. But the health minister in Germany, just a little bit ago, said that in fact that it is a national emergency, the number of cases that are coming in each day.

Meanwhile here in France, president Macron said last night to a regional newspaper that in fact he does not anticipate any further measures right for the moment. Basically, he is saying that it's the health pass which encouraged a lot of people to get vaccinated here. That health pass has worked out very successfully, of course he's the one who invented that, and the numbers are still, nonetheless, going up here -- Isa.

SOARES: Jim Bittermann for us in Paris. Thanks very much, Jim.

Let's turn to now to our senior International correspondent Ben Wedeman who joins us from Bucharest. Who's following the tragic toll that disinformation is playing in Romania's COVID deaths. And Ben, Romania has been among the hardest hit countries, soaring deaths and low vaccination rates. What have you found?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is an interesting case. A cautionary tale perhaps, Isa, given that Romania began its vaccination program in December of last year. It was off to a good start. But today, 11 months later, what we see is that it has the second lowest vaccination rate, about 36 percent, in Europe. The only country that has lower vaccination rates is Bulgaria, and it does have the highest mortality rate in Europe.

Now, there's a variety of reasons for this. But it's widely believed that it's of all basically misinformation, superstition, and demagoguery by politicians who are basically getting on the anti-vax bandwagon and urging people not to get vaccinated.

Now, here in Bucharest, you have a high level of vaccinations but we were in the northeastern part of the country, where it's just over 10 percent. And the reason for this low number is this drive to hard-held religious beliefs, and basically misinformation. Nonsense that swirls around the cesspool of social media, and officials and doctors we've spoken to are deeply frustrated that they've not been able to get the message across. That if you get vaccinated, there's a very low chance you will become ill. And there's a much lower chance that you will die. But that message just doesn't seem to be getting through. Now, the numbers are starting to go down here, but doctors and medical personnel say they're bracing for a fifth wave of the disease -- Isa.

SOARES: I can only imagine how frustrated those doctors must be. Ben Wedeman there in Bucharest, thanks very much, Ben.

Joined now by Hadas Gold in Jerusalem who is followed a recent uptick in Israel's transmission rate and what experts say that might mean a new spike really on infections. Hadas, help us make sense of why we're seeing this, why we're seeing a rise in the R rates here?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa, Israel is often seen as a sort of glimpse into the future on coronavirus because they were so far ahead of many other countries when it came to vaccinations and when it came to rolling out the booster campaign, which happened months ago. And so, although the numbers a few months ago started to be very encouraging, where the rates really started to go down, a few thousand cases a day, you could really start the rates starting to decrease.


But now the R rate has started to creep up and actually as of this morning, it has hit that one rate, and what is the rate which health experts are so worried about once the R rate, the infection rate, hits one or above. They are very much worried about a new wave.

However, experts are wary about calling this a new wave just yet. And that's partly because the number of cases, the average, seven-day average number of cases is still much lower than it was just a couple of months ago. It's at around 430, 440, seven-day average case, and also because the number of serious cases is also lower.

And without a question, the pandemic levels in Israel is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Similar to what we're seeing in other places. I want to pull up a graph that really, I think helps to show to illustrate this. This is the number of serious hospitalized cases in Israel over the past month. And this goes to show you how stark of a difference this is between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. That light blue line is the not vaccinated, those other lines are the vaccinated. Of the 131 seriously ill people in hospital right now, Isa, 110 of them are completely unvaccinated -- Isa.

SOARES: CNN's Hadas Gold there for us in Jerusalem, thanks very much, Hadas.

And we have some breaking news to bring you. Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg has just announced a national lockdown as of coming Monday. If you heard me in the last few minutes, when I was asking Jim Bittermann, we were expecting this meeting in Austria and the government to decide a plan really given the number of cases in Austria. And I know yesterday, they reported 15,000, just over 15,000 daily coronavirus infections on Thursday, the largest since the outbreak of the pandemic. Now we're hearing the entire population of Austria will go into lockdown as of Monday. We will stay on top of that story for you.

Now, sentenced to life in prison for a crime they said they didn't commit. And after a half century, two men convicted of killing civil rights leader Malcolm X have been cleared in his murder. The shocking discovery that helped exonerate them and why the news is bittersweet.



SOARES: Now, a half century after they were convicted of killing civil rights leader Malcolm X, two men who maintained their innocence all along are now cleared of the crime. A New York judge vacated the convictions of Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam after a 22 months of investigation that found evidence of their innocence was withheld at trial. Athena Jones has more for you.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam have been exonerated. The two men were convicted in 1966 -- two of three men who were convicted of killing Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom here in New York City in 1965. The convictions were vacated on the grounds of newly discovered evidence, and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.

This all stems from a Netflix documentary. It was a six-part series that aired on Netflix last year. It prompted the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance to reopen -- to reinvestigate the case, along with the Innocence Project, which is a nonprofit that works to help the wrongly convicted, and with lawyers for the two men. Here is what the DA Cyrus Vance had to say in court today.

CYRUS VANCE, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust.

I apologize on behalf of our nation's law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection of the law. Your Honor, we can't restore what was taken away from these men and their families. But, by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.

JONES: Cyrus Vance acknowledging that the miscarriage of justice in this case, these two men spending decades fighting to clear their names, Khalil Islam died in 2009 but two of his sons were present in the courtroom today. And they said that the clearing of their father's name was something bittersweet. Listen to what one of his sons said.

SHAHID JOHNSON, SON OF KHALIL ISLAM: I stopped believing in it, for sure. I almost just had to just disconnect from the whole thing and just try to live my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's it feel for the day to have finally come?

JOHNSON: Bittersweet. Like my brother said, it's bittersweet. You know, it's going to take some time just to learn how -- we have to learn how to appreciate it, because, right now, we can't fully appreciate it right now. It just -- it's a good thing that happened. But it's not -- you know, it doesn't replace everything that we lost.

JONES: So, there you heard from Mr. Islam's son about how this case destroyed his faith in the justice system. We also heard from Muhammad Aziz who is now 83 years old. He was 26 when this nightmare began. Here's what he said in part.

He said: I do not need this court, these prosecutors or piece of paper to tell me I'm innocent. I'm glad that my family, my friends and the attorneys who have worked and supported me all these years are finally seeing the truth we have all known officially recognized.

There were a lot of problems with this case from the beginning. Both men had credible alibis. The people who reinvestigated the case spoke with a witness who confirmed or corroborated that Mr. Aziz was at home at the time of the shooting.

We also learned that the FBI and the NYPD hid substantial evidence from both the defense and the prosecution, including evidence they had gathered in the weeks after the killing of Malcolm X that implicated five men in New Jersey.

And one more thing. The third man convicted in this case said on the witness stand that these two men who have now been exonerated today were innocent. They were not his co-conspirators. So clearly, a blatant miscarriage of justice. And for the lawyers who represent these men, this is another sign of the way that the criminal justice system is unfair, to people of color. So, a victory but a bittersweet one, and a long-awaited one here in New York today.

Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


SOARES: Thank you, Athena. We'll have much more after a very short break. Do stay right here with CNN. [04:50:00]


SOARES: Now, for just the second time in major league baseball history, a player from Japan has won the most valuable player award Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels all 30 first place votes for the American League prize. The 27-year-old superstar won all for his greatness as a pitcher and hitter for the season. Let's get more from Blake Essig from Tokyo. And Blake, how big of a deal is it for Japan here?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isa, it's a huge deal here in Japan. And the people couldn't be prouder of the way he plays on the field and carries himself off of it. Fans describe him as a superhero, a man who can't possibly be from this planet. And when it came to the American League most valuable player award, there was really only ever one choice. Shohei Ohtani Japan's two sword-ed superstar -- as he is referred to in Japan -- won unanimously.

Now, in a normal year, the player who finished in second place in the vote, Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr., would have won based on the stats that he put up, but he didn't receive a single first place vote. That's how incredible the season was that Shohei Ohtani was able to put together.

Now he was dominant at the plate, hitting 46 home runs, 100 RBIs, 26 stolen bases on the mound. He throws the ball at 100 miles per hour. He has a split finger fastball that's proven to be one of the hardest hit pitches to hit in baseball. I mean, he only lost two of his 23 starts, winning nine games. Now those numbers might not mean much to people who don't following baseball. But I promise you, Isa, as a former two-way star myself as a 10-year-old back little league player, they are incredible numbers.

But all jokes aside, what this unicorn of major league baseball was able to do this season, was special. Transforming what many people thought was possible in a sport that's been around for more than a century. In fact, because of what he's been able to do at the plate and on the mound, he is being compared to Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time and the only other true two-way player in baseball history. Now, for Ohtani moving forward, the big question will be can he stay healthy and can he continue to operate as is Two Sword Player and if he can, Isa.


A show time Shohei Ohtani, as he's known, could go down as the best player of all time in the history of the game.

SOARES: Pretty impressive numbers indeed. Even I don't follow it but I was impressed by that. Thanks very much. Blake Essig there.

Now the Latin Grammys give a nod to protests in Cuba. Have a look at this. "Patria y Vida," by Cuban singer took home song of the year over the

summer, the song became the anthem for opposition demonstrators in Cuba, to play on the phrase, reworked to "patria o muerte," which means homeland or death. But it was reworked to "Patria y Vida," meaning homeland in life.

And before we go, we want to say a well-deserved congratulations to CNN's director of technical operations here in London, Replica Moore. She is the winner, as you can see there, of a RISE award, given to women in the broadcast technology and services sector, who really go above and beyond to make a difference. Rebecca has made a huge difference really to all of us, especially over the past year and a half, during the pandemic. She's been instrumental in helping people cope at office and work, working from home, as well as for her efforts to foster gender equality and diversity. A huge congratulations to Rebecca Moore. We're incredibly proud of you.

And that does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett is up next. And they'll have much more of course on the marathon speech by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and the delayed vote on Joe Biden's Build Back Better Plan. He's still speaking. And it's 5:00 in the morning. Have a wonderful weekend. I'll see you next week. Bye-bye.