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CNN Special Reports
CNN Global Town Hall: Coronavirus Facts and Fears. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 01, 2021 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER: Good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper in New York.
SANJAY GUPTA: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to the CNN global town hall, "Coronavirus Facts and Fears." It's our 26th since the pandemic began.
GUPTA: We're being seen around the world on CNN International, CNN Espanol. We're also streaming on CNN.com.
COOPER: And we come to you just hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci made the announcement from the White House that the new Omicron variant has been detected in this country. He joins us shortly.
President Biden is said to be preparing to update the nation tomorrow on his anti-COVID strategy. CNN has just learned that part of it will be extending the mask mandate on planes, trains and buses until next March.
GUPTA: And, Anderson, you know, how to respond to this directly, the larger question of what to make of this new variant itself and the threat it might pose, these are all the questions.
Remember, most of us just learned about this not even a week ago, just last Thursday.
GUPTA: But even in that short time, it has now been identified on six continents, with cases now turning up in southern Africa, across Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and now the United States.
Some of that is probably simply a function of our interconnected world, but is it also something particular to this variant?
COOPER: Yeah, there's a lot we still don't know. We're going to explore that question tonight and others, as well as how dangerous it might be, and how well existing vaccines may be equipped to take it on.
We're going to check in with our correspondents in Washington and South Africa, where the first case was spotted. We'll be joined by the president of vaccine maker Moderna and, as we mentioned, Dr. Fauci.
We'll be taking your questions as well. Tweet them to us with the hashtag "#CNNTownHall" or leave a comment on the CNN Facebook page.
A lot of you have sent them in, in video form, already. You can see some of them up on the screen. And we'll get to as many as we can tonight.
First, though, we want to take a look at where things stand right now.
COOPER (voice over): Since January 2020, there have been more than 48 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. More than 780,000 people have died.
Almost 60 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, though only about 22 percent of those eligible have received a booster shot.
Health experts say that is a crucial step in the fight against the virus, especially now that a new mutation has emerged.
The Omicron variant, first reported in South Africa, has now been detected in at least 24 countries, including here in the United States. This strain has at least 50 mutations and is likely more contagious, but so far it doesn't appear any deadlier.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: We're learning more every single day, and we'll fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.
COOPER: According to an Israeli health official, early data shows indications that people who are fully vaccinated and who have had a booster shot are protected against Omicron but didn't provide any details about that claim.
Health officials in the U.S. say it will take weeks to find out just how well the existing vaccines protect against this new strain.
The CEO of Moderna says he doubts the effectiveness of its vaccine is at the same level as it is with the Delta variant. Both Moderna and Pfizer say they're working on a vaccine specific to Omicron just in case it's needed.
ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: I doubt that the -- the results will be that we can find ourselves that we are not protecting at all.
COOPER: The CDC is increasing surveillance on international travelers coming to the U.S., ramping up testing at some airports, and may also require proof of a negative COVID test one day before arrival.
And as we wait for the data, the message remains the same. Protect yourself and others by getting the vaccine.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If you're not vaccinated yet, start tomorrow. We have the chance here as a nation to turn this around, but it's going to take all of us.
COOPER (on camera): So that's, sort of, setting the stage. I want to start by asking you the question I think I've asked you pretty much at the beginning of every one of these town halls. Where are we at this moment?
GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, you know, the thing is, what we know is that Omicron is yet another wake-up call to remind us that, while we would like to be done with this pandemic, it's not quite done with us. I mean, that's the truth.
The big question now is how big of a threat is Omicron, really?
We are told that new variants are going to continue to emerge.
The more that the virus spreads and infects and evolves in our bodies, the more mutations arise.
Now, there have been thousands of variants over the last two years, and most have not become variants of concern or of interest. But Omicron has raised red flags because of the dozens of mutations on its spike protein.
Take a look here. Remember, this is the part of the virus that not only allows it to get into your cells, but also what your antibodies are actually targeting.
We know that this variant is already dominant in South Africa, causing a rise in cases there, but we don't know if it's going to ride the same size wave as previous variants.
Look, in the middle of the screen, Beta was at one time the dominant strain in South Africa, but it did not take hold in the United States. Remember that.
We are told most people have had mild illness. But at the same time, hospitalizations are rising in Gauteng Province, where some of the earlier cases were identified.
The hope is that our current vaccines, along with boosters, are still able to protect us. And early signals from South Africa and also Israel do paint an optimistic picture.
But at the same time, what we know is that not enough people have access or have yet received the vaccine.
I mean, just think, the last time we were standing here was March 2020 -- standing on this particular stage. Since then, we not only have a vaccine, we know that high-filtration masks like this one -- I know you have yours as well -- good ventilation, frequent testing, all those things can help keep COVID at bay.
So, we have the tools to control the pandemic. Now we've just got to figure out if we've got the will.
Sanjay, I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House, with what she's learning about the president's emerging Omicron strategy.
So, the president said today his administration is going to fight the new variant with, quote, "science and speed, not chaos and confusion."
So, with the first confirmed case now in California, you've got some behind-the-scenes reporting on -- on how the White House is handling this?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is news that the president got today, Anderson, because he's been in nonstop contact, basically, with his medical team, talking about this variant since last week, when he was on his Thanksgiving vacation.
Of course, now he's been having these daily meetings with advisers on this and how to respond to it. And so, you've seen those travel restrictions go into place. We have just learned that they are going to be extending the mask mandate, the one that of course applies when you're on a plane or on a train or on a bus, until March. That is something that was supposed to expire in mid-January, and now they are going to make the decision to go ahead and extend that.
And, Anderson, though overall, they're taking these steps right now to try to respond to this variant. But really the struggle is they still don't know a lot about it. Because part of those meetings that the president is having with his team, he's asking for data. He's asking for the timeline of how long it's going to take until we know more about this. Because that's what's going to be key for this White House.
And so, they're developing contingency plans, talking to vaccine makers about, maybe, do we need an Omicron-specific kind of booster?
They're not there yet, of course, but they are already having those conversations in case they need to have them.
COOPER: Kaitlan, we're also expecting to hear from the president during a speech that he's going to give at the National Institutes of Health on Thursday. What more can you tell us about that?
COLLINS: I think the setting of this speech tomorrow speaks volumes. Because the last time the president visited NIH to give a speech was three weeks into his presidency. And of course, that was a time when he was going and the scientists there were walking him through, of course, the science that they've looked at when it came to vaccines. Vaccines still weren't widely available at that time. They were talking about preparing for variants in case they started popping up throughout the United States.
And now the president is going to be visiting NIH once again, just a short drive from the White House, now that this Omicron variant has been found in the United States.
And so, he will lay out a few concrete steps there. We've talked about tightening those testing requirements for international travelers, extending the mask mandate. But, overall, they're just going to try to push this messaging about boosters.
Because, really, that's about the extent that they can go to right now. And they say there are 100 million people in the United States who are eligible for a booster right now that has not gotten it yet. So, they are going to continue to hammer that message home until they learn more.
COLLINS: All right, Kaitlan. I appreciate it. Thanks.
We want to go to CNN's David McKenzie, who's in Johannesburg, South Africa, the country where the first case of the new variant was identified.
So, what are the latest case numbers there? And -- and how many are linked to the new variant?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the numbers are surging in the province I'm sitting in right now. They are seeing very significant rises in cases, and hospitalizations are going up.
In terms of whether Omicron is dominating, well, the short answer is yes. It appears to be. More than three-quarters of cases in this part of South Africa appear to be the variant which shows that it possibly is more transmissible.
At this stage, though, hospital cases are rising. There is this anecdotal evidence that there is an association with mild and moderate disease. And the good news is, for those who have availability of vaccines, is that at least clinicians are saying, Anderson, that vaccines do appear to have an effect in stopping severe disease of this variant.
GUPTA: David, you also visited the lab that first detected this Omicron variant.
I'm curious, what did you learn there?
MCKENZIE: Well, Sanjay, it's fascinating the detective work that went into actually discovering this. There's a lab that's actually very close to where I'm sitting right now. They started seeing an anomaly in the tests, in the PCR tests many of us have had to do during this pandemic. And it reminded them this anomaly of the alpha variant you were describing just a short time ago. And because that kind of started showing more frequently and positive tests were rising, they sequenced those tests. They saw this virus, this variant with so many mutations and they raised the flag to the national authorities. Soon after that, of course, they announced it to the world.
But one thing worth mentioning is they started seeing this anomaly very early in November, possibly even late October. So once these restrictions and travel bans came in, it's likely the variant, they say, was circulating pretty widely.
COOPER: Yeah. David McKenzie, appreciate it. Thanks, from Johannesburg.
Joining us right now, someone we've certainly bombarded with questions as almost day one of all this, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden's Chief Medical Adviser.
Dr, Fauci, good evening.
We learned today, so the first person to test positive for the Omicron variant in the U.S. was fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine. Hadn't received a booster dose. A lot of folks out there are concerned about what this all could mean.
So, what is your message tonight? Do we know enough yet about Omicron, to be specific, about really anything?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: No, actually, Anderson, we don't. I mean, having a single person who had what would be considered a breakthrough infection, because the person was fully vaccinated. It doesn't really tell you much at all, because we have breakthrough infections with delta, or people who've been vaccinated, fully vaccinated. Very often, more often than not, they have mild illness. They don't go on to any serious consequence.
From what we've heard from our colleagues at UCSF in San Francisco, that this person had mild symptoms and is actually improving.
But it's only a single person, Anderson, so you really can't make a broad general statement or an extrapolation for what would go on with unvaccinated people, or people who are boosted. So, there's a lot still to be learned.
And hopefully, over the ensuing weeks, or maybe a few weeks, two to three weeks, we will get a lot more information, mostly from our South African colleagues, who've been really, really good in keeping us up to date on what's going on, and being very transparent to us on what's going on there.
COOPER: So, you really think in two or three weeks, we'll have enough -- more information from South Africa that can give us a better sense?
FAUCI: Yeah. Well, one of the things that's going to happen in the next couple of weeks, Anderson, is that we're going to get the virus, which we have. And you grow the virus, or you make what's called a pseudo virus, which is a form of virus that you could work with in the test tube very easily.
Then, we're going to get sera from people who recovered from COVID, as well as individuals who've been vaccinated, and who've developed different types of antibodies to block the virus. And we'll see if, in fact, this particular virus is still sensitive to the antibodies that were induce by the vaccines that we're using.
We expect, and I wouldn't be surprised, if the level of protection diminishes somewhat, given the constellations of mutations that we see, that would suggest immune evasion there. But you never know, until, A, you test it in an in-vitro or test tube situation. But then you get into the real-world data about what happens when a vaccinated person or boosted person comes into contact and gets infected.
These are all things that are unknown. We'll get the laboratory data and a couple of weeks, but we'll have to get the experience from our South African colleagues about what the real clinical effect is going to be.
GUPTA: Dr. Fauci, good evening.
You just heard Kaitlan Collins' report probably talking about the fact that the president is going to be laying out a strategy on how to fight COVID this winter.
Now, as his chief medical adviser, I'm curious, what are you -- what are you telling him the most important thing to stress is to the country? And what, if any, policy changes do you think should be implemented?
Kaitlan -- Kaitlan, for example, mentioned the possibility of mask mandates now on public transportation is something that's being considered.
FAUCI: Well, Sanjay, as you know, I'm not going to get ahead of the president in his -- in the speech that he's going to give at our place at the NIH tomorrow. We're looking forward to that.
But you know, in the very, very constant interactions that I and the medical team have had with him over the last few days, what we're emphasizing -- and he's accepting very readily -- the kinds of things that we're talking about, of making sure that the unvaccinated get vaccinated. And that people who are fully vaccinated, get their boosters as quickly as they possibly can, if they are eligible because the question arises, you jump ahead of yourself, and you say, well, is there going to be a variant-specific boost? And if so, should I wait to get that boost?
[21:15:04] And the answer is no. If you are eligible, namely, if you've had the Moderna or the Pfizer, and your six months following your primary regiment of vaccination, or you're two months following J&J, don't wait, get that extra boost now, because we know when you do that, the level of antibodies, as I think you already mentioned on this show, Sanjay, the level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine.
That's what you really want to see, because we know, from our experience with delta, that even though the vaccine is not directed specifically at delta, it's directed against the ancestral strain, the Wuhan strain. Yet, when you get your levels of antibody high enough, you protect against delta.
That's where we're hoping we'll see with the Omicron variant -- that if you get your levels high enough, it will spill over and get cross protection against that variant.
GUPTA: Let's keep talking about immunity then and antibodies. You may remember, Dr. Fauci, back in September, we asked you about whether we should take into account the impact of natural or infection-acquired immunity when it comes to vaccination status.
This continues to be an important topic for many people. I just want to remind you, take a listen to what you said back then on AC360.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: It's conceivable that you got infected, you're protected, but you may not be protected for the indefinite period of time. So, I think that is something that we need to sit down and discuss seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: So that was, you know, a couple of months ago, now, Dr. Fauci. Where - where do we stand on the - the idea of the protection that you get from having had COVID?
FAUCI: Well, there's no doubt, Sanjay, that if you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, and you recover, that you're going to have a significant degree of protection.
What we don't know, because it hasn't been studied as precisely as the post-vaccination immunological response, that we don't know what the durability of is, what the level of is.
And, you know what, people who push back and say, wait a minute, are you saying that you don't get protection? No, you get a considerable degree of protection from getting infected and recovered. But the thing that we do know that we're very sure of, that if you take an infected person who's recovered and then you vaccinate that person, that's the highest level of protection, both T cells, antibody, and all the immune parameters. It gets way, way higher than anything else. And that's the reason why the CDC continues to recommend that if you have been infected, that you subsequently get vaccinated for the optimal protection.
COOPER: There's obviously, you know, concerned about Omicron in the past few days, but the delta variant is still a very serious concern here in the United States. Michigan reporting at least nine hospitals at 100 percent patient capacity. Got the cold winter months now still ahead of us.
How concerned are you about what is to come?
FAUCI: I'm glad you brought that up, Anderson, because we don't want people, because they hear of a single case of a new variant, that just has now arrived in the United States, as well as what's going on in South Africa, or in other countries throughout the world, to take our eye off the ball of the problem that we are facing right now. We are entering into a much colder season, we still have 99.9 percent of the isolates are delta, and we know what we can do with delta.
We have within our capability to block it by getting the people who are unvaccinated vaccinated, and we still have about 60 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not vaccinated. And to get those people, who are already primarily vaccinated, fully vaccinated, to get them when they're eligible to get their booster for the reasons that I just said.
And then we have other things, and you mentioned them just a bit ago. You know, wearing proper masks when you are in an indoor congregate setting, getting the children vaccinated -- that's really very important. We have 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 11, who if we get them but vaccinated will protect them for their own health, as well as to prevent the further spread in the community.
So, there are a lot of things we can do now with what we're dealing with now, and what we're dealing with now is delta.
GUPTA: Dr. Fauci, I do want to get one audience question in before we go to the break. We're going to have plenty more after.
But Shaun from Virginia has a question about traveling for the holidays. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAUN AIGNER-LEE, MOTHER: My family is planning on traveling to Europe this Christmas. We're all vaccinated including our boosters, except for my son who is 13, he's not eligible yet for his booster, I'm wondering if it's safe to travel. I'm also a little nervous about last-minute travel restrictions. Should I be?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: You know, I think a lot of people are curious about this, Dr. Fauci. I know you are planning on getting together with your family this holiday season, fully vaccinated without masks.
Does Omicron change your thinking on this?
What should other people be thinking?
FAUCI: No. No, again, thanks for the question, Sanjay, because I'm getting it asked a lot myself. I would not do anything different than we have been recommending all along, despite the fact that we have a case.
And we likely will see more cases of Omicron as the weeks and the days go by. I would be surprised -- I had already said it a little bit ago that I wouldn't be surprised if we see a first case soon.
But we just have a problem that's identifiable now. And just as I said, and I'll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, your family's vaccinated, enjoy the holidays indoor with your family in a family setting.
Many of us will have to travel during the holidays. What you do when you travel, you take care; you're prudent. Travel always increases somewhat the risk of getting infected. But if you wear a mask, particularly when you're in an airport, in the congregate setting -- you have to wear a mask when you get on the plane. And if you can, just get vaccinated as soon as you can.
And right now, is the time to get boosted. The children also, now is the time to get the five and 11-year-olds vaccinated so that, as we get into those winter months and we approach the holidays, they'll at least be partially vaccinated.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. Dr. Fauci is going to be sticking around to answer more of your questions.
Also ahead, in light of what Dr. Fauci said about vaccines, the president of Moderna on his expectations of how well his company's vaccine may handle the new variant and how long it might take if a new formulation is needed.
Also, more on the public health prevention front and what additional steps might be needed, even as COVID fatigue already sets in for all of us. Former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen is here to take your questions as well, as our CNN town hall continues.
COOPER: We are back talking with Dr. Anthony Fauci, taking your questions throughout the night. You'll see them scrolling there on the social media wall.
Dr. Fauci, we've got a lot of questions to get to. First, though, I just quickly want to ask you about a report in the news today involving the former president. The Guardian newspaper is reporting, in his new book, the former president's Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows writes that the president had first a positive COVID test and then a negative test before the first presidential debate with Joe Biden in September of 2020.
He had met with Gold Star families after the first positive test, went to the debate. At the time, did you know anything about that?
FAUCI: No, Anderson, I did not. I had no knowledge of what his test positivity or negativity was at all. I had -- I just was not -- I was not in that loop at all.
GUPTA: Let's get to some more viewer questions, Dr. Fauci.
This is an interesting one from Liam in South Africa. He sent in this video. Take a listen.
QUESTION: As a proud South African, I've watched in recent days as the world has shut its doors to my country. South Africa has undoubtedly been punished for its discovery of the Omicron variants, which raises an important question.
Why would countries report future variants if they are simply slapped with discriminatory travel bans?
These travel bans have certainly set a treacherous precedent.
GUPTA: Do you -- is there any merit, do you think, Dr. Fauci, to Liam's concerns here?
FAUCI: You know, I -- I think there is some merit to that. We felt, at least I felt, and I know several of the members of the team felt really badly about that because the South Africans have been extremely transparent and collegial in getting information to us. It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what was going on when you saw what was coming out. So, we felt it was better to be safe than sorry.
And we -- we really are sensitive to and appreciate what the situation is, particularly as reflected by the comments that you just showed on the screen.
I would hope that we get enough information soon that we could pull back on that as quickly as possible, because you don't want individual countries to feel that, when they are honest and transparent, that there are negative consequences for them. So, I do really feel badly about that.
COOPER: This next question came in via Twitter, with our our hashtag "CNNTownHall." It's one of the questions you see scrolling there on the social media wall, reads, "Will we have to be vaccinated yearly or frequently like the flu due to the different variations emerging?"
I know the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, is predicting yearly shots. I'm wondering what you think.
FAUCI: Anderson, to be honest with you, we don't know. We really don't. I mean, you could say we might have this or we might require this, but we don't know.
One of the things that I'm very interested, and my colleagues, is that, when you get a boost, the booster shot, for example, with an MRNA or a Pfizer, do you not only elevate the level of antibodies to a higher level, but you -- do you induce a degree of what we call affinity maturation, which is a big word to mean that you really get the immune response to get a much greater breadth and a much greater strength, so that we maybe don't have to boost every eight months, nine months, year. It may be we get a durability of immunity -- or maybe not.
And if it is not, we'll have to deal with it, depending upon how the outbreak and the global pandemic evolves.
So, the honest answer is we don't know what's going to be required. I hope we get a durability protection from the boost that we won't have to be chasing all the time against the new variant. But that just remains to be seen.
GUPTA: Dr. Fauci, we got a lot of questions on this next topic. Calvin in New York sent in this question about COVID tests. It reads, "As of now, Dr. Fauci says the PCR test is effective in detecting this new variant, but does that mean the rapid test can also detect the new variant, and will it render someone potentially with a false negative?"
What do we know about this? The PCR test, I think, those are pretty -- those are the gold standard. But what about these rapid tests?
FAUCI: Yeah. You know, that's a great question. There are some -- and I don't know which one versus which one, but there's certainly some of the antigen tests, the rapid 15, 20-minute tests that definitely pick this up. I think what we're going to have to do is go back and make sure which ones clearly do pick it up and which ones don't.
And you know when you get a rapid test, which is an antigen test, that it doesn't have the sensitivity of a PCR, but if you do it often enough, you can really make up for the relative lack of sensitivity. But for sure, the tests -- I'm speaking to our South African colleagues, which I've been on Zoom calls with them over the last few days, over the weekend, the Thanksgiving holiday -- that they are seeing that the antigen test does pick it up.
GUPTA: You know, Dr. Fauci, there's obviously a lot of understandable emphasis on vaccines and boosters. But, you know, we've been talking about testing since the beginning of this pandemic as well. Right now, I think there's about a million, million and a half tests that are being done every day. I remember at one point we talked about maybe we should be doing tens of millions of tests a day to really get clear vision on what's happening. Why are we still not doing, you know, that number of tests in this country?
FAUCI: Yeah. Well, Sanjay, you and I have had this conversation before and I've told you I am one and very bullish about flooding the system with tests, and that's what we recommended and that's what's going to happen and is already starting to happen, where billions of dollars are being invested to allow us to have anywhere from 200 million to 500 million tests a month.
I mean, that's, I think, going to give us what we need to able to do what I said about -- I used the terminology flooding the system with tests. So, anybody can get a test as easily as you possibly can imagine.
COOPER: Dan from Maine sent in this question about the Omicron variant. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN SMITH: Anecdotal evidence that the Omicron variant is less severe than the Delta variant. If Omicron becomes the dominant strain in the United States, wouldn't its emergence actually be a good thing? Wouldn't the milder version of COVID theoretically give some immunity against the more severe strains in the unvaccinated public?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Dr. Fauci, what about that?
FAUCI: Well, first of all, the idea that the Omicron is less severe is an assumption for which we don't really have any data. So, we really better be careful.
The caller who just -- who just made that statement is correct, is that there has been anecdotal information that some of the physicians, private physicians and others who see patients in South Africa are saying it's their impression that it is a less severe disease. But there are a lot of confounding issues there, Anderson, because the original outbreak was seen in a particular section and a particular area among younger individuals in Johannesburg and in other places in South Africa.
So, we really better not assume that, and it's always dangerous to say let's get one infection really, really be spread so that it could protect you against another. You don't want to play around with SARS- CoV-2. It's a formidable foe. So, I would stay away from that, even though it's a reasonable question that that person just brought up.
GUPTA: And we've got another question, Steve in Seattle sent in this video asking about precautions fully vaccinated people should take. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEVE, SEATTLE: Everyone's been talking about what to do if you're unvaccinated or without a booster, but what should someone who has all three shots do to protect themselves against the Omicron variant?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: Dr. Fauci?
FAUCI: Good question. Yeah, good question. We're asking people to go get booster shot and the question that was just asked is very relevant.
What you do is exactly what we were saying, and that is to be prudent and careful, and one of the things that's very clear is that if you have to be in an indoor congregate setting in which you're unsure of what the vaccination status is of the people around you, wear a mask.
Also, when you're in indoor settings, try and go to a place where's there's good ventilation. Try, and I know it's tough as we get into the colder months, but try to do things outdoors more frequently than just indoors.
But it's just the common sense prudent trying to avoid a risky situation. But you've already taken a major step in protecting yourself by the fact that you have gotten vaccinated and you have gotten boosted. That's a real big step towards protecting yourself.
COOPER: Dr. Fauci, we just got a social media question from a viewer named Andrew. We didn't have time to put it on the screen.
Andrew, the question was at what point do you -- would you consider the pandemic over?
FAUCI: Well, again, that's a question that has been asked very, very frequently, and the way I explain it is that if you look at the different phases, you have the pandemic phase, the deceleration or diminution of infection. Then you have control, you have elimination, and you have eradication.
I don't think there's a chance we're going to eradicate this virus because it's too widespread, and it transmits too easily.
Then there's the issue of, are you going to eliminate it? The way we've eliminated polio and measles through vaccination. We might, I think, that's pretty aspirational to do that.
What I believe we can do is we can get a level of control where the dynamics of the virus circulating in the population is so low that it really is not a threat anymore. It's not something which dominates decisions of what you're going to do and where you're going to go.
If we get the level that -- that low that you will protect not only people who are not vaccinated and you would hope that the overwhelming proportion of people would be vaccinated, but a low level of dynamics of virus in the community is much, much better and safer for the vaccinated people because you get much less breakthrough infections if the virus doesn't have a lot of --
COOPER: How do you get to that point if not enough people are vaccinated?
FAUCI: -- doesn't have a lot.
Well, we just got to get them vaccinated. That's the point.
I mean, this idea about people not wanting to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons -- ideological, political, or what-have-you -- we've got to get the country to appreciate that we are dealing with a common enemy that's the virus, and the only thing we need to do is to join forces against that common enemy. And we have a fantastic tool against that common enemy, and that's vaccine.
So, we've really got to keep trying and get people to appreciate that it's for their own safety, for that of their family but also for their communal responsibility to get us out of this terrible situation of a pandemic that we are in.
COOPER: Dr. Fauci, appreciate your time. Thank you.
GUPTA: Dr. Fauci.
COOPER: Up next, the president of Moderna, Dr. Stephen Hoge, will join us. The company's CEO caused quite a stir when he predicted the current COVID vaccines likely won't work as well against Omicron. We'll find out what Dr. Hoge thinks.
And Dr. Leana Wen will join us as well to help answer more of your COVID questions when our CNN town -- global town hall continues.
COOPER: Throughout the night in the CNN Global Town Hall, you'll see viewers submitted questions scrolling there in the wall and set behind me. We'll get some of those questions in a minute. But first Moderna's CEO made headlines yesterday when he told the Financial Times that existing COVID vaccines are likely to be less effective and his words against the Omicron variant.
GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, his comments triggered a drop in financial markets, raised the anxiety of an already worried public. But were they premature? Joining us to hopefully provide some clarity on this is the President of Moderna, Dr. Stephen Hoge, welcome.
COOPER: Dr. Hoge, thanks so much for being with us. So, the CEO Moderna also said all the scientists I've talked to are like, "This is not going to be good." As the person who leads Moderna's scientific effort, what are you seeing that led to such a bleak assessment from your CEO?
STEPHEN HOGE, PRESIDENT, MODERNA: Well, I think some of the word choice may not have been optimal. But I think what Stephane was trying to say was consistent with really what you heard Tony, say a moment ago, and what we feel, which is it seems likely that the Omicron variant is going to make a dent in our vaccine efficacy, in fact, in all vaccine efficacy.
The things that lead us to believe that are our prior experiences, including with the Delta variant this summer, which I think we all saw had an impact on vaccine efficacy. And ultimately, and associated, we think the additional boosters that we're giving this fall in many parts of the world, the Omicron variant looks a lot like Delta and the variant that came before it, Beta, and the combination of mutations that have been brought together there, we think are going to increase the possibility of immune escape.
Now, the one thing we don't know for sure is how big is that dent, how big is that decrease in vaccine efficacy. Our hope, at least in Moderna, is that we're going to continue to see the highest efficacy overall and continue to see the boosters push that even higher. And so, the optimist in me would say that maybe we find out over the coming few weeks as we generate more data in the real world that the vaccines actually hold up quite well. This is more like Delta. And it's a situation where we already have the tools we need to fight.
GUPTA: You know, there's been a lot of discussion about boosters. Every time a new variant comes out, there is a new discussion about a variant specific booster there. I think there was Delta boosters and Beta boosters that were trialed, even turned out not to be necessary. Is it your impression, this is how things are going to be going forward?
And also, as you think about that, is there a downside to giving regular boosters and concerns about people creating auto immunity, for example?
HOGE: So, I think it's just too early to say, as Tony said a moment ago, though, whether or not we're going to need boosters permanently on a regular basis, what is clear right now is we're in the throes of a pandemic. And the virus continues to mutate and evolve and break through some of our defenses, whether it's vaccine-induced or previous-infection-induced.
And so, in the face of all that force of infection that, that much virus circulating, we do believe it's important that we continue to boost populations because we've seen the damage that can be wrought when you see breakthrough infections, hospitalizations, you can break through death. And obviously we've all felt the economic toll.
So, what we really believe at Moderna is, we need to continue to advance the best possible booster candidates for public health officials like Dr. Fauci to have in their hands to deploy if they feel they're necessary. But we do hope that, at some point, this slows down that, at some point, we get through this pandemic, the virus stops mutating, stops circulating as aggressively as it is right now.
And then at that point, it's possible the boosters only become something that's necessary for high-risk populations, for instance, the elderly, or those who suffer from cancer.
GUPTA: And is there a threshold where you would say that's a trigger for a booster? You hear about the vaccines being good to prevent serious illness, would you boost to just prevent infections or would it only be to prevent illness?
HOGE: Well, from our perspective, the vaccines are designed to prevent illness, whether it's mild or severe. And, obviously, as long as we're holding up against hospitalization, severe illness and death, most of the good has been delivered. But the question about whether or not people would want to choose to protect themselves against mild COVID, and some of the disruption associated with that is really one for those individuals, their doctors and really public health officials.
We're going to continue to make sure that boosters are capable of doing that. But I can see how over time, the need to prevent milder symptoms of disease might actually become less important.
COOPER: If it's true that the current vaccines including yours offer a decent -- if it turns out they offer a decent amount of protection against this variant, is that a sign that they could handle future variants that have significant mutations as well?
HOGE: That's the hope. I think this particular Omicron variant is the first one that really causes us significant concern because of the number of mutations it has. But a lot of this is just we don't have data yet. So the concern is more anticipatory. We just don't know what to think about this new variant.
But if you look at the history of the vaccines and the Moderna vaccine, for sure, but some of the others, have actually held up really well. We had the Beta variant. We saw good efficacy against that Gamma variant and Delta variant that we all lived through this summer.
And so, there is some hope that if we get through the Omicron variant, we see good efficacy in the coming weeks and months, that actually the original vaccines that we've all been benefiting from, actually will hold up really well and might be all we really need in the long run. Again, we'll just need data to tell us.
COOPER: Yes. Dr. Stephen Hoge, we really appreciate your time. Thank you.
A reminder in the wall and our set, you'll see our social media scroll that shows the questions people are asking. You can tweet us your question with the hashtag #CNNTownHall. You can also leave comment on the CNN Facebook page.
Back with us now Sanjay and joining us as well, CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen.
GUPTA: Hi, Leana.
COOPER: Welcome. Good to see you.
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Great to see you both.
COOPER: I don't think I've seen you in person.
GUPTA: In person.
COOPER: I don't know ever in two years?
WEN: Since March 2020. I know since before my daughter and --
WEN: -- your son (INAUDIBLE).
GUPTA: I can see the bottom half of our bodies now, right?
COOPER: So let's move on to some more viewer questions Manuel (ph) in Dallas sent in this video. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the COVID-19 virus have a final stage of evolution, or will it keep evolving at definite time (ph)? Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: This is a -- this is an interesting question, right? I mean, this idea that there is an optimal fitness to these viruses, you know, and Stephen Hoge was just talking about that to some extent. Ultimately, there seems to be this push and pull, whereas -- and it doesn't always happen, but as it becomes more transmissible, it also loses some of its punch. And we get into this sort of steady state.
I mean, in some ways, that's kind of what happened with flu. The descendants even of the 1918 flu still exist today and we've sort of accepted that steady state. That may happen with us as well.
COOPER: But it's not the same as the virus, basically, weakening over time and --
GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it weakens in addition to the fact that we get more global immunity, hopefully, through vaccines primarily, but, you know, through infection-acquired immunity as well, in combination that immunity and a weakened -- a more weakened virus gets us to that steady state potentially.
COOPER: Dr. Wen, this is a question for you. It came in via Facebook with their hashtag #CNNTownHall. And one of the questions you have scrolling up there on social media wall, "If we know it's already spread well beyond their borders, what's the point of closing borders? Can we just admit this is an endemic and move on?"
WEN: That's a question that a lot of people are asking. And I don't think it's one that medical and public health experts necessarily agree on. You know, if we had said that the point of travel restrictions is to stop the spread of COVID altogether, stop the spread of Omicron altogether, it's not going to work. But what President Biden and Dr. Fauci have said is, the point is to slow down the spread and to buy us time.
COOPER: You actually support the idea of travel restriction.
WEN: I do because I like this idea of buying us time. Ideally, we get to the point where there are only a handful of cases of Omicron in the U.S. for the time being. And so we're able to identify every case. We're able to quarantine the individuals who are exposed.
We're able to isolate those individuals, and that that buys us time to get people vaccinated, get people boosters who haven't already while we're finding out more information.
And so, it's not saying forever, let's do travel restrictions and actually do hope that the Biden administration will remove the restrictions as soon as they don't seem necessary anymore.
COOPER: Right. Because it didn't start in -- from what we know, or we believe we know, at this point, this Omicron didn't necessarily start in South Africa.
COOPER: It was just noticed there first.
WEN: That's right. And then it seems like it's punishing, the researchers and clinicians, in South Africa, who are doing great science, and who are being transparent. I think we should be rewarding them. And right now, they're not feeling that way.
GUPTA: And we got to do more testing here, too. That's the thing. I mean, doing 1.5 million tests today, you just heard Dr. Fauci say we could get to 500 million a month, potentially, which--
COOPER: And why is that? Why would that make a difference?
GUPTA: Well we're missing a lot of people. There's a lot of, you know, that was a thing about this virus, is that people could be totally asymptomatic, have no symptoms, have no knowledge that they're carrying it, and still spread it.
COOPER: But does that help us learn about the virus itself? Or is that just to get an accurate sense of how widespread the virus is?
GUPTA: Well, it gives you an accurate sense of how widespread it is. But then you can also start to isolate. People can go isolate, they stop spreading it as much. And that starts to feel like you're starting to get your hands around this, some control. It's an effective strategy.
COOPER: So, it's not really data. It's more for actually informing people, "You are COVID, please don't pass along."
GUPTA: Yes. I mean, the data in terms of finding new variants, like this, like Omicron?
GUPTA: It would help with that. But this would be, in terms of actually controlling it. I think we have not done enough testing here unless from the very start.
COOPER: I mean we've been talking about needing more testing from the get-go. I mean, the former administration, remember, the former president--
COOPER: --famously repeatedly would say, "Well, the more you test, the more positive cases you get."
GUPTA: And we took a huge lull in testing over the summer.
GUPTA: I mean people said, "This is essentially gone." And vaccinated people were encouraged, not even bother testing. That was probably a mistake.
COOPER: This is a question from Leslie (ph), in Salt Lake City. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have we been sequencing and tracking variants here, and sharing the results with the world, like South Africa has been? Is it possible, we weren't even looking for it here, and that is why we appear to have little to no cases?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Sanjay, what about it?
GUPTA: I mean, this is kind of getting to the same point. So, we are sequencing a lot more. At one point, they were sequencing, I think, some 8,000 tests a week. And now, it's closer to 80,000 tests a week. So, it's 10-fold higher.
The problem still, though, I think, is the denominator of how many tests are we actually doing? Again, this 1.5 million tests per day, is not nearly enough, in a country of 300 million people, when you're in the middle of a pandemic.
So, for the tests that we do have, and the positives that are coming back, we're probably sequencing enough. They've shared about close to 2 million of these sequences with these global data banks.
But we got - the fundamental problem still, is that there's a lot of people out there, who are right now, carrying this virus, in their bodies, they have no idea that they are, and they're continuing to spread it. And that just perpetuates the pandemic.
COOPER: I saw some comments made by the Head of the WHO, recently, or maybe it was even today, essentially saying, "Look, unless the world is vaccinated, unless we get better distribution of vaccines, out to people, this is just going to continue."
I mean, that we are really, I mean, it is that cliche, "We're all in this together." With the pandemic, you actually are.
WEN: That's right. And I think we have to recognize, as we have, from the very beginning, that we are in this together, and that unless we're able to get vaccines to the world.
But here's the key. It's not just getting vaccine supply to the world. One of the major issues, including in South Africa, in Southern African countries, is that they have low vaccine rates, but it's not because of vaccine supply.
South Africa has actually been giving back the vaccines that they've received. And the reason is that they're having vaccine hesitancy--
WEN: --due to lots of disinformation and misinformation, just as we do here, in the U.S. too.
GUPTA: Everywhere in the world.
COOPER: Yes. Dr. Wen, this last question is a video from Brittany (ph) in Chicago.Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it still safe to gather inside, with family and friends, if everyone is vaccinated?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's a good question. I'll also extend that, because I'm curious, would you go to a gym, where supposedly everyone is vaccinated to go, but would you wear a mask?
WEN: Right. Well, I'll say this, that Omicron itself hasn't really changed that calculus for people, as in just because there's this one case of Omicron, in the U.S., I don't think that should change our behavior, other than to say, "Go get vaccinated, and go get boosted." But I think what people really want to know is, "What's safe for me to do right now." And there is no clear answer, because there's no such thing as a 100 percent safe or a 100 percent risk. Everybody needs to weigh their own risks for themselves.
And so, the safest thing to do is if everybody around you, is fully vaccinated, and ideally also boosted, that's going to be the safest atmosphere.
Beyond that, if you are someone, who is vulnerable, with chronic medical illnesses, immunosuppressed, or if you live at home, with someone, who's vulnerable, or unvaccinated younger children, you might decide to take additional precautions, including maybe not going to crowded gyms, for the time being.
Or, if you're going to the gym, wear a mask, or go during off times, when there aren't going to be people around you. And just take those additional precautions.
And if you're going to do any form of international traveling, I would highly urge for people to self-quarantine once they come back, and also to get a test, three days to five days, after they get back, just for that additional peace of mind too.
GUPTA: Right, yes.
COOPER: I mean, it is the thing. If you have small children at home?
COOPER: You do need to take extra precautions that other people might not need.
GUPTA: I mean, you got to put a bubble around them, essentially. I mean, that, in some ways, that's the philosophical component of herd immunity. You want a lot of vaccinated people around them, as Leana said, if you have someone, who's vulnerable, as well.
It was interesting to hear Dr. Fauci say he's planning on having, you know, joining the holidays, with his vaccinated family, and friends, no masks inside. He's 80-years-old, you know? So, he is somebody, who would be considered vulnerable.
COOPER: He's 80-years-old?
GUPTA: He's 80-years-old.
GUPTA: Yes, it's incredible, right?
COOPER: Yes. I look ravaged by time. I look so weird (ph).
GUPTA: I look tired compared to him, I know. COOPER: What is going on?
GUPTA: This never sleeps either.
COOPER: Good lord!
Dr. Leana Wen, and Sanjay, thank you very much.
GUPTA: You got it.
COOPER: Appreciate it, as always.
And also, thanks to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Stephen Hoge, and everyone, who wrote in with your questions.
If you didn't get your question answered, the conversation continues at cnn.com/coronavirusanswers.
News continues as well, with Don and "DON LEMON TONIGHT," after this break.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Hello everyone, this is DON LEMON TONIGHT. Thank you for joining us.
We have been watching, you've been watching, the CNN Global Town Hall, "CORONAVIRUS: FACTS AND FEARS." And we've got a lot more coming, on the Omicron variant, now detected in this country.