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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

FDA Set to Authorize 3rd Dose for Immunocompromised People; Texas Governor Threatens Districts that Defy His Ban on Mask Mandates; Former U.S. Attorney Tells Investigators He Resigned Early Because He Heard Trump was Thinking of Firing Him. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 05:00   ET



WHITNEY WILD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's Thursday, August 12, it is 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Whitney Wild, in for Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to see you again this morning, Whitney.

And I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Big news on the COVID front here this morning. As early as today, we expect the first federal authorization for extra doses of coronavirus vaccine. The FDA expected to give emergency use authorization for a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for some people with weakened immune systems, that includes some cancer patients, people taking medication that suppresses the immune system and, of course, organ transplant recipients.

A recent study found vaccinated immuno-compromised people are nearly 500 times more likely to be hospitalized or to die than the general vaccinated population. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says immuno- compromised Americans probably won't be the only group to receive a third shot.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: It is likely that boosters will be needed for a broader segment of the population. What we're trying to figure out right now is the right timing for when to initiate those additional doses and also who those doses should be available to. Based on where the need is greatest.


WILD: The CDC now says pregnant women should get vaccinated against COVID-19. That represents a bit of a change from the previous advice that simply said women could get the vaccine. Meanwhile, there is a chilling prediction from the World Health Organization. The director says at the current rate, we could pass 300 million COVID cases worldwide by early next year. That is 100 million more than the 200 million reported as of last week.

So let's bring in Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Pfizer vaccine trial.

Good morning to you.

ROMANS: Good morning.

Let's begin here.


ROMANS: Doctor, do you think that the FDA is doing the right thing approving the additional shot and first for immuno-compromised people? How significant is this?

OGBUAGU: That's an important development. I think that the need for boosters have really been informed by what has been observed to be waning immunity over time both within the clinical trials and real world reports around COVID-19 incidents among vaccinated individuals. And we all know that the United States is going through a surge of infections currently with delta.

This is no surprise to me because we've always known that this certain immuno-compromised group that you listed, cancer patient or people who use certain medications that affect the immune system could be -- first of all, do not even respond as well to the two dose vaccines as people without some of those conditions. So it does make sense for these vulnerable individuals to have they will an extra kick and there are studies showing that the extra dose might be helpful.

ROMANS: Yeah, right now, so many of those people are actually living their life as if they are not vaccinated because they are so afraid.

WILD: Right.

ROMANS: The doctors though cautioned them that they have to be very, very careful.

WILD: Right, right, it is a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety.

So moving forward, do you think that there will be other groups who will eventually be recommended to get a booster shot?

OGBUAGU: Yeah, so one group that I think should be given strong concentration would be the elderly, and that is older than the age of 65, because across the board, and this is not just for COVID vaccinations, but older individuals tend to show lower responses to vaccines to begin with and those were also seen with the COVID-19 trials, and we're seeing that with the breakthrough infections, that vast majority of those individuals are elderly individuals. So that is another group I think that would warrant it as well.

ROMANS: Doctor, what do you make of the CDC now strengthening its advice that pregnant women should be vaccinated? Up until now, they said that the vaccine could be used for pregnant women. They can use the vaccine. Now they are strengthening that advice and recommending it.

Is that significant?

OGBUAGU: Absolutely. So this is good news both for pregnant women and also women of child bearing potentials who had expressed concern around the COVID-19 vaccine because of concern around fertility and also pregnancy outcomes. And so, there is emerging data still being collected on pregnant women and the CDC looked at about 2,500 women and did not find anymore adverse pregnancy outcomes than occurs in the general population. So that is good news, assuming other pregnancy registries that are showing similar thing, we also had women who got pregnant during the clinical trials that we conducted who have also not seen any negative signal.

So this is a positive development and I hope that this strengthens the resolve of pregnant women to get vaccinated.


ROMANS: I know there was one study showed that they can pass along the antibodies to their babies, so that's valuable data too.

WILD: And we've seen so many cases where a woman was pregnant and then got a very severe case of COVID and was maybe unable to meet her child for several weeks or months or in some cases passed away before meeting the child. So this is a critically important step. I think that it will relieve a lot of anxiety for --

ROMANS: Dr. Ogbuagu, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Yale School of Medicine associate professor, nice to see you. Thanks for your advice and analysis.

OGBUAGU: It's my pleasure.

WILD: All right. Texas hospitals are in crisis mode this morning. Coming up, we have new -- right here, new video inside and outside tents at LBJ Hospital in Houston, these are tents erected to handle the overflow of COVID patients. The ICU unit there is at 100 percent capacity.

ROMANS: Adding to the chaos and despair, Governor Abbott threatening to take school districts to court if they defy his ban on mask mandates.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more from Dallas.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Whitney, the Texas attorney general and governor both Republicans are firing back at the local officials who have been issuing mask requirements here in Texas in recent days. All of this in defiance of the governor's executive order issued in recent weeks. The A.G. and governor have filed a petition to block the mask mandate

that was recently issued here in Dallas County and the A.G. is calling these local officials who are pushing these mask requirements as, quote, activist characters and they vow to take any school superintendent, county official who is issuing mask requirements, to take them to court.

This legal fighting goes on as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in a dangerous way, mostly across unvaccinated people here in the state of Texas. Hospital officials are describing the situation where they are, quote, headed for a catastrophe. Hospitals are scrambling to make room for intensive care patients.

The number of people hospitalized by the coronavirus is now over 10,000, a number that has not been seen in the state since late January and early February. The number of ICU beds available in many regions across the state is down to single digits. And hospital officials say they are scrambling to find hospital staff to handle the influx of patients that are coming into hospitals all over the state.

So it is an intensely troubling situation that is unfolding here as politicians continue to fight over whether or not people should wear masks in public -- Christine and Whitney.


ROMANS: All right. There is science, there is politics, and, boy, what an ugly mix.

All right. On Wall Street right now, if you want access to the trading floor, you're going to need to be vaccinated. The New York Stock Exchange says anyone entering the trading floor might be fully vaccinated by September 13 and the NYSE on site random testing program now expanded to include vaccinated employees.

Amtrak said all its employees must be vaccinated by November 1. All new hires will have to show proof of vaccination starting October 4.

The delta variant by the way already hurting Southwest Airlines, Southwest told investors customers have been booking fewer flights in August and they are canceling trips that they have already booked increasingly. Southwest was one of three airlines to say that it will not require its employees to be vaccinated although it strongly encouraging them to do so.

United Airlines is requiring employees to be vaccinated but its CEO doesn't see that happening for passengers.


SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: It's a government question, but I suspect that it probably won't happen domestically, mostly because it would be logistically hard to get implemented.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Kirby thinks the U.S. could see 80 percent to 90 percent vaccinate rates through increased employer mandates. You've seen this strongly encouraging employees to be vaccinated for a long time. And now increasingly companies are getting a little more strict about it.

WILD: Absolutely.

Well, he thought Trump was probably going to fire him anyway, so he decided to quit. What a U.S. attorney told lawmakers about the circumstances leading up to his resignation. That story is next.



WILD: New information on the abrupt resignation of the former federal prosecutor in Atlanta who stepped down just as Donald Trump was trying to overturn Georgia's election results. Sources tell CNN B.J. Pak told congressional investigators Wednesday he quit weeks early because he caught wind Trump was thinking of firing him.

Senate Judiciary member, Richard Blumenthal, was in the room for Pak's closed door testimony.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): My impression was that B.J. Pak was telling the truth, he was forthright, and forthcoming, and he appeared voluntarily. And, second, my strong feeling was as well that he believed in the rule of law and he stood up for it.


WILD: CNN's Manu Raju has more on the investigation from Capitol Hill.



Now, B.J. Pak, the former top prosecutor of U.S. attorney in Georgia, testified for roughly 3 to 3 1/2 hours yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee answering questions about why he abruptly resigned from his position the day after audio leaked detailing Donald Trump's effort to pressure Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, to, quote, find enough votes to overturn his election laws to Joe Biden.

Now, what he said according to a source familiar with his testimony, that he actually resigned because he thought Donald Trump was considering firing him. He was planning to resign on January 20th, instead, he ended up resigning a couple weeks earlier than planned.

And "The New York Times" also reported that Donald Trump wanted him to contend that the election results in Georgia were fraudulent. [01:15:06]

And that was the reason why Donald Trump was considering firing him. Now, I was also told that he was concerned that Donald Trump simply did not like him, he was not working hard enough.

Now, this all comes as Senate Judiciary Committee is looking into a wide range of efforts by Trump and his allies to allegedly pressure the Justice Department to intervene in key states, urged them to overturn the electoral results, suggested those results were fraudulent in some way, cast doubt on Biden's victory. They have already interviewed two witnesses, former justice officials.

And they plan to interview more and potentially some people in the White House as well such as former chief of staff Mark Meadows. The chairman of the committee, Dick Durbin, told me he is among those he would like to speak with.

Also, top former justice official, Jeffrey Clark, who apparently was behind a lot of these efforts as well. This is all part of the probe going forward, but yesterday's revelations could be key to this committee as it tries to piece together what Donald Trump did in the aftermath of the election to pressure a range of folks to get the election results that he wanted -- guys.

ROMANS: Manu Raju, thank you so much for that.

Republican Senator Rand Paul revealing his wife purchased up to $15,000 worth of stock in the maker of COVID drug remdesivir just as the pandemic was taking hold in the U.S.

Under a law banning congressional insider trading, her purchase of Gilead Sciences stock in February 2020 should have been disclosed within 45 days, that is the law. The senator spokeswoman says it was reported 16 months late because the form was never transmitted. The spokesman also says Paul's wife Kelly lost money on that investment.

WILD: A federal judge now clearing the way for defamation lawsuits against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Mike Lindell. All of this could possibly end up in trial. The judge denied requests to throw out the lawsuits which alleged that the three Trump allies made unfounded claims of election fraud involving Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion filed new defamation lawsuits against two right wing media networks that also pushed conspiracy theories about the company's role in the 2020 election.

ROMANS: All right. Buffalo Bills fans now required to wear masks in all indoor areas at their stadium regardless of vaccination status. Andy Scholes with the "Bleacher Report," next.



ROMANS: Twenty-one minutes past the hour.

Two time NBA champion J.R. Smith's days playing basketball might be over, but he has new sights.

Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning, Christine.

So, J.R. Smith is enrolling at North Carolina A&T State and he's going to try to join the school's golf team. The 35-year-old committed to playing basketball at North Carolina when he was in high school but decided to go straight to the NBA and he ended up winning two NBA champions in his 16-year career.

And since he never went to college, Smith still has four years of eligibility and has petitioned the NCAA to play. Smith started playing golf 12 years ago after attending a charity event and now has a 5 handicap. He says he was inspired to get his degree after talking with Ray Allen about his experiences returning to school.

All right. The NFL preseason kicks off tonight with two games on the schedule. Buffalo Bills meanwhile announcing that they will require fans to wear masks at upcoming home games. The team issued a statement yesterday following guidance from the Erie County Department of Health that face coverings are mandated in all indoor areas regardless of vaccination status.

So that includes stadium concourses, basically everywhere except at your seat. City of Philadelphia announced a similar policy for Eagles games yesterday. The policy is in effect immediately and applies to all fans attending tonight's preseason opener against the Steelers.

All right. To baseball, Braves down to their final out in 11t inning last night, down to the reds, and two on for Ozzie Albies, and he crushes now in the right field, a walk off three run home run. Second walk-off home run of Albies' career and get this, both in 19the 11th inning off the Reds.

Braves win 8-6, now in a tie for first place in the NL East with the Phillies.

Before this season, a pitcher had struck out ten batters in a row in a Major League Baseball game just once above, Tom Seaver in 1970. Well, it now has happened twice this season. The Brewers' Corbin Burnes on a roll last night, striking out 10 Cubs in a row. He ended the night with 15 Ks.

Burnes getting the win, and Milwaukee won 10-0.

Aaron Knoll of the Phillies is the other player to strike out 10-0 this season. He did it back in June.

All right. Finally, the 8,000 fans attending the Field of Dreams game between the Yankees and White Sox tonight in the cornfield there in Iowa, they got the chance to buy this, Guy Fieri's new apple pie hot dog. It has his signature bacon jam inside a flaky pie crust topped with an apple mustard drizzle and sugar.

Two iconic American foods finally coming together. I tell you what, I'm super jealous because I really want to try that.

ROMANS: I didn't even know I needed that, you know, 5:24 a.m. East. That sounds good. All right. Nice to see you.

SCHOLES: Makes you hungry.

ROMANS: Oh, Iowa.

WILD: All right. Yeah, absolutely. What is it? You know that so well. You can feel it, Christine.

ROMANS: I know, I know. My home state, it's just a hotdog. All I ever want is a hotdog.

WILD: All right. Well, coming up, one girl's struggle with COVID. Why she is urging other teens to get vaccinated before it's too late.



ROMANS: Good morning, everybody. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

WILD: I'm Whitney Wild. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

ROMANS: All right. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

As early as this morning, the FDA is expected to authorize third coronavirus vaccine shots for some immuno-compromised Americans. A recent study by Johns Hopkins found vaccinated immuno-compromised people are 485 times more likely to end up hospitalized or dying from COVID than the general vaccinated population.

WILD: Today, Boston's mayor is expected to announce a vaccine mandate for city employees.