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Pfizer Prepares To Ship First Vaccines As Nation Sees Record Hospitalization And Deaths; COVID-19 Hospitalizations Hit Record High For Seventh Straight Day; FedEx And UPS Tasked With Complex Challenge Of Shipping Vaccine; Trump Amplifies Alternate Election Reality As Electoral College Prepares To Seal Biden Win; Trump Raised Firing Barr In White House Meeting Friday; Biden Camp Blasts The "Wall Street Journal" Opinion Piece As "Disgusting And Sexist" Op-Ed. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 13, 2020 - 06:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This vaccine met the FDA's rigorous standards for quality, safety, and efficacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The CDC has voted to recommend the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.

DR. PETER SZILAGYI, PEDIATRICIAN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LOS ANGELES: I know we're going to have very tough and sad times ahead, but I am really hopeful that this is the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not done until every American has access to the vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm excited to be able to have the opportunity to vaccinate so many people. It also is a little mind-boggling how this whole process is going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The glimmer of hope comes amidst the darkest days of the pandemic --

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we're going to have more deaths per day than we had in 9/11. The reality is the vaccine approval this week is not going to really impact that.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: It is Sunday, December 13th. Good morning to you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Amara Walker in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: So, the U.S. is now on the verge of the largest vaccination effort in American history. At any moment, the CDC director is expected to formally accept an advisory committee's recommendation of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID vaccine. Now that would allow the mass vaccinations to start as soon potentially as tomorrow.

WALKER: We are also waiting to see the first shipments begin to roll out this morning. Millions of doses stored at incredibly cold temperatures will soon make their way across the country at a dire moment in the pandemic. The U.S. topped 16 million coronavirus cases yesterday. And it took just four days to add a million cases to the total count. The number of people fighting COVID-19 in the hospital right now is also at a record high for the seventh straight day.

BLACKWELL: Now we have reporters standing by to cover the vaccine rollout, the complex logistics behind it. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is at an airport hub in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We're going to start though with CNN's Pete Muntean. He's outside of Pfizer's manufacturing facility in Portage, Michigan. Pete, what are you seeing there?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the head of Operational Warp Speed, Victor, is calling this D-day. 2.9 million doses leaving Pfizer's facility here near Kalamazoo. And what's so interest is that we're already seeing some early morning action here. We know this spot is critical to the vaccine distribution network, Pfizer's largest facility. And Operation Warp Speed says vaccines will be leaving here bound for 600 individual locations. Those are place like hospitals and pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens.

But Operation Warp Speed says many of those places will not actually take delivery of those shipments until tomorrow. The bulk of the shipments arriving on Tuesday. It is UPS and FedEx who are physically handling the shipments. And FedEx says there is a reason why the vaccine is not arriving today.


RICHARD SMITH, REGIONAL PRESIDENT, FEDEX: We could deliver it within 24 hours, but the decision was made by the team that because there are hundreds of administration sites that are going to be receiving these, they thought it best that we wait until Monday to deliver them to ensure they're all open and ready to receive. So a weekday, a normal business day seemed like the optimal time to send out those first shipments rather than try get them delivered on a Sunday when some of these administrative sites might be short staffed or not open.


MUNTEAN: Now this is not just a ground game. This is also a massive air operation and the FAA is directing airports to get ready for vaccine shipments, even if they were not already planning on them. There's always a chance of a weather diversion or an in-flight emergency, one of those flights having to go to an airport that wasn't expecting this. The FAA is telling airports to make sure that trucks have priority access to airfields and that security is stepped up.

You know, this could be the beginning of the end for this pandemic. But this is just the start of a massive movement here in Michigan. Back to you.

WALKER: All right. Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

Now Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will be one of the key destinations for the vaccine shipments. And CNN's Dianne Gallagher is there with more. Dianne, UPS and FedEx up against the clock. They've been on standby for this moment. Walk us through how they'll handle the transportation along with the tracking.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Amara, Ford Airport is about 45 minutes up the road from where Pete is right now. So the sheer proximity to that Pfizer facility makes this a critical part of getting the vaccine out to the rest of the country. They've been preparing for a month here. Now part of the reason why this airport is so important is simply due to the fact that it has the critical infrastructure, able to handle multiple cargo planes and let them go out to different parts of the United States.


Now, both UPS and FedEx have said that in terms of these vaccines shipping packages, they're using technology like GPS and Bluetooth tracking. FedEx says that it is using a new sensory technology to make sure that it has basically eyes on these vaccine shipments and knows what's happening with them in real time consistently from start to finish.

We've talked about the fact that -- look, there is precious cargo, and not just because so many people have been waiting on this vaccine but because they have to be stored at around negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of dry ice. These are difficult packages in some cases to transport, and it must be done quickly.

And so when Pete was talking about weather delays or traffic situations, those sensors, that Bluetooth, GPS that both UPS and FedEx have said they're going to be using, is going to play a key role in making sure that they know where those vaccine shipments are and if there are troubles with them in real time.

Amara, Victor, I cannot stress how important knowing where they are, the logistics of these shipments is, especially in this debut rollout to make sure that they can get to so many different places across the country as quickly as possible. There is very little room for error here.

BLACKWELL: Dianne Gallagher watching the logistics there. We'll get back to you and Pete. Thank you so much.

WALKER: It is indeed a historic moment. Let's bring in CNN contributor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed an epidemiologist -- I hate saying that -- epidemiologist -- I always mess that one up -- and former Detroit health commissioner. Doctor, thanks for being with us.

I want to first get your reaction to this because, again, this is a monumental moment. We are about to see 2.9 million doses of the COVID- 19 vaccine about to begin distribution. Just about less than a year into the pandemic.

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This really is a hopeful time, and it may mark the beginning of the end. I mean, I remember watching those images come out of the U.K. where I went to grad school, and the joy that they could say that they had finally inoculated people against the disease that has taken million -- over a million lives across the country -- or across the world, excuse me, and nearly 300,000 lives in our own country.

And the idea that we could be inoculating frontline workers, people who have had to struggle without the PPE they've needed for nine months. Watched patients that they've taken care of die of this virus. Worry about what might happen tomorrow as the numbers continue to spike.

Knowing at least they're going to be safe and that help is on the way in the form of a vaccine that we can deploy in large numbers. That's a really big deal. And I don't want folks to allow the gravity of the past nine months dissuade us from hoping that this means that we are going to come to an end of it.

So, I really am joyful today. There's a lot more work that needs to be done to get there right. But I really do feel some hope. And I think like a lot of people feel that hope for the first time in a real way.

BLACKWELL: A lot more work. And I want to pick up there because you're the right guest for this moment both a medical doctor, and you have the political acumen, as well. I want to lean on that intersection.

The infrastructure needed in the states to continue the job for storage and then delivery to individuals and still this stimulus bill that's held up in Congress with more than $3 billion for -- to supports states and being able to do that. The importance of that money and what you see on the state level to receive what is being shipped out of Michigan today.

EL-SAYED: Yes. That's right, Victor. We can't forget the fact that it has taken us $10 billion to get to this point where we have a safe and effective vaccine. But that scientific piece, that's only the first piece. After that, it is the logistics. And the reality is that getting this out to the states is one thing, but getting it then out within the states is a whole other thing.

And we know that the coronavirus has had a huge impact on the revenues of state and local governments. The same state and local governments that we're relying upon to being able to take this vaccine and getting it into the arms of folks. And that takes two things.

It's not just the logistics. It's not just finding the places, training the workers, making sure that you have the refrigeration capacity to keep these vaccines at the low temperatures that they have to stay in, but it's also the outreach.

There is a huge amount of work that has to go into making sure that you're building partnerships with folks who can leverage their capacity to validate this vaccine, reach in to local communities and get folks to come out to get vaccinated. All of that has to happen in parallel.

And right now, though we've spent $10 billion on the actual vaccine, we've only spend about $250 million on the rollout. And given the lack of revenues in state and local governments, that is a drop in the bucket. To put in perspective that's 1/40th of what we spent on the scientific part.


So we got to get that right too. We need a relief package not just (INAUDIBLE) we need the money to be able to make sure that state and local governments can do this well because people are suffering. They've been suffering this pandemic for the past nine, 10 months now. And they need relief and they need it now.

WALKER: How important is for all of us to understand that we are not out of the woods yet? The impact of the vaccine won't be felt for some time. And I know the CDC officials during a news conference yesterday were saying, look, you also have to continue to practice social distancing and wearing masks, even if you are vaccinated because there are things that we still don't know about the vaccine, whether it will prevent transmission or to simply prevent disease.

EL-SAYED: That's absolutely right. We know that this vaccine will protect the individual who gets it to a level of about 95 percent. What we don't know is whether or not people who have been vaccinated can still pass that disease on to someone else. And so even folks who get vaccinated have to protect themselves

But here's the other thing, right? What's somewhat tragic is that we have a vaccine on the way. This is likely the beginning of the end. But the end is going to be really, really painful because we are watching as numbers continue to spike. We're about to cross 300,000 deaths.

We're having days that are as deadly as 9/11 almost every day now. And that is something that is still within our control. Even if you may not be in line to get a vaccine in the next three months or four months, make sure that you can do the things that you can to protect yourself and your family.

Make sure you're wearing a mask. Maybe choose not to engage in a large social gathering. Maybe choose to stay home. Make sure that you are washing your hands. These are the things that we've been talking about for 10 months.

That does not change because we have a vaccine on board. But it does tell us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And there's going to be a time when we no longer have to worry about those things, but it's not right now. Right now we got to tuck in, do the things we can to protect ourselves, make sure that our state and local governments have the means to be able to deploy this vaccine. And we need some relief because people are suffering out there.

WALKER: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, we appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you. EL-SAYED: Amara and Victor, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you. The doctor spoke about the number of deaths that are climbing. COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high for a seventh straight day. We'll look at the critical challenges that doctors and nurses are facing to save lives.

WALKER: Plus, the Electoral College is set to vote tomorrow to officially make Joe Biden the next president despite the president's repeated efforts to overturn the outcome. Will Republicans finally concede?

BLACKWELL: And there were some people who were outraged by "The Wall Street Journal," the publishing of an opinion piece that slams incoming First Lady Jill Biden for using the title "doctor" when does not have a medical degree. We'll talk about that.



WALKER: Despite the president's failed attempts to overturn the election outcome, the Electoral College is set to vote tomorrow in all 50 states to officially secure Joe Biden as the 46th president.

BLACKWELL: And on the weekend heading up to that the president is continuing to attack his former allies, the attorney general, William Barr, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. Let's go to CNN's Sarah Westwood. She is at the White House for us this morning.

The president was I guess teasing that potentially firing Barr was a consideration on Twitter. You know, these retweets he tries to create some distance between himself and them. What are you hearing from the White House?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Victor, the president was really taking aim at Attorney General Bill Barr yesterday. And that is how he's really spending these last few weeks of his presidency, just being fixated on his grievances with his losses in courts, federal courts, state courts have really dealt him a series of blows in his efforts to overturn the election results. And he's also fixated on former friends and allies who have declined to do his bidding when it came to invalidating the will of the people here.

One of the targets of his ire was as you mentioned Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who the president has gone after repeatedly including yesterday before he headed to the Army/Navy game for not working harder to overturn the results in Georgia, a state that President- elect Joe Biden narrowly won.

But Trump is really focusing a lot of his efforts here at targeting Attorney General Bill Barr. He's got a litany of complaints about Barr, including recent reporting that Barr works to keep details of the Hunter Biden investigation under wraps before Election Day. And also the fact that Barr told the "Associated Press" in a recent interview that he had seen no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud that Trump has been alleging.

So, a lot of reasons that the president has been angry at Barr. In fact, CNN is told that in a meeting on Friday, the president raised the prospect privately of firing Barr. And as we know, he's been publicly going after his attorney general.

But a source tells our colleagues, Jamie Gangel, that Barr is really not intimidated by the president's broad sides here. In fact, that source says that Barr regards the president's words as just the rantings of a deposed king. And all of this is coming as Trump's legal efforts were dealt its largest blow on Friday evening when the Supreme Court blocked his efforts to invalidate millions of votes in four key battleground states.

That was really the end of the line for the president's efforts to try to cling to power here because on Monday the Electoral College will convene to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory. We should remind viewers that CNN will have special coverage of that starting at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, Victor and Amara.

WALKER: We sure will. Sarah Westwood, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: (INAUDIBLE) claim that the "Wall Street Journal" is being sexist or at least sexism is behind the decision to publish an opinion piece that criticizes incoming first lady Jill Biden for using the title "doctor" when she does not have an M.D.


The piece's author is Joseph Epstein. And he writes this, "Madame First Lady, hard-earned though it may have been, please consider stowing it, at least in public, at least for now. Forget the small thrill of being Dr. Jill, and settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden."

WALKER: Now many from academia to politics are demanding an apology and a retraction. Jill Biden holds multiple degrees including a doctorate in education. CNN political reporter Rebecca Buck following some of the fallout. Are you hearing anything from Jill Biden's team?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, as you can imagine, Amara, we're hearing quite a bit from Jill Biden's team in response to this piece. If it was an op-ed meant to get a reaction, that's exactly what they're getting. And Jill Biden's team, as you can imagine, not particularly happy with what they read in the "Wall Street Journal."

I want to read you part of a statement from a spokesperson for Jill Biden reacting to this. He said that, "The Wall Street Journal should be embarrassed to print the disgusting and sexist attack on Dr. Biden." He continued, "If you had any respect for women at all you would remove this repugnant display of chauvinism from your paper and apologize to her."

Well, there's no apology yet that we've seen from the "Wall Street Journal." No retraction of this story. There was also a comment interestingly from Doug Emhoff, who's as you know the husband of Kamala Harris, the incoming vice president. He's going to be the second gentlemen of the United States, the role similar to Jill Biden as second lady of the United States when she was -- when Joe Biden was vice president under President Barack Obama.

Doug Emhoff said, "Dr. Biden earned her degrees through hard work and pure grit. She is an inspiration to me, to her students, and to Americans across this country. This story would never have been written about a man."

Now, of course, it's important to understand the context when it comes to Jill Biden and her career. She's a longtime community college professor. She obviously has this doctorate of education from the University of Delaware and is a longtime teacher. She continued teaching throughout her husband's career. She taught while Joe Biden was at the Naval Observatory as vice president. And she also plans to continue teaching as first lady of the United States.

She has said recently that she's going to be teaching at a community college in Virginia when her husband takes office. And so this is -- it's not just about sexism for Jill Biden, it's a very personal thing for her and an active part of her life -- Amara, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Rebecca Buck for us there in Washington. Thank you, Rebecca.

BUCK: Thank you.

WALKER: All right. We are following breaking news this hour as we wait on trucks to start rolling out carrying the first COVID-19 vaccines. And we're about to get our first look inside that Pfizer facility that you see right there. CNN is live all morning on scene.

And up next, we'll talk with one E.R. doctor about the challenges they are facing due to the influx of patients and the dwindling supply of lifesaving equipment.



BLACKWELL: Breaking news this morning. The start of what could be the end of the pandemic. The largest mass vaccination effort in American history. The distribution of the vaccines.

WALKER: The CDC director is due to formally accept an advisory committee's recommendation of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine which means injections could start as soon as tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: This is the last day of indoor dining in New York City. Restaurants they will have to go back to takeout or outdoor service only starting tomorrow.

WALKER: And it will be a major blow for restaurants there. But Governor Andrew Cuomo points out hospitalizations are increasing across the city, and Mayor Bill de Blasio backed the decision. BLACKWELL: Evan McMorris-Santoro is live outside Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Tell us about what's happening there, you're at the hospital, in terms of beds that are available. I know that has been influential in the governor's decision on, as he puts it how tightly to turn that valve.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, as you mentioned, every number in New York City that we Tuesday track this pandemic, that includes hospitalizations, new cases, and sadly deaths, have been going in the wrong direction for the past couple of weeks here which is why we're seeing new restrictions like those -- that new restaurant lockdown that you're mentioning where indoor dining will close again starting on Monday.

This is a big weekend when it comes to this pandemic for New York City and for the rest of the country. And one that people are hoping will be the beginning of the end of something that has been going on for so long.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): A highly anticipated development in the coronavirus pandemic. A CDC advisory panel votes to approve emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. for people 16 and older. All that remains now is for CDC Director Robert Redfield to formally give the go ahead. A move expected to happen at any time. Once it does, shipments are ready to hit the road nationwide with shots set to begin going into the arms of health care workers and nursing home residents as early as Monday.

SZILAGYI: So I know we're going to have very tough and sad times ahead because of the surge and a limited vaccine supply, but I am really hopeful that this is the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: It's a desperately needed development. With COVID-19 in a rapid tear in the United States, 1 million new cases have been reported in just the last four days. States and hospitals around the country are reporting record high numbers of cases. And that's before the full brunt of the Thanksgiving surge has even hit.


Saturday marked the 11th straight day the U.S. has had more than 100,000 people being treated in hospitals for the Coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patients are coming out of the Woodworks, and they are very, very sick. For the patients that get hospitalized in the Texas Medical Center with COVID, the death rate is actually staggeringly high. It's about nine percent. So, that means if you're sick enough to get hospitalized in the Texas Medical Center, one out of every 11 patients will not be making it home to their families.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice over): There have never been more than 16 million cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in this country since the pandemic began. It took the U.S. 268 days to reach its first 8 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins. But the next 8 million cases came in just about 57 days. And experts say it will be months before the vaccine has brought about that much sought after herd immunity, and warn that now is absolutely not the time to let your guard down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to work together to bring the numbers down, that's not going to happen because of the vaccine, it's going to happen because we take those public health measures like wearing masks, and social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, especially inside washing hands, et cetera. That is how we're going to turn the tide on this global pandemic as we wait for the vaccine that will be transformative as more and more people can get it.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice over): This really is the perfect moment to talk about what is going on in this pandemic because I'm standing outside a hospital in Manhattan, where people are worried about what could happen next in this sort of dark chapter that we're in right now. Meanwhile, we have pictures of trucks moving around in Michigan, at the Pfizer facility where that vaccine might be starting to ship.

So, really, it's that moment whereas you say we're looking at possibly the beginning of the end of this thing. But that ending period still very, very worrisome. So, that we'll have to worry about. So, as you're watching those vaccines start to move, you have to continue to remember that vigilance is key to make sure that vaccine can do its job.

BLACKWELL (voice over): Evan McMorris-Santoro there in New York for us. Let's stay with these pictures in Portage, Michigan. I believe we also can go inside we have that video. We're getting the pictures inside the facility, where the boxes are opened, and they are waiting for the green light to put the vaccines into the boxes to then drive those to the airport where we have another reporter, and hopefully, those injections can start tomorrow, Amara.

WALKER (voice over): Yes, it's a very exciting day for so many people who've been waiting for this historic moment. As you know, this is a very complex logistical mission that is getting underway. As we are seeing these live pictures from Portage, Michigan, this is inside Pfizer's largest manufacturing site. And what we're going to see are these workers get the vaccines into these boxes packed up.

And of course, as you know, and as we've been reporting, these vaccines have to be kept in ultra-cold temperatures, -94 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it's going to be a precarious mission to transport these boxes of vaccines that have to be kept very cold, to the airports on to the airplanes, and to the destinations and to the facilities in all 50 states.

BLACKWELL (voice over): Yes, so you've got the FedEx facilities here. We know from UPS, which we'll be covering the western half of the country, they're also creating 24,000 pounds of dry ice every day that will be packed into special Pfizer containers to keep the vaccine at the required sub-zero temperature. They're delivering 40 pounds of dry ice to replenish what is supplementing from the boxes as they are stored at these facilities, 600 of them across the country for these first 2.9 million doses that will be sent out. We also know that in these boxes, there will be thermal sensors to

make sure that the temperature is where it needs to be to preserve the vaccines. And there's a GPS unit in the boxes to make sure that where the location of those boxes is always known.

And you see you've got the shovel out scooping some of the dry ice to preserve these vaccinations. We're, of course, going to watch these live pictures throughout the day as the distribution begins. As we have been many months in this pandemic, close to 300,000 people have died, and the vaccination is expected to start tomorrow.

WALKER (voice over): And as we're seeing, these pictures of hope, as some would describe, we know that the United States is experiencing a record surge in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. And I want to bring in Dr. Paul Casey from Bellin Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the medical director, emergency room physician there at the hospital.


And doctor, if you will, just -- I want to get your reaction to what we're seeing today. And the fact that vaccinations we may start seeing people getting injected as soon as Monday or Tuesday, as soon as the CDC director accepts the recommendation from this advisory panel. I know many might be excited, but the reality is that your hospital is seeing a surge and overflow of patients.

DR. PAUL CASEY, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT, BELLIN HOSPITAL: Good morning, thank you for having me. This is an incredibly exciting day because it represents the beginning of the end of the surgeon cases. And it's the light at the end of a very, very long tunnel.

Those of us on the frontlines of this pandemic are probably more tired of this than anybody else because not only are we tired of not being able to go anywhere, go out to dinner, but we're tired of the suffering that we've seen over the last nine months.

So, this really is a very exciting day to see this vaccine roll out of factories on the way to us, where we'll be able to start vaccinating first our frontline workers and second high-risk people, particularly those in nursing homes, and that kind of thing. So, it's a very, very exciting day.

WALKER: I imagine you will get the vaccine. Do you know what the timeline is for you and the workers at your hospital?

CASEY: So, I had a meeting about this yesterday morning. We're looking at probably, though, not this week, but next week. So, very soon.

WALKER: And in terms of vaccine hesitation, because a lot of federal health officials have been concerned about that, people, you know, might be concerned over the fact that, you know, the vaccine was manufactured at such a record pace. What would you tell to people once this is available to the masses, and that's expected sometime in spring or summer, what would you tell to people who still have concerns about the safety?

CASEY: So, this is a very valid concern. We actually polled our employees at this hospital and found that 40 percent of them, frontline workers on the frontline, taking care of patients are actually worried about getting the vaccine. I spoke with one of my colleagues yesterday who had some reservations about it.

But the thing I would say is that I am going to be first in line to get this vaccine when it's available. This really is a breakthrough. And the fact that it has been developed in record time shouldn't deter you from getting it. It's been studied -- particularly the Pfizer vaccine has been studied in over 30,000 patients, and aside from a couple allergic reactions, that there have been really minimal side effects.

So, the vaccine that's coming around the corner, the mRNA vaccine is -- has incredible efficacy. It's 95 percent efficacious and developing immunity to this disease. So, to put that in perspective, the influenza vaccine varies from year to year and efficacy, sometimes as low as 40 percent to prevent influenza. To have a vaccine that's 95 percent efficacious, is really amazing.

WALKER: Yes, I'm curious to know, once you get the vaccine, once your colleagues, the nurses, the support staff at your hospital, get the COVID-19 vaccine, how would that change the way you are able to treat patients.

CASEY: So, in the short term, it's not going to change anything, because we're still going to have to maintain diligence and using other forms of protection, namely a mask and distancing because it's going to take a long time, meaning several months before we develop the so-called herd immunity. So, in the short term, it's not going to change how we treat patients.

And as mentioned, we're seeing record highs across this country of both Coronavirus cases and deaths. And so, we're really in the dark phase of this disease right now. I've seen footage of hospitals.

And like, for example, in California, where there's a major problem right now of actually having to set up tents in the parking lot of the hospital to care for patients, ambulances waiting outside and to bring patients in because there's no space in the emergency department. So, we're going to need to maintain diligence for the next several months.

WALKER: I just want to explain the pictures that we're seeing right now live out of Portage, Michigan. This is Pfizer's largest manufacturing site, and what you're seeing are packages of the COVID- 19 vaccine being loaded into these big boxes, which looks like a large cooling container. And these will all be loaded onto trucks. We know that FedEx and UPS will be helping in the distribution efforts.


And these trucks will be driven to the nearby airport. They'll be loaded onto airplanes, and then they'll be sent to the distribution centers around the country. Doctor, let me ask you about what's happening on the ground where you are. You were telling me just a few moments ago that you're more tired than anyone else, especially from seeing all the suffering.

We know that public health officials, the Dr. Faucis have been saying, look, the worst of the pandemic is still ahead of us, especially as a result of the Thanksgiving travels. And of course, the upcoming holiday travels, with Hanukkah underway, Christmas about to get underway. What are you seeing in your hospital in terms of beds and capacity? And what plans are being made?

CASEY: So, actually, in our area, we're having a bit of a lull right now. We had our we didn't really have a second wave in the summer. We -- our second wave started in September after Labor Day. So, we peaked and now we're in a bit of a downturn, as we wait for this surge coming from Thanksgiving, and then after that, Christmas. So, currently, our bed capacity is fine at our hospital, but we anticipate that's going to markedly worsen in the coming weeks from the holidays.

WALKER: We were listening to the FDA yesterday during a news conference. And not only did they talk about vaccine hesitancy being a concern, they also mentioned that it would be foolhardy not to get a second dose for those who do get vaccinated. Can you tell us a little bit about that process, and why it's so important for people to come back three weeks later for that second dose for the vaccine to be efficacious?

CASEY: So, what this vaccine does, it stimulates your body to make the spike protein on the Coronavirus itself. And then, your body makes the antibodies, which are little chemical molecules that fight off the virus. So, the first dose starts that process, but it doesn't really complete until you get the booster dose. And for the Pfizer vaccine, that's going to be three weeks after the initial dose. So, although the initial dose will provide some immunity, it's not full immunity, so the second dose is essential.

WALKER: And do you know, logistically, how the vaccinations will happen at your hospital?

CASEY: We're still working on those plans. But we've actually purchased the very cold refrigerators. We have the capability to store the vaccine. We've been told that we'll get a supply of this, which we will store, and then we're working on the plans to triage workers to get the vaccine as it becomes available.

So, the first people in mind will be the frontline workers such as myself who come face to face with patients with the Coronavirus on a day-to-day basis. So, these plans are already well in the works and will be prepared once we get our first shipment.

WALKER: And how soon do you expect that to be, sir?

CASEY: A week after next.

WALKER: Week after next. And it's not just frontline workers, correct? It's nurses and support staff and people -- regular people who work in the hospital. CASEY: That's correct. Everybody who has a opportunity to be exposed to the Coronavirus will get the vaccine, but as I said, we have to triage and put those in direct contact with the Coronavirus at the front of the line.

WALKER: And that's because the supplies will be limited.

CASEY: Right, exactly.

WALKER: Again, I just want to show -- talk about these pictures that we're seeing. This is inside Pfizer's largest manufacturing facility. What we're seeing are the Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines being packaged into boxes. You can see that they're being put into these cooling containers and they'll be loaded for distribution.

BLACKWELL (voice over): There at Portage, Michigan we're seeing all of this happen. Pete, obviously, a premium placed on quality control. We've seen close ups of the thermostats, telling us the temperature inside those containers. Talk us through that quality control as it's shipped from Portage to locations across this country.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, Victor, we know the loading process here at Pfizer's facility near Kalamazoo has just started. But what's so interesting, you mentioned that Pfizer quality control and the quality control by UPS and FedEx. They have this thermal scanner on each and every package.

It's able to sense the temperature inside the package, beam it back to FedEx and UPS headquarters. We know the Pfizer vaccine is incredibly temperature sensitive, needs to be negative 100 degrees during transport. Each package packed with pounds of dry ice to make sure it stays there.


There is a bit of a rub, though, dry ice can be dangerous as it evaporates, as it melts, it becomes carbon dioxide. And the FAA recently issued a warning to air cargo operators, saying they should be especially careful handling these packages. You know, no mission will be out without risk, and this is no exception.

BLACKWELL (voice over): Let's broad this conversation, bring in Dianne Gallagher who's in the Grand Rapids as well as we stay on this picture. We'll go back to Dianne in just a moment. Do we have Dr. El- Sayed -- all right. We'll get to Dr. El-Sayed in a moment. Dianne, do we have you?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Victor, sorry about that. Couldn't hear you for a moment there. Yes, here in Grand Rapids, the airport here, it's Ford Airport just behind me. They've been preparing for about a month to receive these shipments of the vaccines coming via just transit on the ground, to then put them in the air to different parts of the country.

Now, look, they have the cargo space to help with that transition to the planes. Also, the 10,000-foot runway, they told me, that helps with the extra wide cargo planes, in addition to the staffing. Now, look, there's no guarantee that all of those are going to come to this airport, but they have been notified and they have been preparing.

Now, the FAA has told basically all airports, you need to be ready, just in case there are weather events, sometimes there can be flight emergencies that may end up with your airport having to deal with a shipment of vaccines that you weren't expecting. But there are several airports around the country that have been preparing for this. This is one of them.

We're just about 45 minutes up the road from where Pete is at Pfizer right now. In talking to the people who work at this airport, they've said, look, we feel kind of emotional about this. Obviously, our industry as well has been very hit very hard by COVID-19. This vaccine helps us feel like there is promise on the horizon for us, as well. And we're very grateful to be a part of it.

Now, once if any of those trucks arrive here at this airport, they'll then put them on those cargo flights to go most likely out to the west coast, here from Michigan. And then, there is that sensitivity that Pete was talking about, those sensors that are on those packages to know, not just where they are in real time because of things like weather delays, potentially traffic because this is a time-sensitive operation, but also monitoring the temperature and making sure that there is not a temperature drop, or anything that could jeopardize these vaccines. Again, it's precious cargo for many reasons.

But it requires meticulous transportation, and extremely precise logistics. And in all likelihood, much of that is going to happen here at this airport in Michigan.

WALKER (voice over): It's a very, very complex mission, as we've been reiterating, physically-sensitive packages, time-sensitive packages. Let's bring in Dr. Abdul Sayed. And you know, we were hearing from the Operation Warp Speed official during that news conference yesterday.

And he was saying the goal is to get the vaccines to where they need to be by Monday. 145 sites expected to receive the vaccines by Monday, and those sites mostly being hospitals. Dr. Sayed, are these facilities. Are these hospitals ready to receive these vaccines, logistically speaking, and to distribute them?

EL-SAYED (voice over): Yes, the good news is that this earliest phase, which is going out to healthcare workers on the front lines is going to be distributed through hospitals. And hospitals tend to have the equipment and the logistics capacities to be able to handle this well. You know, you think about the extreme refrigeration that was talked about.

You're going to have hospitals that have been able to store this, or store materials this way for some time. And so, that's the good news. The other part of the good news is that that's giving us time to be able to deploy these vaccines out into the community, where there may not be the same kind of infrastructure to be able to handle all of the needs of this particular vaccine. But that is where we need to go. And so, this really is just an exciting moment. It's like that moment

you're waiting for a package and it finally comes. We have been waiting for this vaccine for 10 months now. And you know, I can't -- just stepping back, I can't under undersell how much science has moved us forward. I mean, the fact that we're going from a virus we had never really seen before and humanity to a fully loaded vaccine.

Now, that's being shipped out to 145 sites across the United States in less than a year. That is really -- a real human achievement at this point, and really just excited to see that get into some arms for some people who've been having to worry about going into work and potentially bringing home an illness that they picked up from their patients. Really, getting that kind of relief that they deserve.


BLACKWELL (voice over): Doctor, we had a conversation yesterday with a professor at Yale's School of Public Health, talking about how to execute a successful vaccination program. And one of the criteria was that the deployment of where the vaccine is in greatest need. So, how do you balance, as we've seen, the prioritization of age and health care workers and those with compromised immune systems or underlying conditions? And the transmission rates, how do you balance those and where you send or prioritize those who will be vaccinated?

EL-SAYED (voice over): Well, I want to say two things. Number one, we still don't know that this vaccine specifically protects someone from passing on the virus. It protects them from getting very ill with the virus, certainly, but we don't know whether it protects them from passing all along the virus, though, you know, all of the theoretical arguments point to it, doing that, as well.

But you want to get to two -- to two groups of people, folks who are most likely to be exposed, and then folks who are most likely to get extremely sick and potentially die if they're exposed. And you're seeing that being balanced by the first two groups of people who are getting this vaccine. The first, of course, being frontline health care workers, those folks who are most likely to be exposed.

And then, the second being seniors and people living in long-term care facilities that have accounted for a full 40 percent of all the deaths in this pandemic in the United States. And you're going there because these are folks who are most likely to have a serious outcome. All of that is to say you want to save lives and stop the transmission at the same time.

And so, this is being balanced in a way right now with, of course, the limited access to the amount of vaccine that we do have, hopefully the Moderna vaccine will also get its EUA and will be shipped out in short order now to increase our vaccine numbers, but you really do want to balance these two goals as you are deploying a vaccine that is in rare stock.

WALKER (voice over): A lot more to talk about. We're going to have to take a short break as we look at these live pictures on a historic day as the COVID-19 vaccines are being packaged and be ready to be distributed. Back after this.


BLACKWELL (voice over): All right. Live pictures here inside the Portage, Michigan Pfizer facility, where they are now packing up the COVID-19 vaccines, the vials and that dry ice to preserve the temperature to ship out to locations across the country to begin the vaccination, the largest mass vaccination in American history. Our Pete Muntean is just outside that facility. Pete, 2.9 million doses that will be headed out, do we know how long it'll take to get those out and when we can expect the next shipment of additional doses?

MUNTEAN (voice over): Well, you know, Victor, we have heard from Operation Warp Speed that the trucks here will carry these vaccine deliveries to distribution hubs for FedEx and UPS. In many instances, those are going straight the 600 individual locations: hospitals, pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens, but Operation Warp Speed says many of those places will not actually receive the shipments until tomorrow morning.

The bulk of the shipments arriving on Tuesday. You know, this is a massive moment and a massive movement project. I've been here all week, this is the most action we have seen here on the backside of Pfizer's Kalamazoo facility, a sprawling complex that we know is critical to this vaccine distribution process. Vaccine arrived here late last month, and now it is officially going out.

WALKER (voice over): Yes, I mean, we've been saying this all morning, that these are time-sensitive and also physically-sensitive packages because these COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech must be kept at nearly -100 degrees Fahrenheit. And Pete, I mean, I think you were reporting on this that some airlines have even done dry runs or test flights, I should say, to simulate the conditions when these packages are flown to its destinations and to make sure that they would be able to stabilize these vaccines via flight?

MUNTEAN (voice over): And FedEx and UPS call this a coordinated set of maneuvers that they have been practicing. In fact, they have been doing this for years. It's really what FedEx was founded on, according to one of the heads of the company. You know, the temperature here is so crucial. We know the Pfizer vaccine needs to be -100 degrees Fahrenheit. And this really relies on something called cold chain storage.

So, the vaccine is packed in dry ice, 50 pounds of dry ice in each individual package here at the Pfizer facility just outside of Kalamazoo. It comes down the assembly line, goes into these trucks. These are actually refrigerated tractor trailers that helps keep the vaccine cold while in transit.

And then, airlines have -- and cargo companies like FedEx and UPS have large freezer facilities to help keep that vaccine cold while it's in transit. The hope is though, that that is just a pitstop on the way to getting this vaccine to these 600 facilities starting tomorrow morning. BLACKWELL (voice over): All right. Pete Muntean is there outside of the facility in Portage again, live pictures inside. And we heard from Dr. Abdul El-Sayed just a few moments ago, just the medical miracle of what's happened here in less than a year, the development of a vaccine far below the previous record development time of about four years.

Now, this COVID-19 vaccine development from Pfizer and BioNTech, we know that Moderna has also applied for Emergency Use Authorization to continue to offer these vaccines across the country.