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U.K. Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine; U.S. Falls Behind with COVID-19 Vaccination Rate; U.K. Lawmakers Approve Post-Brexit Deal. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2020 - 15:00   ET



ZAIN ASHER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: All right, with just one day left until the end of 2020, it is another record day on Wall Street. Let's take

a look here.

The Dow is looking set to close out the year, close out 2020 well above 30,000. Those are the markets and this is the day so far.

A game changing moment in the vaccine race. AstraZeneca's drug get the greenlight in the U.K. and in Argentina as well.

The U.S. suffers its deadliest day of the pandemic so far as Joe Biden claims the vaccine simply isn't rolling out fast enough.

And the Brexit deal clears a major hurdle as British MPs vote overwhelmingly to approve an EU trade deal.

Coming to you live from New York, it is Tuesday, December 30th. I'm Zain Asher in for my colleague, Richard Quest, and this is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS.

All right, on this Wednesday, a landmark moment in the fight against COVID- 19. The U.K. is the first country to authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It's cheaper and easier to distribute than those in use so far.

It's set to be produced at a much, much larger scale.

The U.K. rather simply cannot roll it out soon enough, more regions then will enter tier four lockdown at midnight to curb a soaring infection rate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the next step is to vaccinate more people, even if it means just getting one jab for now. Take a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We will give a first dose to as many vulnerable people as possible with the second dose to follow 12 weeks

later and what that means is we can vaccinate and protect many more people in the coming weeks.


ASHER: Phil Black joins us live now from London. So Phil, how protected are people when they just have one dose of the vaccine instead of the

normal two?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's difficult to quantify. But it's been described today by health officials as a significant level of

protection, the sort of protection that it should, in theory, cut down on the number of severe infections, save lives, and ultimately ease pressure

on this country's health system.

That is if this single dose policy, if you like is rolled out widely enough, because that's the idea. The idea is that by focusing on one dose

instead of two initially, it means that you are building up a certain level of immunity across a wider area of the population.

And so you're getting a shorter, faster hit of immunity across more people. And so protecting more individuals to some degree and also increasing the

sort of protection that makes it harder for the virus to spread. That's the theory and what it means is the second dose would then follow say about

three months later and they said that's important for longer term -- longer term protection.

But it is inspiring hope here, I think, and even some degree of confidence from the government. That's how they feel about this authorization, this

new tactic, because what they're saying is they genuinely believe with some degree of confidence that the worst of the coronavirus and this pandemic

could be over in this country as early as the spring.

ASHER: And even though, you know, there are certainly going to be brighter days ahead, because of the vaccine rollout because this new AstraZeneca

vaccine has been approved, the next few months are going to be difficult in the U.K.

Obviously, there's the second strain of the virus there. There are also lockdowns and more tier fours as well, just walk us through what the month

of January in particular is going to be like on the ground there in the U.K.

BLACK: Yes, it's going to be grim, Zain, there is no doubt about that. For all the hope that has been inspired by the vaccine, it does not change the

stark reality that is taking place here, particularly in the country's hospitals.

We're in a situation where cases are soaring. There have been regular daily known case records where the number of people in hospital being treated is

at an all-time high for the pandemic, and we are still yet to see crucially the inevitable consequences of the socializing that took place over

Christmas. So that's still going to feed in to this growth as well.

So for all of those reasons, there are real concerns here about the situation getting worse as we move in to January. For that reason, we saw a

number of areas in England moved into the highest level of restrictions that exist here at the moment, so-called tier four restrictions that now

applies to most of the English population.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland also have their own harsh measures as well. And there are growing calls from scientists here to do more who fear

that this alone will not be enough in dealing with this new, more transmissible variant of the virus because we're using tools that used to

control the old common variant.


BLACK: This is different, they say, and the government needs to be considering potentially backtracking on its plan to reopen schools in the

coming month, it really doesn't want to do that. And there is also cause to perhaps consider another national lockdown, nothing is ruled out. But the

government doesn't want to do that either.

It all points to, as you say, a very grim month for January, perhaps through what remains of the winter. And so yes, it's going to be a very

dark time, in concept while this vaccination program is ramped up to a point where it will hopefully begin to get ahead of the virus and make the

sort of difference that health officials and the government here really hope that it will -- Zain.

ASHER: Yes, let's hope. All right, Phil Black live for us there. Thank you so much.

Argentina quickly followed the U.K. as the second country to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine has some competitive advantages that could

make a big difference to the global economy. The company is set to produce up to three billion doses next year, more than Pfizer and Moderna combined

at a much lower price. That's really key.

Early on CNN, one of the scientists behind this vaccine said it's the best option for low and middle income nations.


SARAH GILBERT, LEAD RESEARCHER, OXFORD VACCINE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME: This vaccine doesn't require the ultra-low storage temperatures, it's much

easier to store and distribute. It's much easier to arrange vaccinations in smaller quantities when that's an appropriate thing to do. And it's going

to be available in very large amounts at a low price.

And it's a vaccine that we want to be made available across the world. And the first stage of that is getting emergency use licensor in the first

country which we now have today.


ASHER: Dr. Krishna Udayakumar is the director of the Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University. He runs the Launch and Scale

Speedometer Project tracking global progress on COVID-19 vaccination.

So now that we have two countries that approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, how does that really change the game and change the fortunes for

middle and low income countries across the world that have been really in dire straits because of the coronavirus pandemic?

DR. KRISHNA UDAYAKUMAR, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH INNOVATION CENTER, DUKE UNIVERSITY: We really have been watching developments of this AstraZeneca-

Oxford vaccine because the world is really betting on it to work and it's great news that we have from the U.K. and Argentina so far.

Of course, we need to actually see the data to ensure that we have transparency behind what's actually happening. But this I think unlocks

both in terms of the volume that's available, but also the ability to distribute with lower infrastructure in place.

So for all of those reasons, I think this really gives us hope that low and middle income countries can get access to COVID-19 vaccines sooner rather

than later.

ASHER: In terms of the clinical trials, though, I mean, you talked about transparency, in terms of clinical trials, the results, in terms of the

effectiveness of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were initially quite hazy at first. It was said to be 60 percent effective, and then with a lower

dosage that they discovered by accident, by the way, it proved to be more effective.

So just based on all that, how confident is the company? And are we overall as a society, that this vaccine in terms of its effectiveness can actually

live up to Pfizer's?

UDAYAKUMAR: It's a good question, and I don't know at this point. We haven't actually seen the data. When we saw the U.S. F.D.A. review of the

Pfizer-BioNTech as well as the Moderna vaccines, we saw an enormous amount of data transparency and independent analysis there. We have not seen that

yet from the U.K. regulatory body with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Hopefully, we will very soon.

And as long as it hits a threshold of effectiveness that many regulators have said it's around 50 percent, then I think it really gives us the

ability to move forward. And when we think about which vaccine might be better in a specific situation, we have to look at more than just that

efficacy number.

So if the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is able to make it to the last mile in low resource settings much more effectively, that may make it more

appropriate to use than the Pfizer vaccine that requires ultra-cold storage, for example, even if the efficacy numbers aren't exactly the same.

ASHER: Right. But despite the fact that it doesn't necessarily require ultra-cold storage like Pfizer, as you mentioned, what are still some of

the challenges of producing and distributing a vaccine on this mass scale? They are talking about producing and distributing about three billion doses

next year. That is no small feat. That is a very, very tall order indeed.


UDAYAKUMAR: Yes, we have to recognize first the incredible science that's gone into getting these multiple effective vaccines, but also recognize

that what's pretty daunting is that going from vaccines and vials to vaccinations and arms is perhaps the even harder challenge and that's

what's ahead of us.

We've seen the challenge even in the U.S. in a high resource setting and in low and middle income countries, it's going to be that much harder to make

sure not just that the vaccines are available, but that we have a workforce that's trained and available, that we have supply chains that are powerful

enough to get all of the vaccines and the supplies out to the last mile.

We also have to have the data systems in place to be able to track who's gotten the first dose and when they get a second dose of this vaccine. And

at the end of the day, we also have to make sure that we're addressing concerns around vaccine hesitancy because the real shame would be if we did

all of the work to get the vaccines out and people didn't have enough confidence to take it.

ASHER: That's why transparency is so important. But speaking of dosage, obviously the U.K. has decided that the best thing for them to do right now

just given the situation there in terms of the second strain in the country on lockdown is to basically get people one dose, give as many people as you

possibly can just one dose of the vaccine and then perhaps a month later, give them a second dose. That is the priority. As opposed to vaccinating or

giving people back-to-back doses in just a few weeks.

Is that the same model that the AstraZeneca vaccine should follow when it comes to distributing this to lower income countries as well?

UDAYAKUMAR: It's a great question and very hard to answer without seeing the data. The U.K. regulator must have some confidence that one dose would

be enough, or at least the public health authorities in the U.K. to generate reasonable immunity.

We've had some of those discussions similarly about the Pfizer as well as the Moderna vaccines about whether the public health approach should be to

try to get the first immunization out to as many people as possible. We have, of course, in the U.S. reserve a second dose for everyone that's

getting the first dose now.

In low and middle income countries, I think we'd have to follow what the actual clinical trial was, which is two doses until we have better data on

what one dose may actually produce in terms of immunity for an extended period of time.

There are other vaccines like one being developed by Johnson & Johnson that are testing a single dose, and so we hope to have some preliminary data

from that trial by the end of January. So in the next two months, we could have even one more vaccine that's available and that one being a single

dose, which again could be a game changer for the world.

ASHER: Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

UDAYAKUMAR: Thank you.

ASHER: With just one day to spare before the Brexit transition deadline, the House of Commons has overwhelmingly approved the U.K. Trade Deal with

the European Union. The landmark legislation is now in the House of Lords for its approval as well before the Queen will be asked to give her

consent, too.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had this to say after signing the trade deal.


JOHNSON: The treaty that I just signed us is not the end. It is -- it is a new beginning.


ASHER: Let's get CNN's Salma Abdelaziz who has been closely following all of these developments. So Salma, certainly, a monumental day for Boris

Johnson just considering what this country has been through with all the uncertainty, all the deadlines, all the bills, all the discussion about

Britain's future over the past four and a half years. The General Elections, the three Prime Ministers basically involved in all of this.

What sort of day is this for Boris Johnson and what will this mean for his legacy, do you think?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: It's a triumphant day, Zain. It's a day in which the war on Brexit is essentially over. The peace deal has been

signed. The treaty is now on its way to action on Thursday at 11:00 p.m. GMT time, it's all over. The U.K. is going to sever ties with the E.U. It

is a sovereign, independent nation outside of that club now.

And so that is ultimately the Prime Minister's legacy. He is a Prime Minister who campaigned to leave the E.U., who ultimately came to power

because of his campaign to leave the E.U. and who has ultimately taken Britain out of the E.U. and who would obviously say that this is a massive

victory, one that was accomplished during a year of pandemic, during a year of uncertainty.

He has gotten a zero tariffs, zero quota deal and the Prime Minister is the first to say, well, everyone told me that was impossible, told me that that

could not be done, and I have delivered that.

The Prime Minister also arguing that this is ultimately what the British people wanted. That this is something that they held in their hearts, but

were told was not possible and could never be true and that he has delivered that to them and that it's not just good for Britain, the Prime

Minister would argue, he would argue it's good for the E.U. as well because ultimately, the U.K. was always a reluctant member of the club.

And so he sort of pointed at that and said, we will be your best friend and ally, and this is a better relationship. This is a better setup for all of


But now, of course, the details of the deal, Zain, so a zero tariff, zero quota deal, as we said, but ultimately, it's important to remember here,

there will be more red tape, there will be more bureaucracy, there will be more hurdles for businesses, and they're going to need to figure all this

out very quickly.


ABDELAZIZ: Now, the Prime Minister would say no, this is a frictionless deal. That's simply not true. There's going to be more restrictions in

place, and everyone is going to have to figure them out.

And of course, ultimately, British citizens now lose the right to free movement within the E.U. They're going to need visas to be able to live,

work and study. It is forging a new relationship, but it is entirely uncharted territory, Zain, and I just want to remind our viewers, this deal

was brokered Christmas Eve and now it goes into effect on the 31st.

So that was just a window of just a week for everyone to get their head around -- Zain.

ASHER: Yes, and over the next six months, certainly going to be a big massive adjustment for businesses, for individuals, everyone gets used to

the new rules.

All right, Salma Abdelaziz live for us there, thank you so much.

When we come back, the COVID vaccine rollout is underway in the U.S., some say it's simply not happening fast enough. We'll take a look.


ASHER: Just about 45 minutes left on Wall Street, it is the second to last trading day of the year.

The Dow is certainly making the most of it. It traded above Monday's closing record earlier in the session and might narrowly surpass it as we

near the bell. The Dow is up 81 points.

So those market gains come as the U.S. suffers its deadliest day of the pandemic so far with over 3700 deaths recorded on Tuesday. It's a race

against time to roll out the vaccine, but the U.S. is now lagging behind some other countries in its distribution rate.

President-elect Joe Biden says the Trump administration is simply not moving fast enough.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind -- far


A few weeks ago, the Trump administration suggested that 20 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of December. With only a few days

left in December, we've only vaccinated a few million so far.


ASHER: CNN medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen joins us live now. So the U.S. President-elect Joe Biden was pointing out, we have only

vaccinated 10 percent of the amount of people that they promised to. Why are they lagging behind?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are so many reasons, and Zain, one of them is that the United States, our healthcare

system is different than what you have in most other countries. We don't have a national health service. We don't have a centralized healthcare


And you can -- we can debate on and on about whether the U.S. should have that kind of service or not overall, but when you're trying to execute a

campaign like this, there is no question, it is helpful to have one centralized system.

Let's take a look at some data comparing U.S. vaccination rates with other countries that illustrates the point.


COHEN: So if you take a look, what you can see is that in the U.S., there have been 49, if you do -- sorry, if you do number of vaccinations per day

per 100,000 people, for the U.S., that's 49. For Israel, it's 608, for Bahrain, it's 263, and for the U.K., it's 60. Canada is sort of an

exception here, they're not doing very well, and they're only 10. The U.S. is way ahead of them.

But you can see, really, the U.S. is not doing well compared to some other countries that do have a centralized national health system. That's not the

only reason why the U.S. is having a tougher time right now, but that's the main reason -- Zain.

ASHER: So given that there has been a second strain of the virus discovered also here in Colorado, in the U.S., and also the U.S. has

actually suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic so far with 3,700 people dying just yesterday. What is the plan, Elizabeth, to actually get

these numbers up?

COHEN: So you know, it's interesting, because Donald Trump just tweeted, you know, states you need to do this. We gave you the vaccines and states,

you need to take care of the administration. What people in states are saying is, look, we need help. We've never done this before.

To do a vaccine campaign, ostensibly by the end of the entire population, that's unprecedented, and they want more help. Now, the Federal government

has given more than $300 million to states, but states are saying that is not enough. They need more.

The Federal government has also done things like giving out syringes and needles to help speed this along, but still states say they need a lot more

help to do this as quickly as everyone wants it to be done.

ASHER: The U.K. just approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The U.S. is likely not going to approve it until April. Why the delay? Why are they

waiting so long?

COHEN: You know, we don't know exactly when the U.S. will consider it and they might approve it and they might not approve it. But the U.S. is, in

many ways taking a little bit longer than the U.K. is with many of these things.

I've talked to people who are advising the F.D.A., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about vaccines, and they have a lot of questions about the

AstraZeneca vaccine. They want to know why their data came out sort of in a very unusual way, it wasn't very clear to understand -- their efficacy rate

is 70 percent, whereas the two vaccines that are out there now by Moderna and Pfizer, those are 95 percent.

Also two people became ill during the AstraZeneca trial. They both appear to have had neurological issues that definitely is going to raise some

questions for the F.D.A., so I think the way that the F.D.A. is looking at it is we want to be super, super sure, especially given that we already

have two vaccines on the market that are more efficacious.

ASHER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen live for us there. Thank you so much.

Coming up, catching some desert air why one of the world's largest snowboard makers thinks Dubai is the perfect place for its business.


ASHER: Switzerland, the French Alps and the Rocky Mountains in North America, that's what usually comes to mind when picturing world class

skiing and snowboarding. So how did Dubai become a major player in the industry? Eleni Giokos explains.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN BUSINESS AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Driven and successful, entrepreneurs like Rainier Nouhra are in high demand. And

increasingly, cities around the world see the likes of Nouhra as key to their future prosperity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cities are always in a relentless competition with each other to attract businesses to attract investment and to attract talent.

GIOKOS (voice over): When it came to setting up his snowboard manufacturing business, Nouhra chose Dubai. Hardly the obvious choice for

the Canadian national.

But his company SWS, is now one of the largest snowboard manufacturers in the world, grinding out 300,000 boards a year.

RAINIER NOUHRA, FOUNDER, SWS: So it started with doing wakeboards and kite boards. And in 2012, it was the organic thing to do to get from compressed

molded wakeboard and kite boards into snowboards.

GIOKOS (voice over): In the economy of tomorrow, the big idea is that entrepreneurs and innovation are not defined by geography. To succeed,

major cities must find ways to lure the world's best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it really has become an all-out war for talent and that is most certainly going to accelerate in the coming years.

GIOKOS (voice over): For Nouhra, device composite industry is a major draw.

NOUHRA: It is not just composite, it's high tech composite. So Dubai is very much focused in technical industries, industries that add value. They

have been pushing for this.

GIOKOS (voice over): Dubai is also home to one of the largest ports in the world, Jebel Ali, giving him access to global markets.

NOUHRA: The big advantage having Jebel Ali that is connected to the international shipping hub, we are on an average of 18 days to reach our


GIOKOS (voice over): Dubai's business friendly environment convinced a talent like Rainier Nouhra to set up production here using the tools the

city has to be successful.

Eleni Giokos, CNN.


ASHER: Alright, thanks, everyone. I'm Zain Asher. "African Voices" is up next.