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CNN's Global Town Hall, Coronavirus: Facts And Fears; Ongoing Effort To Vaccinate Those In Communities Of Color; Black And Latino Americans Receive Vaccine At Significantly Lower Rates Than White People. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 27, 2021 - 20:00   ET


KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So this is certainly something she is focused on. Many First Ladies do establish an official office after the White House, but we'll just have to wait and see whether it be best is something she can communicate to the public and work on in a way that's more efficient than she found it during her four years at the White House -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right Kate, thank you very much.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. CNN's Global Town Hall, CORONAVIRUS: FACTS AND FEARS starts now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome. I'm Anderson Cooper in New York.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to the CNN Global Town Hall CORONAVIRUS: FACTS AND FEARS. It's our 25th since the pandemic began.

It's our first in the Biden administration and it's been seen around the world on CNN International, CNN Espanol and streamed on

COOPER: We are coming to you at a moment of hope in new vaccines and a fresh approach to the problems we face. That said, those problems are many and the pain is intense. This has been the deadliest month for Americans and it is not over yet.

Today, the nation's new C.D.C. Director signal more darkness ahead.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, C.D.C. DIRECTOR: If we continue on the current trajectory, the C.D.C.'s most recent national ensemble forecast predicts that 479,000 to 514,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by February 20, 2021.


COOPER: That's Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who joins us shortly tonight along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking bluntly at the new administration's first full COVID briefing. Here's White House COVID advisor Andy Slavitt, doing the same on vaccine availability.


ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER TO WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: Right now, I want to level with the public that we are facing two constraining factors. The first is getting enough supply quickly enough, and the second is the ability to administer the vaccines quickly once they are produced and sent out to the sites.

We are taking action to increase supply and increase capacity. But even so, it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.


COOPER: We'll be devoting a good deal of attention to the subject tonight.

GUPTA: That's right, Anderson. We're also going to ask Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci about how the administration plans to get states that additional 16 percent more doses, about the possibility of using the Defense Production Act to boost production, and basically just generally just how to remove obstacles to getting people vaccinated.

COOPER: We'll be joined as well by the head of the newly created Health Equity Taskforce. That's with a recent CNN analysis showing on average that the percentage of white Americans vaccinated is about 2.3 times higher than black Americans and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic- Americans.

GUPTA: That's been a real problem, Anderson, and there's concerns as well about the variants first identified in Britain and South Africa, and how they might change this entire threat picture.

We're going to talk as well about the new data that shows when following proper guidelines it can be safe to send kids back to school.

COOPER: We have correspondents all over the map, in Florida and New York on vaccine availability, in London and Johannesburg, on the new variants. We'll be taking your questions as well. We've got nearly 15,000 so far, tweet them to us with the #CNNTownHall or leave a comment on the CNN Facebook page.

A lot of you have sent them in video form. We thank you for that. You can see some of them up on the screen. We'll try to get to as many as we can tonight. It is certainly a lot, but we want to start with CNN's Randi Kaye who is at a mass vaccination center at Hard Rock Stadium, just north of Miami. How is the rollout going in Florida?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, seniors here are certainly the top priority. The governor said today they have vaccinated more than one million seniors, but there are four million seniors here, so they certainly have a ways to go which is why they're opening a mass vaccination site like here are the Hard Rock Stadium behind me here in Miami Gardens. They're doing about a thousand vaccinations a day, but they said they

could do more if they had more supply, but the rollout, Anderson here has been pretty bumpy like we've seen around the country.

Senior citizens have had to camp out overnight for hours to try and get an appointment. You've had hospitals canceling appointments on them because supplies didn't show up. Senior citizens are being asked to use e-mail to make appointments. Many of them are having trouble and struggling with that e-mail.

You also had vaccine tourism here, about 40,000 people who are not residents of Florida came in here and got their vaccinations. That's now no longer allowed. You do have to be a resident and 65 or older. But there is some -- some hope. I mean, the governor has gotten about several 100 Publix pharmacies enrolled and they are getting people vaccinated. They're doing about 15,000 vaccinations a day -- Sanjay.

GUPTA: Yes. Randi, what about elsewhere in the country? I mean, we know that it's been varying pretty wildly from state to state. I think our own analysis at CNN show that some states have only had administered about 40 percent of their doses, others as high as 80 percent. Can you walk us through some of that?


KAYE: Yes, it's sort of a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. But if you look at West Virginia, for example, that is really a bright spot here in this vaccination process. They are second in the nation in terms of the numbers of the vaccines that they have administered per capita, they are just behind Alaska.

In fact, the governor there has said that they have administered more than 100 percent of the vaccine supply that they received. They've been able to squeeze out some extra doses out of those vials. So they've administered about 106 percent, the governor said, about nine percent of West Virginians have been vaccinated compared to about six percent nationally.

But then if you look at New York and New York City, the governor there has been pleading for more vaccines. He says that if he had enough supply, he could vaccinate the entire State of New York within a month. He says there's about seven million eligible people in that first tier, and they're only getting about 225,000 vaccinations per week.

So they need the doses per week. So they actually need more. He would like to open up a mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium, like we're seeing here. But he said, they just don't have enough supply.

And finally, if you look at California, they really are in trouble. They have about three million health care workers and more than six million senior citizens to vaccinate in this first round. So that's about nine million people. They've administered about 2.6 million doses. So they're saying it's going to take them about four or five months to vaccinate all of the seniors in the State of California at this point. COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it. Coming up next to the U.K. we go

where the government's Chief Scientific Adviser today said that roughly one in 55 people now have the virus. Britons however do have emergency access now to a vaccine from University of Oxford and AstraZeneca that Americans do not.

That said, they're also coping with that faster spreading strain of the virus, which only recently arrived in the United States. Clarissa Ward joins us in London tonight. So I'm curious, how is the vaccine rollout going there and also in the rest of Europe?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson in Europe, it's not going well at all. There have been major delays in the arrival of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, a war of words really heating up between the European Union and AstraZeneca specifically, some countries in Europe even threatening to actually sue AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca's main manufacturing headquarters are here in the U.K., so it's perhaps not a huge surprise that things in the U.K. are actually going really well on that front. More than seven million people have now been given the first dose of the vaccine. They've opened vaccination centers all over the country, in cathedrals and mosques, in movie theaters, even in Lord's Cricket Ground here in Central London and in stadiums across the country. So they're definitely making a huge effort.

One thing to note, though, AstraZeneca, while it was approved here very quickly, the first country to approve and start implementing the vaccine haven't been approved yet in the E.U., although that's expected to happen on Friday and also has yet to be approved in the U.S. The F.D.A. says it's still conducting trials to determine its efficacy and also how safe it is -- Anderson.

GUPTA: And Clarissa, you know, we've been hearing a lot about this variant, you know, first discovered in the U.K., and I'm curious, what has been the impact on the country over there and the efforts of how are they going to stop the spread? Because I feel like it's a little preview of what could happen here in the United States.

WARD: Yes, Sanjay, I'm not going to lie. It's really grim. I mean, I have been here for most of the lockdown 10 months now. And this is the worst that we've seen it. As Anderson said, one in 55 people has COVID in this country, more than 100,000 deaths per capita. That's the highest mortality rate in the world, which is a very grim milestone indeed.

And now, we have all these restrictions in place. Schools are closed at least until March. You're not supposed to leave your home unless you're going for essential shopping or essential exercise. You're not allowed to socialize outside, all nonessential stores are closed.

And just today, we heard from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a new raft of travel restrictions, people who want to leave the country now for whatever reason, will have to fill in a declaration form explaining why it is that they need to leave the country and people returning to the country, residents of the U.K., if they're coming from any one of these 22 countries that the government has laid out, they will now face a mandatory hotel quarantine of 10 days.

The idea behind this Sanjay is to stop the two strains that are still out there: South Africa and Brazil. They understand they can't stop the U.K. variant, that has already spread, but they're hoping to at least stop South Africa's strain and Brazil's strain because they're concerned that it could potentially jeopardize this vaccine rollout plan.

COOPER: Clarissa Ward, thank you so much. Be careful there.

We have next South Africa with Dr. Anthony Fauci today's suggestion could be the more problematic strain of the two. CNN's David McKenzie joins us now from Johannesburg.

I know you went inside the lab where the new variant was discovered. What did you learn about how the variant could impact the efficacy of the vaccines already approved for emergency use?


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Anderson. We went right inside that lab where they discovered this variant that has been circulating in South Africa and just dominating this dramatic second wave of the virus here in Southern Africa.

Now, the scientists there working around the clock, Anderson, to understand will the antibodies from previous strains of this virus work? They say, in fact, they're not working as well to combat this new strain and also whether vaccines work? That is the million-dollar question right now because it could have a huge impact, not just here in South Africa, but on the global fight against this pandemic.

So far, there is some good news, preliminary results, Anderson suggest the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine should work, will be somewhat effective against the strain, but it's early days yet -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. David McKenzie, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Joining us now the new C.D.C. Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Among her other accomplishments, she is internationally recognized for her work against HIV in South Africa. Prior to taking the CDC post Dr. Walensky served as Chief of Infectious Diseases at Mass General Hospital.

I want to welcome her and welcome back, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who needs no introduction, but he is only the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We appreciate both of you being with us.

Dr. Fauci first, I want to get to the variant found first in South Africa in a moment. There remain questions about the announcement yesterday that COVID vaccine allocations for states would increase by about 16 percent starting next week. How is that going to be possible next week when it wasn't possible this week? And where's the extra vaccine coming from? DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: Now, Anderson, it isn't a question

of extra vaccine coming from. The flow of vaccine that has been coming in on what the person responsible for it, General Gus Perna, calls a cadence that's coming in. Right now, we're having -- and what the President was referring to -- is that a steady reliable flow will come in that he'd like to get them up to about 10 million per week. It's right now somewhere, I believe, around 8.5 million, he wants to get it up to around 10.

And you can do that by efficiencies, by paying attention to anything that might get in the way of that and to try and get it smoothly into the flow. So it isn't a question of getting vaccine that wasn't there before that is there now. It's an even flow, which we believe we can accomplish.

GUPTA: Dr. Walensky, welcome to our town hall. The latest numbers reported by the C.D.C. say that in total, more than 47 million vaccine doses have been distributed. But fewer than 25 million have been administered. So people have heard these numbers. But I want to play something that the COVID coordinator said in today's briefing about that.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Some of what the states have right now inventory to do the very, very important second shot. So I think it's important that when you're looking at state's inventories that you recognize that some of that inventory is being held for the very important second shot.


GUPTA: So I want to clarify, Dr. Walensky, is that what is happening here, to some extent? Are states holding on to vaccine to ensure that second dose?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Good evening. So a couple of things with regard to the distribution and how much has been administered and then the holding on. First of all, the distribution, those 47 million doses that you talk about, some of those have just arrived today or yesterday, some of them are in the several day long distribution process to get them to the final state where they will actually be administered into the arms.

So there is some delay from the time that they are distributed into the time that they could possibly be administered.

On the administration side, there is some delay in reporting. We know that probably, a bit more than 23 million that have been reported have actually been administered. And then there are some doses that we need to make sure, for the four or five-day window that we give people in order to get their second shot either a three weeks or four weeks, we need to make sure that that's available for them when they return for their second shot.

When you do all that math, you still end up with some millions of doses that are sitting on the shelves and have not yet been administered. And in fact, that's one of the bottlenecks, and one of the ways that we have to get resources to the states to make sure that they can quickly administer the vaccines that are on their shelves.

GUPTA: So I just want to be clear. So some states, they're holding on to that second dose, that seems like it would be a good idea, right? Because they want to ensure that they're going to have it for the people who got the first shot. Is that the right approach?

WALENSKY: I don't want to imply that the states are sitting on doses for weeks and weeks. There is some period of time, a grace period, between -- in that 21 days or that 28 days where people are coming in expecting to get that second shot and we believe that we should be following the F.D.A. authorization for both of these vaccines, and we need to make sure that that vaccine is available when those people come in. And so we are ensuring that that vaccine is available for the second shots of both Pfizer and Moderna.


COOPER: And Dr. Fauci, it was discussed today at the coronavirus briefing and the White House press briefing, which it's nice to have both those things frankly, once again, President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up amongst other things making syringes and other equipment to put shots in arms, not yet for making more vaccine shots for themselves. Why is that?

FAUCI: Well, as you probably also heard, Anderson, that the arrangement, the contractual arrangement now has been made with both Moderna and with Pfizer to get an additional 100 million doses apiece both from Pfizer and Moderna.

They previously had a contractual arrangement, which is now being enacted with what we're talking about now of giving 200 million apiece, which would be 400 million.

So right now, with Moderna and Pfizer with the new promise of an additional hundred, we should have 600 million doses of vaccine from the two companies.

COOPER: That won't be until like summer, correct?

FAUCI: And that's not yet counting the light -- right, exactly. And that's the way we're going to be rolling it out and the flow of the vaccines that will be coming out, we will be able to get the people vaccinated in an orderly way. So there really isn't a need now.

If you want to do the Defense Production Act to make another company make more vaccine, I think what people don't appreciate how exquisitely sensitive and difficult that process is. You just can't open up another factory from a company that isn't Moderna or isn't Pfizer and say make mRNA vaccine, it's just not going to happen that way because of the process is one that is difficult in the sense of starting from scratch.

So the DPA, the Defense Production Act that the President was referring to, was to do the things that would facilitate the ability to get those vaccines administered. And one case in point that I referred to was the dead space syringes, so that you can get that extra dose out of a vial instead of five doses, you get six doses, but he was not referring to getting more vaccine from that. He was referring to other things.

GUPTA: That you know, Dr. Walensky, we did a CNN analysis and we found that somewhere between 12 percent and about a third of Americans probably have some protection against COVID-19. That's through vaccination. But also, obviously, from the growing number of people who've actually gotten infected and then recovered with the virus.

Currently, about six percent of the population has been vaccinated. Is that where you hope we would be by now? And when you add the number of Americans vaccinated after the first 100 days, where will we be? I mean, that's not going to be enough, but will the country feel different or feel different or being more normal?

WALENSKY: You know, I think it's going to take a while for us to feel like we're back to our sense of normalcy. After the first 100 days, I think we'll get 100 million vaccines into people's arms, that'll be protection for perhaps about 50 million, some people will be after two doses, some people will still be in the process of getting their second dose.

When we feel as if we have the herd immunity that everybody has been talking about by the end of the first hundred days. I told you, I'd tell you the truth, I don't think we're going to feel it then. I think we're still going to have after we vaccinate 100 million Americans, we're going to have 200 million more that we're going to need to vaccinate.

And so you know, we are working to figure out where the bottlenecks are and to resolve those bottlenecks. But it's going to take some time to get 300 million Americans vaccinated twice.

GUPTA: Do you count the people who've been infected and have protection as toward that herd immunity? If a third of the country has antibodies as a result of infection, does that count towards herd immunity?

WALENSKY: You know, the guidance right now is that even if you've had infection before, we would still recommend a vaccine. We're asking people to wait 90 days from the time that they were infected. We don't know a lot about the long term immunity of this disease. So we are still recommending it.

As I think about herd immunity and how many people we need to get vaccinated, we need to get an awful lot of people vaccinated. I don't necessarily want to put a number on it, especially as we think about this variant from the U.K. where there may be increased transmissibility, we might need more haired immunity than we really thought. In my mind, everybody should be rolling up their sleeve.

COOPER: And Dr. Fauci, you spoke today about the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against new coronavirus variants saying that both vaccines should still offer protection. Are you more confident in their efficacy against the variant first found in the U.K. than against the South African variant?

And also, I know the Brazilian variant, I think there has only been one case in the U.S., but that also seems inevitable, or am I wrong?


FAUCI: Yes, you know, a lot of people are going to be confused about this. So if you look at it, when we talk about the vaccines that we currently are utilizing, the Moderna and the Pfizer, and you look at the antibodies that are induced by them and match them in vitro in a neutralizing assay in a test tube, there appears to be really very good and very little impact when you're looking at the U.K. 1-1-7 lineage as we refer to that. So there should not be an issue there.

The proof of the pudding --

COOPER: So just in in layman's terms, that means the vaccine works against the U.K. variant.

FAUCI: Yes, well, be careful, it means that in the in vitro indication, it should work. We haven't proven yet that it does, it should work. That's -- and we've really got to be careful, because when you get to the South African, the 3-5-1 lineage as we refer to it, that's as you mentioned, and quoted me correctly, that is much more problematic. Because the diminution in the in vitro in the test tube capability of those antibodies is multiple fold down. It's still above the threshold of what you would expect protection.

So when we say that the vaccine looks like it would protect against the South African isolate, that's based on in vitro data. The proof of the pudding is going to be what actually happens in the field when you're vaccinating people. I might make one comment that I think will be clarifying. There are other trials going on, we're expecting in a few days or so a day, or two or three, the results from the Ansan study, which actually will give us some insight, because that is a study that is being tested both in the United States, and in South Africa, and in Brazil.

So we may, when we get those data get a feel for in reality, is there any difference in the strain protection that we see in the United States, which includes the U.K. strain, because at least 25 states in the United States already have that U.K. strain.

We don't apparently have the South African except for one or two, it's been seen, for example, in some place, in a location in Minnesota. But we don't know what the penetrance is. What we need to see is the data, when you compare the capability of the vaccine, of protecting against the stream that's here versus the strain that's in South Africa.

But as I mentioned, Anderson, we are much more concerned about the South African strain. What we're going to do about it? We are already working with the companies to make what we would call a booster potential of getting the same vaccine, but only sticking into it, what would be expressing the mutant that you see in South Africa. So we're already trying to stay one or two steps ahead of the game.

So that if in fact, we have a situation where the South African strain is prevalent here, it's here, but it's certainly not dominant, and you want to really get ahead of it from a protection standpoint, you're going to want to have a vaccine that specifically addresses that strain and that's what we're already working on.

COOPER: And just briefly, Brazil is a country I love and we have a lot of viewers in Brazil. What about the Brazilian strain? I know it hasn't really come here yet. But I mean, Erin Burnett has had a report from Matt Rivers. I mean, it looks -- it looks awful.

FAUCI: Well, yes, it is. We don't know enough -- we don't know as much about it as we do, because we have the studies that we've been doing in collaboration in South Africa. So we know a lot more. But when you look at the mutations, Anderson, they are really quite similar.

So I would say that the Brazilian strain is quite similar to the South African, a little bit different, but similar enough to have the same concern about it.


GUPTA: We're going to come back to this a little bit more in a bit. But Dr. Walensky, I do want to ask a couple questions about schools. We've got a ton of questions about schools and this one's from Alisa, who writes this, "I am a teacher. I'm doing everything I can so that I do not catch this virus. Unfortunately, the school district I work for wants to send me back into the classroom with very few protective measures in place. What will the Biden administration do to help teachers stay safe?" Dr. Walensky?


WALENSKY: Well, first of all, thank you for your service to our children. I would say according to the ACIP guidelines, you would be among those who should be eligible for vaccination. So if that's eligible in your state, please go ahead and see if you can go and get yourself vaccinated.

The Biden administration has very much said and emphasized the importance of getting our children back to school and opening schools. That said, the C.D.C. guidance really says if you're in an area of the country that is hot, that has an extraordinarily high COVID burden, that we should probably be careful in terms of how we get our kids back to school.

And we need to make sure as we get our kids back to school, that we have the resources to do so. We need to make sure that we have de- densified our classrooms, we have proper ventilation, proper masking and mitigation procedures so that we can safely get our kids back to school.

There have been several C.D.C. studies that have demonstrated that schools are generally safe places to be, although all of those studies -- or at least two of those studies have demonstrated that when there's a lot of masking going on, and when there hasn't been that much disease prevalence in the community.

GUPTA: The study -- I think one of the studies you're talking about just released yesterday found that the risk of transmission in the classroom was minimal, and I was really struck by the fact that it was so much lower than the surrounding community, nearly 40 percent lower in the school versus in the community. I mean, doesn't that suggest that schools could in fact be safer than the general community?

WALENSKY: Yes, you're referring to a study out of Wisconsin. It was over 4,000 children and over 600 teachers. That study -- the time period of that study, part of it was during a time of low prevalence, and part of it was during a time of high prevalence.

What we know is there's probably less disease transmission in schools than in the community. But if you're talking about a high prevalence community, you're going to still have high transmission in the schools. It'll just be less than in the community.

So in those situations, we really need to ensure a lot of mitigation procedures. There was a lot of mask compliance in that Wisconsin study and we need to just make sure that we can get the community spread down so we can get our kids back.

COOPER: Dr. Walensky, is there a Federal plan in place to get schools open? Because in some places like Clark County in Nevada, a disturbing rise in student suicides pushed officials there to expedite getting their students back into classrooms?

WALENSKY: It's extraordinary that we really -- yes, there is a Federal plan. The Federal plan is linked to both having the resources for the school, which is why we so badly need the American Rescue Plan to be funded so that we have resources for mitigation, for ventilation, for PPE, for all of these things, and then importantly, for testing, it's going to be a really key part of getting our children back to school is to do testing among teachers and among children, and the funding for that testing is all in this American Rescue Plan.

COOPER: Do you worry, we may start seeing more of that among kids who are out of school in other places around the country? I mean, there's often kind of a contagion effect.

WALENSKY: I absolutely worry about that. I worry about food insecurity. I worry about teenage pregnancy, I worry about kids falling behind in their academics.

I worry about the whole package, which is why it's so very critical that schools be the first thing to open and in my mind the last thing to close.

GUPTA: Dr. Fauci, Christina in Massachusetts sent in this video. Take a quick listen.


CHRISTINA HESSION, ACCOUNTANT: Back in the spring, the United States Postal Service had plans to send every household cloth masks. Now, we're getting reports that cloth masks aren't enough. Does the Bien administration plan on sending every household N95 or other equivalent masks? Additionally, does the Biden administration plan on emphasizing the use of these medical grade masks?


GUPTA: I don't know if you could hear that, Dr. Fauci. What is the sort of thinking on that?

FAUCI: No I didn't it hear it very well at all. I am sorry, what was the question?

GUPTA: It was talking about masks?

FAUCI: What was the question she was asking?

GUPTA: Should people be wearing masks like N95 masks and other types of masks when they are out in public? I've noticed you've been wearing two masks lately, for example. Should there be N95 masks for everyone?

COOPER: And also she wants to know if the Biden administration was going to be sending them out to Americans?

FAUCI: No, well, I'm not sure that that will happen. I'll ask a Dr. Walensky about that. But the one thing that I will say, and I'm sure Dr. Walensky will back me on this is that the most important thing is that everybody should be wearing a mask.

The C.D.C. does not recommend that you must wear two masks, nor does the C.D.C. recommend that you have to wear an N95 mask. They just say the most important thing is get everybody to wear a mask and I I'd like to turn it over to Dr. Walensky because she and I talk about this all the time.

WALENSKY: That's exactly right. So everybody should be wearing a mask. Everybody, if you're wearing a cloth mask, it should be a multi- layered mask so that you have several layers of protection for a single mask.

And there are certainly ongoing studies evaluating the protective efficacy of these masks especially in the context of these new variants we are seeing and so, we will see more data on that to come.


COOPER: Does it make sense Dr. Walensky to for the federal government to send out mask to American households?

WALENSKY: You know, it's not entirely clear to me that the reason that people aren't wearing masks is because they don't have access to them. Certainly I would highly advocate for those in areas where they're under resourced and they can't purchase masks or they don't have access to masks. We need to make sure that people have the adequate protection. But it's not entirely clear in my mind that the challenge with mask wearing has been one of access.


GUPTA: Is the reason the CDC is not recommending N95 masks like this for everybody is because there's not enough? Because it does seem to offer a lot more protection. Dr. Barbara Quran (ph) recently said that if people wore these masks in public, we could start to really bring the pandemic down, almost ended within four weeks is what he said an extraordinary statement. But why not just recommended, especially with these more transmissible variants?

WALENSKY: Yes, it's a really good question. And when we get a lot, I have spent a reasonable amount of time in an N95 masks, they're hard to tolerate all day, every day. And in fact, when you really think about how well people will wear them, I worried that if we suggest or require that people wear N95 they won't wear them all the time.

They're very hard to breathe in, when you wear them properly, they're very hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time. I do think that if everybody is wearing a mask, if you're wearing it, if you're six feet apart, and you're wearing and you're -- anybody else who you might be with is also wearing a mask, that you have enough protective efficacy in the barriers of those two masks and the space between the you probably don't need it.

COOPER: Dr. Walensky, Dr. Fauci, we're going to take a quick break. We returned more answers to your questions from our two guests. Also the challenges of vaccine distribution in one minority community. And Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force is going to join us to talk about the importance of equal access to vaccines and treatments.



COOPER: Welcome back to our CNN Global Town Hall. Throughout the night, you'll see a viewer submitted questions scrolling across the bottom of the screen. We have Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Dr. Walensky, before we get back to viewer questions, there are CNN reporting that the Biden administration is considering COVID testing for domestic travel here in the U.S.? That's according to a federal official that said the government is quote, actively looking at the possibility. Can you speak to that? Is that wise, is that going to happen?

WALENSKY: Well, so I think when we think about international travel, we've had stronger guidelines now on international travel requiring test three days before, and a test and self-quarantine, as well as a test three to five days after self-quarantine for seven days. I want to emphasize that now is not the time to be traveling period, internationally or domestically, it's just not a good time to be traveling.

As part of the American rescue act, that we have a budget for a lot more testing, much of that budget is going to be testing in schools. But I would really like to see much of that budget. And I think the Biden administration as well to use it for high risk activities, and one of those high risk activities would be for travel and domestic flights.

GUPTA: Dr. Fauci, let's get back to some viewer questions, Carole, who is a grandmother of five from Virginia Beach, sent in this video, take a look.


CAROLE GARDNER, RETIRED NURSE: One of the worst parts about the pandemic is not being able to travel freely to see our grandchildren. My husband and I just got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine and on February 19th, we'll get the second dose. When will we have immunity and when will we be able to travel?


GUPTA: Now we just heard Dr. Walensky say now is not the time to be traveling. But what about this type of situation specifically?

FAUCI: Well, you know, what the person who called that question in said, when will they have immunity? Well, you can get some degree of protection, some degree that isn't durable, you know, 10 days to 14 days after the first dose, but you can't rely on that.

The maximum immunity begins about 10 days to two weeks and beyond following the second dose. That goes for anyone, regardless of whether you want to travel or not. That would give you as a group, about a 94 to 95% efficacy and a good safety profile.

The situation though, does not change what Dr. Walensky said that it is not a good idea to travel, period. I mean, if you absolutely have to travel and it's essential, then obviously, one would have to do that. But we don't want people to think because they got vaccinated, then other public health recommendations just don't apply.

One of the biggest things that are really not well understood is people ask, why should I even have to wear a mask after I get my second shot? And the reason is very clear that the primary endpoint of the vaccine trial was clinically apparent infection. So you could conceivably get infected, get no symptoms, and still have virus in your nasal pharynx. Which means that you would have to wear a mask to prevent you from infecting someone else as well as the other side of the coin while you may not be totally protected yourself.

So getting vaccinated does not say now I have a free pass to travel. Nor does it say that I have a free pass to put aside all of the public health measures that we talk about all the time.


GUPTA: That does the -- so you're saying that the vaccine does not prevent necessarily against infection? Are you saying that that's the case? Or we haven't shown it yet? Do we have to just prove this out Dr. Fauci? FAUCI: Right. We don't -- Sanjay very good question. We do not know that as a fact. But we can now as we get a few months into the follow up, what we will be able to do is quantitative assessment of the amount of virus in the nasal pharynx, of a vaccinated person who got an asymptomatic infection compared to an unvaccinated person who had an asymptomatic infection.

And then you can make an extrapolation from that, that if you have such a very low level of virus, it's unlikely that even though you were infected that you would pass it on. But we don't know that yet. That associated with cohort studies, where you actually look specifically at the spread, you'd be able to sell it.

Bottom line, Sanjay, this is an assumption that I think is reasonable, but we don't know the facts yet that's the reason why we have to do this study.


GUPTA: Let's get another question in Dr. Fauci from Bev, who wants to know this. You talked about this a little bit already. She's asking our contingency plans now being made for alteration and redistribution of the mRNA vaccines in case one of the current or future variants of COVID-19 proved to render the current vaccines much less effective. So you can retool the vaccine. Is that right?

FAUCI: Yes, actually, this is the question that I believe I answered a little bit ago. But I'm glad that this questioner asked it again, one of the beauties Sanjay of the mRNA approach is that it's highly adaptable. So what you have is this bit of RNA, and you stick in the part of the RNA that codes for the protein of the spike that is in the virus that is now circulating in our country.

When you want to adapt it to say, let's say we're now want to protect against the South African isolate, you take that same mRNA. And instead of sticking in the coding component, for the virus that's circulating in our own country, you just quickly stick in the one that codes for the South African isolate. It is highly adaptable, and what you would do, and we're already starting that, Sanjay, this is something we're doing in collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies.

We've already started that and what you then do is you do a quick phase 1 trial to show safety and show immunogenicity. You don't have to do a 30,000-person trial or a 44,000 person trial. You work with the FDA. And you could bridge information from one trial to another.

Bottom line is we're already on it. And that's one of the beauties of the mRNA type of a platform that it's easily adaptable to what we're talking about.

COOPER: Dr. Walensky, William in Oregon sent in this video question, let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM BRIDGES, SISTER DIED OF COVID-19: I recently lost my sister due to COVID-19. As an African-American, I was wondering if one type of the vaccine be at Madonna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson is recommended over the other. I'm unaware if the current data proves one is more effective than the other based on race. But I was hoping that you can clarify. Thank you for your time.


COOPER: Dr. Walensky?

WALENSKY: First of all, William, I'm so sorry for your loss. We don't have any data that suggests that one vaccine that we have right now is better than another for any subgroups. The subgroup analyses from the trials have been just that so we don't have massive numbers of all the different subgroups.

We don't yet know the data from J&J, so it's hard to compare J&J in the absence of data with Moderna or Pfizer. But what we do know of the Pfizer and the Moderna trials is that they have had similar efficacy across ages as well as across races.

COOPER: We should also point out we're going to talk much more about race and equity with one of our next guests. Dr. Walensky, up next is a question sent in from Brandon in New York, it reads, can you please answer this because my fiance is concerned as the COVID vaccine affect people and their reproductive systems immediately after the shot, or months, years after the shot if we want to get pregnant?

Dr. Walensky?

WALENSKY: It's a great question. We don't have any evidence to suggest yes or no. We believe that they are safe for reproduction. There are no -- there are limited data really in pregnancy right now for women who are pregnant. But we don't have any data to suggest and we don't believe there should be any deterred, bad effects on reproductive health.

COOPER: Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, we so appreciate you being with us.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Dr. Fauci, a couple of viewers have emailed in saying they're worried about you. You look tired. I'm sure you're exhausted. We appreciate you taking the time to --

GUPTA: I think you look good Dr. Fauci.

COOPER: -- answer our questions. No, it wasn't a criticism.

FAUCI: Can you give me a complex.

COOPER: They're concerned. They're concerned.

FAUCI: You know, my wife just texted me and said, you look tired. COOPER: Well maybe it was your wife who was DM-ing me on Instagram. I got a bunch. But seriously, thank you so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COOPER: And we appreciate you just answering all their questions and giving us so much time. So thank you. We wish you the best.

Just ahead, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of President Biden's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force joins us.

Also, the challenges of vaccine distribution in minority communities. We'll discuss the administrations plans to make sure all Americans receive equal access to vaccines and treatments.



COOPER: As noted today by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who spoke at today's briefing by the White House Coronavirus response team, Latino indigenous and black people in America are dying at higher rates making equal access to treatments, vaccines and other resources critical for underserved communities. We're going to speak with Dr. Nunez Smith in just a moment.

But first, take a look at how some of these communities are coping. Our Gary Tuchman joins us now from the South Bronx. New York State Gary is doing its part to get vaccines to the more vulnerable and those in minority communities. You're at one of the city's public housing apartments. What are they doing you vaccinate residents?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson to help the most vulnerable in New York State has started a new program and in the program, you don't have to find the COVID vaccine, the COVID vaccine find you. And this is the South Bronx is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, one of the poorest in New York State, one of the poorest in the United States.

And the housing project we are at is called the Davidson Houses. This is public housing for seniors, about 250 people live here, all of them people of color. They were told last week that COVID vaccines would be made available by the state in the lobby of this building. People were very excited, but others were a little nervous. They said maybe I better go to my doctor and have my doctor give it to me. They were told who knows when your doctor will get it, you're lucky, you can get it in your own building. And the turnout was great.

Between 80 and 90% of the residents who live here got the COVID vaccines this past Saturday. Among those who didn't a lot of them just couldn't be reached weren't home or didn't answer their phones. So it was a great turnout. But a mile and a half north of here at a senior center also in the Bronx, they got 150 doses, the same thing a great turnout, all 150 doses were taken.

Right now this program is very small. But as the supply continues to grow, the amount of locations in this state, the number of days, the number of hours will increase dramatically. At least that's the plan. And we can tell you all these people that you've seen who've gotten the vaccines, they'll have a date three weeks from now for vaccine number two in their own home.

COOPER: That's good.

TUCHMAN: Anderson.

COOPER: Gary Tuchman. Appreciate it.

As I said, I want to bring in Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the President's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

GUPTA: She is also an associate professor of Internal Medicine and Public Health at Yale University. Welcome, Doctor.

MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH, CHAIR, COVID-19 HEALTH EQUITY TASK FORCE: Thank you for having me. Good evening.

COOPER: Thanks so much for being with us. You said earlier today that it takes intention and deliberate action to advance equity in this vaccine distribution process. When you look at the disparities in vaccination among races, a CNN analysis of data from 14 states found vaccine coverage twice as high among White people on average and it is among black and Latino people. What do you hope to do is head of the equity Task Force. How do you combat those types of disparities?


NUNEZ-SMITH: Absolutely. I mean, we have to do so much work to disrupt this predictability of, you know, disproportionate impact. And, you know, in this case, disproportionate access to vaccine. You know, if we think specifically about the numbers you just quoted, because CNN analysis, as well as Kaiser Health News, and others have found sort of this similar pattern already emerging across the country.

We know part of this has to do with vaccine acceptance, and we have to build vaccine confidence. That's part of our work. But a lot of this has to do with access. I mean, it's a great example what's happening in New York right now, we have to make vaccination easy and accessible.

That's a key priority that's built into President Biden's national plan in a multi-component multi-pronged way. That vaccination is easy to obtain. And when people cannot get to these the vaccination sites that are being stood up, that we bring the vaccine to them and that vaccines are free. So, that's one of the most important things we need to do is focus on equitable access to vaccines.

GUPTA: You know, Dr. Nunez-Smith, since the beginning, people have been largely told stay home as much as you can. But there's a lot of people who don't really have the choice of staying home, you know, they they're not going to work. So as a result, it's they have greater risk to themselves to their families. So how do you respond to those who can't work from home like so many others do? How do you make sure there those on the frontlines are staying safe, many of whom come from minority communities?

NUNEZ-SMITH: Yes, this is such an important point. You know, we talk about disparities or inequities that we see it, let's say, by race or ethnicity. You know, we don't often dig deeper into what are those root causes, or those social structural drivers? You know, to your point, we see that in frontline essential workers, there is an over representation, for example, of people of color, multi-generational homes, as well.

One of the things that's very important is for us to target and tailor messages. You know, how do you keep yourself safe if you have to leave your home every day to go work in the grocery store? You know, how do you keep your family safe in a multi-generational household? I often say to people, you know, my home is multi-generational, and we wear masks at home as well to keep those in our home who are high risk safe.

So critical, so key for us to keep in mind that not everyone has the privilege to sort of stay home, or even the abilities quite frankly, when advised to quarantine and isolate, we have to make sure people have the supports necessary to do that.

GUPTA: I want to follow up quickly on something Anderson asked about as well regarding vaccine equity. Lawrence Gostin he's a professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University. He said this the other day, he said having a racial preference for the COVID-19 vaccine is not only ethically permissible, but an ethical imperative. Should race be a factor in terms of where -- what place in line you are with regard to the vaccine?

NUNEZ-SMITH: We have to be extremely targeted and prioritize the hardest hit communities. You know, that's no question. And, you know, as I've said, we have to be intentional and deliberate about that. We're working already with states and local, you know, municipalities and jurisdictions to think about their pandemic response plans. And quite frankly, the equity plans and components of it, you know, we're here to offer technical assistance when needed. And in places like New York, where things are going well, on that equity front to share best practice.

We have to lean into data on this and I agree 100%, we need better data, we need more consistent data, or racial ethnic data are not great. But we are lucky to have other metrics as well, you know, CDC has developed the social vulnerability index, we can really use some of those measures to push on equity at the same time, while we're striving to increase the quality of data vis-a-vis race, ethnicity, or any of the other groups that have been hard hit.

COOPER: So what does that exactly mean, and when you're looking at this issue? I mean, the blanket question is, you know, should race be that the people in the black community should have a more greater access or faster access, given the statistics? Or is it people who live in multi generational homes, whether they are black or White, or people who work in a grocery store? It shouldn't be -- I mean, race pace is racist, one factor? I'm not sure I understood what you meant. NUNEZ-SMITH: Yes, no, absolutely. Thanks for letting me clarify. So, you know, we know that when we see these disparities and race, it has to do with, you know, what creates risk for exposure as well as risk for severity. And both of those are, quite frankly, tied to underlying social factors. You know, risk for exposure, goes back to that overrepresentation in frontline. You know, health care workers, for example, are essential workers.


When we think about risk for severity, it's the fact that so many people of color in our country are living with multiple chronic diseases, because of the chronic inability to access high quality health care. So prioritizing what drives the risk specifically, is what has been at the center of ACIPs guidelines. And I think that makes sense. And certainly when we look at something like the social vulnerability index at the CDC. You know, race is one of the factors that goes into that index.

GUPTA: I want to get some questions for our viewers, Lonnie in Texas sent in a video. I want to take a look.


LONNIE PARKS: The church plays a large role in the black community and communities of color. And I'm wondering if you have considered involving the ministers and leaders in our communities of color in this endeavor. I think it would do a couple of things.

First of all, I think it would help the people in the community to feel more comfortable with taking the vaccine, believing that it is more safe and effective, coming from the mouth of some of their leaders. And secondly, if they are ministers of some of the larger or mega churches in our communities of color, that people wouldn't know where those churches are, and would feel more comfortable taking the vaccines in their social halls or their fellowship halls. And it would help greatly in the communities where the vaccinations are needed the most. Have you considered this?


COOPER: Doctor?

NUNEZ-SMITH: Yes, great. I'm so glad to have a chance to speak to this. You know, when we talk about building vaccine confidence, in particular, what we know and what the science tells us, you know, people will have reasonable questions, they deserve clear and consistent answers. But who answers them also matters a great deal. It is just fundamental to our work that we partner with local communities with community leaders.

Faith leaders are a great example of some of those trusted messengers. It's our responsibility to make sure those trusted messengers have the information, you know, that they need. And we are already working in close partnership with many coalition's of faith leaders. This is just key in getting the word out. And also back to that question of access. I think that's exactly right. As we seek to target communities that have been hardest hit, it's important that people have vaccination opportunities in their neighborhoods. And so, that when they, you know, are ready, and it's their turn, and they're at yes, that they can get vaccinated in a space where they're very comfortable.

COOPER: Yes. Melissa --

NUNEZ-SMITH: We're definitely pursuing that.

COOPER: Yes, Melissa in Florida sent in a video. I want to play that.


MELISSA SMITH, DISABLED VETERAN: As a disabled veteran currently living in the state of Florida, I do not meet the state's age requirement of 65 or older to receive the COVID vaccinations. As a disabled veteran, my question is, will the VA medical centers be providing COVID-19 vaccinations for veterans that have medical comorbidities that would like to receive the vaccinations that do not meet their state's age requirement? Thank you.


COOPER: It's a great question.

NUNEZ-SMITH: Yes, a great question. And thank you so much for your service. Either, we are very fortunate to have additional federal resources that we can bring to bear to combat this pandemic. You know, and quite frankly, to get vaccinations out. We're already working with the VA to establish these pathways to vaccination for the veterans, just as you mentioned.

And so, it is very high priority, that we make sure that you get vaccinated and of course, that it'd be easy and accessible, for you. You know, people living with disabilities in our country is a substantial number of people and often under recognize in terms of the impact the pandemic is having on them as well. So this is all the more reason why we have to be so deliberate about getting to everyone who needs to be vaccinated.

COOPER: Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, really a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

NUNEZ-SMITH: My pleasure. Thank you.

COOPER: We hope tonight we've helped with answers to some of your questions about the pandemic.

GUPTA: There is one more thing you should know. And that is how you can help and for more information on that go to Also our Impact Your World team has put together this interactive guide of resources. That's at You can find a list of resources and organizations and ideas where you can donate or find help for yourself or a loved one. Anderson, I really -- I thought that was great.


GUPTA: I mean, we just covered a lot of ground there and it was nice to have a town hall like that. This is -- that we're still in the middle of this pandemic.


COOPER: It's just nice to have experts who are willing to come on and discuss for however long we want to discuss and get actual information out to people. I almost didn't recognize you I got to say though you got a haircut. Finally, you cut your hair. Was that the first time since this pandemic?

GUPTA: Yes. First time --


GUPTA: -- since the pandemic. Yes, I get a little, you know, I'm realizing looking at our two shot and kind of starting to look like you. Like you Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Well, yes. You know, (INAUDIBLE).

GUPTA: Real quick, I got to ask, how's my man, Wyatt?

COOPER: He's great. He's really --

GUPTA: How old is he now?

COOPER: He's nine months old today.

GUPTA: Oh my gosh.

COOPER: Yes, nine months old today.

GUPTA: Today?

COOPER: It's crazy, he's sleeping. I don't want to say this out loud, because it annoys people. But he's sleeping like 12 to 12 1/2 hours a night which is fantastic.

GUPTA: I love that picture.

COOPER: He's grown -- I know, he looks sort of like a Buddha there. He's grown since then. But he's just an absolute joy. Yes, it's incredible.

GUPTA: Well, thank you. Thank you, tonight, Anderson, that's great. Wyatt send me more pictures.

COOPER: All right, I will. Sanjay, thank you. Also, I want to thank Dr. Anthony Fauci, the new CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. And Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of President Biden's Covid Equity Task Force.

Also, thanks to those who wrote in with your questions, to everyone who joined us tonight, I know a lot of people didn't get their questions answered, I apologize. The conversation continues at

The news continues with Chris Cuomo. Chris?