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Global Response After E.U. Agency Finds AstraZeneca Vaccine Can Cause Rare Blood Clots; Myanmar's U.S. Ambassador Locked Out Of Embassy; Biden Targets Gun Violence "Epidemic" With Exec. Orders. Aired 1:30-2p ET.

Aired April 8, 2021 - 13:30:00   ET




RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Live from New York. I'm Richard Quest. We will be back to our live coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin shortly when the judge resumes in about an hour from now while we get -- wait for that. An update on the other story is developing around the world.

The global vaccine rollout is undergoing a huge reshuffle as some countries are now reevaluating who should get the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine after E.U. regulators say a rare blood clots are a possible side effect. The global response includes directing AstraZeneca for use in older adults, who haven't seen as many adverse reactions to the vaccine. While the U.K. is trying to reassure citizens its vaccine program is safe.


MATT HANCOCK, U.K. HEALTH SECRETARY: We have seen this incredible level of uptake of the vaccine in this country. And what we've learned in the last 24 hours is the rollout of the vaccine is working. We've seen that the safety system is working because the regulator can spot even extremely rare event four in a million and take necessary action to ensure that the rollout is as safe as it possibly can be.


QUEST: The response is differed from country to country. The U.K. for instance is advising AstraZeneca should not be given to adults under the age of 13. Spain says it will pivot its vaccination strategy and give the vaccine AstraZeneca to people older than 60. Salma Abdelaziz live in London with more. And yet at the beginning of all of this some weeks or months ago, of course, we were told that it was older people who should not get AstraZeneca.

If you remember in Germany, Austria, and so on. Now it seems it's older people who should with the U.K. saying younger people should not. And I'm not sure where this leaves everyone.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Richard, there has been mixed messaging there has been flip flopping and what there has not been is a clear and consistent strategy on this. And that's what you hear E.U. officials begging for essentially at this point, one strategy one clear consistent public message on this but just in the last 24 hours since this announcement came out, as you said Australia taking its own steps saying they're going to recalibrate their vaccination programs.

Spain saying they're going to pivot, Belgium saying we're no longer giving it to people under 55. Country after country taking steps now to limit the use of this vaccine in certain people. British health officials in the meanwhile, of course, saying this is a positive thing that we've been able to detect such rare incidences. This means the regulatory bodies are working. But what it also means Richard is there's been so many negative headlines around this vaccine already.


ABDELAZIZ: What it means is that there potentially could be more vaccine hesitancy. We're talking about a continent, Europe, where vaccine hesitancy is already extremely high. There are countries like Germany that were describing the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine as a shelf warmer because people were refusing to take it. You can only imagine what's going to happen now. And it is confusing. Why is it under 30 in the U.K.?

Why is it under 55i in Belgium? Well, if you ask the experts, they're going to tell you we're doing the math here, right? We're looking at the risk versus benefit ratio per age group. How likely is it that you will go to hospital with COVID versus how likely it is that you'll get these very rare blood clots. And this is important, Richard, because the supply of this vaccine is precious, it is crucial to the U.K.'s vaccine rollout, it's been given to millions of people across the E.U. You need this, you need this to be able to end the pandemic quickly, Richard.

QUEST: Salma who's in London talking there on the question of the risk versus benefit. And the regulators in the U.K. and Europe are clear, the vaccine offers huge benefits and carries remote risks but putting those into perspective. Those risks into perspective is the difficult part. And the U.K., the regulator says the risks of these blood clots is roughly four people in every million. But another way, one in 250,000.

Now comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in the United States on any given year is one in 500,000. And blood clots are far more common side effects from other kinds of medicines too. For instance, 20 years ago, some birth control pills were found to cause blood clots in every -- one in every thousand women. With me is Professor Heidi Larson to talk about and explained the risks and benefits of all of these brand new vaccines.

Professor is director of the vaccine confidence project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Professor, if this was any other medication where we weren't all obsessing about it. If you were being treated for another disease, another issue where you had these sorts of numbers, would the doctor even be saying, oh, by the way, there's a very small chance of a blood clot. Are we -- are we focusing on this because we are obsessing about the vaccines?

HEIDI LARSON, DIRECTOR, VACCINE CONFIDENCE PROJECT AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE AND TROPICAL MEDICINE: Well, I certainly think that the extreme level of attention on this is definitely heightened the perception of risk. It is a risk. I think we're very lucky that this only came up after tens of millions of people have been given this vaccine which is really a credit to its effectiveness and its overall safety.

But you're right. How many people actually open those inserts into them -- into the medicine boxes and prescriptions we get because there are risks in in virtually most medications as rare as they may be.

QUEST: So, as the Vaccine Confidence Project, the worry is what? That -- I mean, in the U.K. that doesn't seem to be a huge lot of choice in the sense of AstraZeneca is being doled out left, right and center. But in the rest of Europe, there does seem to be a much greater hesitancy and do you now fear this could seriously damage and roll back the herd immunity and the positive benefits of vaccine?

LARSON: To be honest, my real concern is that this is a core key vaccine in COVAX, the global vaccine facility. And already in the vaccine confidence project. We have data that this has had a knock on effect on confidence across Africa, particularly in Nigeria, we've seen a drop from 49 percent saying they would strongly agree they would take a vaccine dropping to 24 percent. And that was just here in March at the same time.

So, I think it's certainly concerning in Europe, but I think it's concerned in terms of the global role that this vaccine is expected to play.

QUEST: The other vaccines Of course, the Pfizer and Moderna are simply too complex in terms of transmission mechanism to be used widespread in large parts of the world. Johnson & Johnson does have certain availabilities and certain attributes that would make it more possible. But are you really saying that AstraZeneca is the one that offers the best hope through COVAX in the developing world?

LARSON: Well, currently, it's the one with the -- in terms of the manufacturing capacity and the availability is a key one right now. Certainly the J & J one is in the pipeline also and will be part of that that mix of that is being offered. But it's a -- it's certainly a crucial, the AstraZeneca vaccine certainly is a crucial one now and is in a number of countries already starting to be used.

QUEST: Back to this idea of risk again. And the numbers that we're seeing now, you know, one can put it in terms of chances of being struck by lightning, chances of being in a plane crash, et cetera. And -- but in reality, and I know 19 deaths in the U.K. sounds a lot until you bear in mind, how many people have taken this. In reality, is this a risk of which one needs to be really concerned? LARSON: I think one needs to be alert that this is a risk. And if there are any symptoms, they should address them as soon as possible. But I don't think people should worry. We're talking about in the U.K., there were 20 million doses have been given out safely with no side effects. And this is -- I mean, with all empathy and attention to those who had a side effect this isn't to dismiss that. But I think it -- we really should be grateful that we've gotten this far with what is overall a safe and important vaccine.

QUEST: Professor Larson, thank you.

LARSON: Thank you.

QUEST: The AstraZeneca vaccine is the cornerstone as the professor was saying of the global fight against the virus. Now is an Anna Stewart report, it's been hit by a series of missteps and those missteps go right back to the start.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): It felt a little like an Academy Award acceptance speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say that it's been really a great pleasure and a privilege.

STEWART (voice-over): AstraZeneca with its Oxford partner developed one of the first COVID-19 vaccines deemed safe and effective by regulators around the world. It's cheaper than the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTtech and it can be stored safely at higher temperatures. Here's in many ways this vaccine has been a drag on AstraZeneca's reputation. First, there were questions on its trial data.

Unusually, the initial phase three results suggested a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full-dose weeks apart was more effective in preventing disease than two full doses. Days later, the company admitted the half dose had been administered by error, and was later dropped from the trial altogether.

DR. PAUL HUNTER, PROFESSOR IN MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA: I did not believe this half dose, full dose story. That didn't ring right to many. Subsequent papers from Oxford AstraZeneca group have shown the gap that was making the difference and not the half dose which everybody was getting in the opposite was getting very excited about.

STEWART (voice-over): There were also questions about whether the vaccine should be used for older age groups. French President Emmanuel Macron described the vaccine as causally effective in a press briefing. And hours later.

EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY: The real pleasure to be here and to announce the third positive opinion for the authorization of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. STEWART (voice-over): Europe's medicines regulator the AMA approved its use. However, some damage was done to public trust.

FEDERICO SANTI, SENIOR ANALYST, EURASIA GROUP: More skepticism of that particular vaccine has been fostered in the public which could make it more difficult for European countries to ramp up vaccinations to the extent that they need, to catch up with the U.K.

STEWART (voice-over): The race was on to see how quickly the vaccine could be made and delivered. In January AstraZeneca announced that its supply to the E.U. would be lower than forecast at least initially. It's marked anger amongst some E.U. leaders who claimed AstraZeneca was wrongly prioritizing supplies to other countries and delaying fulfilment of E.U. contracts. That lead the E.U. to implement strict vaccine export controls.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: Companies have to honor their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world.

STEWART: More recently, there have been concerns over the vaccine safety following reports of some people developing rare blood clots after at least one dose. Leading some countries to restrict the vaccine, at least for now to older groups only. A causal link is possible according to new guidance from the E.U. and the U.K.'s medicines regulators. Both said the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh the risks.

Although in the U.K., those under the age of 30 will be offered an alternative vaccine. Given their risk from COVID is lower. There's the added factor that there are other vaccines on the market which haven't had as many negative headlines to their name.

While you have multiple companies producing very similar products or trying to, is this partly at least just a case of winners and losers.


MARK RITSON, COLUMNIST, MARKETING WEEK: The game of branding is always relative. You're always compared to the other alternatives in the market. And that means unfortunately that there will be those perceived to be better and those perceived to be weaker, winners and losers.

STEWART (voice-over): Currently AstraZeneca appears to be on a losing streak. Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


QUEST: More widely now the European Commissioner in charge of the continents vaccine rollout says herd immunity could come in July. Thierry Breton told Julia Chatterley despite the various vaccine issues, Europe was still on track.

THIERRY BRETON, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR INTERNAL MARKET: It is possible it is feasible and I'm strongly believes that we will achieve it because when I see again, what we have now ready to go. We increase drastically the production in E.U. We have now 53 factories working seven days a week 2424. And, yes, I could tell you today that we will deliver a number of doses which will be necessary to achieve 70 percent of the adult population being vaccinated by mid-July.

In other words, it will be now in the hands of member states to make sure that in every single country of the E.U. the vaccination campaign will accelerate.

QUEST: The political crisis in Myanmar spilling onto the streets of London. Protesters are demanding that Myanmar's ambassador to the U.K. be reinstated after he was literally locked out of his embassy.


QUEST: Britain slamming Myanmar's regime for carrying out a diplomatic coup of sorts. Representatives of the military rulers seize control of Myanmar's embassy. They ousted the ambassador who has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The ambassador consequently spent the night in his car outside. He said he hasn't decided whether to seek asylum in the United Kingdom.


QUEST: Cyril Vanier is in London. So the ambassador supports the former government, of course, it was ousted by the military with the current military coup and the rulers. What happens now?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not completely unheard of to have these two voices speaking for different regimes really, when you have a regime change, like what you saw in Myanmar with that coup on February 1st. So the ambassador, frankly, had expected that something like this might happen. And we know from the source to whom we promised anonymity, given the sensitivity of the information that there had been -- there had been disagreement between the ambassador and other high-ranking officials within the embassy.

The ambassador to being anti-military junta, other high ranking members being pro-military dictatorship. And they wanted to remain loyal to the dictatorship. And as the ambassador had put himself on a collision course with the military establishment calling on them to release Aung San Suu Kyi, calling on them to release the president who has been arrested and has been put under house arrest.

And he's done all this very publicly. Meeting also the son of Aung San Suu Kyi here in London. He was on a collision course. He -- they expected something like this might happen to the extent that they actually put padlocks on the doors of the embassy to try and prevent the takeover to no avail of course because less than 24 hours ago, he came back to the embassy and the door wouldn't open anymore.

As you said he slept in his car. What happens now? Well, a lot will depend on what the British Foreign Office says. They have received formal notification of the termination of the ambassador's mission. They haven't said that they have actually accepted this. So we're in a very gray area at the moment, Richard, with the ambassador saying he is still carrying out his mission, representing the diplomacy of Myanmar. But it's the military attache who is physically in the embassy running the show.

QUEST: OK. This depends now on the U.K. also whether they're going to recognize those people that Myanmar say are they're accredited or that they are nominated diplomats to the court of St. James, and whether or not the U.K. government decides to accept them.

VANIER: And the U.K. government has been very vocal in its position against the military coup that took place in Myanmar three months ago, and they have imposed multiple rounds of sanctions against military generals, they have called on them to release elected officials. With that being said there was the line that the foreign office is going to toe on this and on the ambassador's position is not clear yet.

There was a meeting between the Foreign Office and the ambassador at 1:00 p.m. local time. So that's -- I'm looking at my watch, that's five hours ago now. And we still don't know from the Foreign Office, whether they intend to recognize the next ambassador, this -- the one that will be named by the military junta or whether they will do what we sometimes see where they'll stick by the person who has been the ambassador until yesterday. We just don't have the answer to that question, Richard, at this moment.

QUEST: Cyril Vanier who's in London as well. Thank you, sir. Now lawmakers in Northern Ireland are holding emergency talks today after a sixth night of violence in Belfast. The Irish and the British prime ministers have both condemned the escalating unrest. It's left dozens of people injured. Unionists and nationalists are clashing with police and each other. The violence is happening for two principal reasons.

Sinn Fein nationalists are accusing the Democratic Unionist Party of stoking tensions by opposing the creation of a new post Brexit trade protocol. Meanwhile, on the other side, the unionists are angry that the police have refused to prosecute Sinn Fein for allegedly breaking COVID-19 restrictions were the funerals held last year attended by thousands of people.

President Joe Biden that says gun violence is an epidemic in the blemish on the United States as he announced the series of executive orders on gun control. The President was speaking a few moments ago at the White House. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and his attorney general Merrick Garland. It's been a spate of mass shootings, all three leaders said it is way past time for the country to act.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've all asked, what are we waiting for? Because we aren't waiting for a tragedy. I know that. We've had more tragedy than we can bear.

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We stand here today, not at a moment of tragedy but in the midst of an enduring tragedy. So far this year, guns have taken the lives of an estimated 11,000 of our neighbors, friends and fellow Americans.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing I'm about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. We're not going to give up now. The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our characters as a nation.


QUEST: As we continue, COVID deaths are soaring in Brazil and the country's president is shrugging his shoulders. His response after Brazil experienced its deadliest day yet from the virus.


QUEST: I'm Richard Quest in New York. Live coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin continues later in this hour. It's the nine of the testimony. And before lunch the jury heard from medical experts on exactly how George Floyd lost oxygen and died. The former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for Floyd's killing after kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes last summer.

While we wait for the trial to resume, allow me please update you on some of the other international headlines around the world. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is playing down and alarming you right number of coronavirus cases. Rejecting lockdowns and saying in his words we are not going to cry over spilled milk. This week, Brazil had its deadliest day of the pandemic so far with more than 4000 deaths in just 24 hours.


JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZIL'S (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We are not going to accept this policy of staying at home of closing everything down. This virus will not go. This virus like others is here to stay and will remain for a lifetime. It is practically impossible to eradicate it. What are we going to do until then?


QUEST: Rafael Romo is in Atlanta. He says what are we going to do until then? Well, what's his answer? What's his own answer of what to be done? Since he's clearly right, the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, if not forever.