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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on November 22, 2020

11/22: Fauci, Sanders, Gottlieb, Merlo, McMaster
11/22: Fauci, Sanders, Gottlieb, Merlo, McMas... 46:06

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • H.R. McMaster, Former National Security Adviser, Author, "Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World"
  • Symone Sanders, Senior Adviser and Spokesperson for Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris
  • Larry Merlo, CVS Health CEO
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Former FDA Commissioner  

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. And this week on FACE THE NATION, despite groundbreaking advances with vaccines, America braces for its toughest test yet, COVID cases that are growing exponentially as we move in to a new season. The hopeful news that at least two U.S. vaccines are moving towards FDA approval comes just as the super surge of COVID cases in the U.S. is kicking in. But the message from scientists and elected officials is clear: It's not over yet. Wear a mask and act responsibly, especially during the upcoming holiday season.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: North, south, east and west. It's not a political statement. It's a patriotic duty.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President-elect Biden says his efforts for a smooth transition are being impeded by President Trump's refusal to accept defeat during a dangerous period.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: If we don't have access to all this data, it's going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more. And that's lives.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump continues to fixate on unfounded claims about the election.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Which I won, by the way. But, you know, we'll find that out-- almost seventy-four million votes.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN: It-- it's hard to fathom how this man thinks. It's hard to fathom. I'm-- I'm confident he knows he hasn't won.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll welcome back the nation's top infectious disease expert, Doctor Anthony Fauci. And we'll talk with the CEO of the CVS Health Corporation, Larry Merlo, about how his company will help distribute vaccines to Americans in the coming months. We'll check in with former FDA commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, and talk with Symone Sanders, a key Biden campaign adviser. Plus, former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster weighs in on key national security threats confronting the new commander in chief.

It's all just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. Once again, we begin the broadcast with staggering numbers, and a lot of them are now in the millions. According to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, there are forty-seven states in the red zone. Across the country, there were over a million new infections in the last week, bringing the total to well over twelve million cases. On Friday, we set a record of nearly two hundred thousand new cases in a single day. And more than a quarter of a million Americans have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The CDC last week urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. Many are ignoring that advice. We begin this morning with CBS News national correspondent Mark Strassmann in Atlanta.

(Begin VT)

MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News National Correspondent): It's a super spread of defiance and denial. Roughly fifty million Thanksgiving travelers expected to ignore the CDC's plea to stay home. The week ahead could become COVID America's most dangerous yet as new cases and hospitalizations already smash daily records.

MAN #1: I get it, but it's Thanksgiving. And people want to be with their families.

MARK STRASSMANN: Tell that to the governor in Washington State.

JAY INSLEE: We have to understand that the house is on fire right now.

MARK STRASSMANN: And in Minnesota.

TIM WALZ: Each day I'm going to stand in front of you and tell you that we've hit another record number of deaths.

MARK STRASSMANN: By one measure, COVID-19 is now America's third leading killer, behind heart disease and cancer. Every day, in endless ways, the virus' third surge threatens. Hours before kickoff, Saturday's Clemson/Florida state game was postponed. A Clemson player tested positive. This map shows another red state America. Red means counties now battling a COVID crisis.

DR. DALE BRATZLER: To change the map, the color of the map, then we need to do much more right now to make that happen.

MARK STRASSMANN: Starting this weekend, roughly ninety-five percent of Californians have a curfew like a teenager. 10 PM to 5 AM for the next month. Protestors hit the streets, complaining it goes too far, even in a state averaging ten thousand new cases a day.

MAN #2: An illegal curfew, ten o'clock curfew, we're not going to abide by it. It's ridiculous.

MARK STRASSMANN: Wanted in El Paso, temporary help, workers to move bodies of the COVID dead often to mobile morgues. The county warns applicants that the work may be physically and emotionally taxing. North Dakota has the world's highest COVID mortality rate per capita, but reaction to the new mandatory masking?

MAN #3: It is against the rights of the people. It's unconstitutional.

MARK STRASSMANN: Finally, COVID's economic impact also remains epidemic. A Dallas-area food bank gave away five thousand Thanksgiving turkeys. Twenty-six million Americans report money miseries and missed meals as 2020 draws to a close. That's three times greater than last year's average.

(End VT)

MARK STRASSMANN: One more measure of COVID's impact, the CDC here in Atlanta reports that death totals for 2020 are higher than normal in every state of the country. Almost twenty percent higher for most of the year. And in general, death patterns have matched the spread and peaks of the virus. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark, thank you.

We want to go now to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Doctor Anthony Fauci. Good morning to you, Doctor. It has been a while. I am glad that you are back with us this morning. I wish there were better news.

ANTHONY FAUCI, MD (Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases): Thank you, Margaret. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Eighty-three thousand people in this country--

ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah. I wish-- I wish there were.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Eighty-three thousand people are hospitalized right now. Who are they? What do we know? Why are they getting this ill?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, I mean, it's obvious what this disease does, particularly for the elderly and those who have underlying conditions. And we know what they are: obesity, hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes, et cetera. But also, it's not just elderly individuals. We're starting to see that there's a substantial proportion of people who are hospitalized between forty and fifty-nine. So these are people who are predominantly dominated by the elderly and underlying conditions, but not completely. These numbers really speak for themselves, Margaret. We're in a very, very difficult situation at all levels. So I think, I would hope, that the people who are pushing back on the recommendations for mitigation measures just look at the numbers, look at the facts. They're staring us right in the face. You know, we're not talking about shutting down the country and locking down completely. But we do know, Margaret, that mitigation measures work if you compare countries that do it and even within our own United States, if you look at some of the states that have actually implemented mitigation. And with the really simple-- I'm not talking about locking everything down, I'm talking about universal wearing of masks, physical distancing, avoiding crowds, particularly indoor-- keeping the masks on indoor, doing things outdoors more than indoors, if you possibly can, given the weather considerations, and washing your hands.


ANTHONY FAUCI: Those are relatively easy things to do. And-- and the fact is, we know when you do that, and when you do things like limit capacity in-- in restaurants and stay away from bars or even close bars, it does have an impact. It isn't as if you do it and it doesn't help you. It actually can blunt curves. And as we're getting into the colder season, particularly the situation with the holiday season, where you see people traveling--


ANTHONY FAUCI: You see the clips on TV, peoples at airports. I mean, those are the things we've got to realize are going to get us into even more trouble than we're in right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This week you said that we are approaching exponential growth in infections. Can you level with the American people here and tell them what they need to be bracing for? Are we about to tip into the most intense part that we have experienced of this pandemic to date?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah. Yeah, on the one hand, that is true. When you say exponential, you mean the curve is really very, very steep. If you look at the curve of what we had in the spring when it was dominated by the infections in the northeastern part of the country, particularly the New York metropolitan area, the curve was like this. When you look at what we saw in the southern states when we tried to reopen, the curve was also like this. Right now, the curve is like that. It's going up at a very rapid rate. And you looked at almost every single day, in fact, gives you another record. Having said that, you don't want people to get terrified, but you want them to understand, Margaret, that we can do something about that by mitigation methods. And also help is on the way.


ANTHONY FAUCI: So, we should not look upon this as a hopeless situation. And one of the things when you get COVID fatigue, which is entirely understandable, that people just throw up their hands and say, heck, you know, we're not going to be able to do anything about it, let's just do what we want--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --to do. That's the wrong decision because vaccines are coming and they're going to be available relatively soon. If we can hang in there with the mitigation methods and implementing them--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --we can get out of this. So there's a-- a very sober message on the one hand, but there's a hopeful message if we do certain things. It's in-- it's within our power to do them.


ANTHONY FAUCI: We're not helpless.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I-- I know, and I-- I hear your passion here. I want to get to the hope of the vaccine in a moment. But, near term, let's talk about that reality. You mentioned--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --the crowds at airports. Fifty million Americans are expected to travel. They're ignoring the CDC advice not to do so.


MARGARET BRENNAN: What is riskier--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --the plane or the crowd?

ANTHONY FAUCI: The crowd, clearly. The-- the air-- the airport, the-- the-- the airlines are trying their best with the way they get the airflow to prevent that. But sometimes when you get a crowded plane, you're-- you're in a crowded airport, you're lining up, not everybody's wearing masks, that puts yourself at risk. One of the things we're really concerned about is that as we get into this Thanksgiving season, you're not going to see an increase until weeks later. Things lag. So what you don't want to see is another spike in cases as we get colder and colder into the December and then you start dealing with the Christmas holiday. We can really be in a very difficult situation. So, you want to tell people to please seriously consider decisions that you make. And it also means, Margaret, another important thing, it's one of the things that we didn't fully realize, that one of the spots, if you want to call them, where you have a risk is seemingly innocent family friends get together indoors. I mean, seems like--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --the most natural thing. So that's the reason why we tell people, consider the people that you want to get into your own family unit. Do you want to bring a large number of people with a big dinner party--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --or social event? And when you're eating and drinking, obviously, you have to take your mask off. We know now that those are the kinds of situations that are leading to outbreaks--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And specifically--

ANTHONY FAUCI: --because people--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --driving home your point--

ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah, go ahead.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the CDC is specifically saying you should only have people gathered for Thanksgiving who have been living inside your home, actively living there for fourteen days.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That means no neighbors. That means no travelers. That means your kid coming--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --home from college shouldn't be in the room with you. I mean, does that advice expire after Thanksgiving? Is Christmas canceled too?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Yeah, no, we don't know what's going to happen, and it could actually, if we don't do this correctly and pay close attention to the reality of what's possible, if we ignore these recommendations, that you could continue to have that exponential increase as you get into Christmas. And that's one of the things we're concerned about. It's a natural reaction to say, now, wait a minute, I know these people. You know, they're friends. They're coming in. You tend to almost intuitively and instinctively let your-- let your guard down. Now, you don't want to say that no one can come in, but you can have people that have their own pods of protection--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --people who might quarantine themselves, who might get a test. But in general, what I would recommend and I do this ev-- every day, Margaret, is to tell families to just take a moment to do what I call a risk-benefit determination. If I have someone in my home who's elderly, someone who has an underlying condition, do I really want to put that person at risk from someone--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --who innocently or inadvertently could infect them? Because we know clearly that people who don't have symptoms are clearly capable and are--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --transmitting the infection. So just think about it for a moment, the risk now versus the long-range of what you can do if you continue to be healthy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's get to the hope. The scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed said this morning we could have true herd immunity take place somewhere in the month of May as the vaccine is distributed. Does America go back to life as normal in May?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, I don't think so, unless we do, and I believe you're referring to Moncef Slaoui, who said that--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --and I totally agree with him. But there-- there are a couple of things that go into the effectiveness of a vaccine program, a highly efficacious vaccine, and we're there. We have two of them that have a ninety-five percent efficacy. The other part of the equation is how many people get vaccinated. So if you have a highly efficacious vaccine and only a relatively small forty, fifty percent of the people get vaccinated--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --you're not going to get the herd immunity you need. What we do need is we need to get as many people as possible vaccinated. And that's why we want to be very transparent for people to understand the independent and transparent process that got us to the point of saying, which the FDA will examine it very carefully now together with advisory committees that are completely independent, and declare within EUA and ultimately a license that the vaccines are safe and effective.


ANTHONY FAUCI: When the American public hears that, you should be assured that that is the case. And if you get an overwhelming majority of the people vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine, we can reasonably quickly get to the herd immunity that would be a blanket of protection for the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This hasn't been tested at all on children or infants. When would they get it?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Right. Well, you know, it's a situation with children that when you talk about toddlers and infants, that's probably not going to be months away because we-- we know from experience with vaccines that you have to make as a high priority the safety of the health of the children, because they're a vulnerable population. And you want to show that it's effective and safe in a broader situation before you actually give it to children.


ANTHONY FAUCI: Within a period of a few months, we'll be doing a number of studies, including what we call bridging studies, showing that you can induce the same kind of response in kids and it's safe in kids, and then you can wind up giving it to them within a few months thereafter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the CDC is going to give guidelines. The states will make the call on who they decide to give it to, but it's expected health care workers and elderly go first. When will Americans know if they qualify to get the vaccine?

ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, you said it correctly, Margaret. The CDC has the ultimate determination for the recommendations. They do that closely with an advisory committee on immunization practices, which is also being complemented by recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine. But at the end of the day, it's the CDC. What they will do is that they will make the recommendations after the EUA, the Emergency Use Authorization is actually implemented. Because then they will know all of the discussions that were made--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --with the FDA and they'll be able to say, okay, on the basis of our determination and our advisory committee--


ANTHONY FAUCI: --this is the prioritization of people who will get it. And as we hope that things go well and I think they will, that if these vaccines get the EUA, which I expect they will, that we will have maybe twenty million people will be able to get vaccinated by the middle to the end of December and then as we get into January--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you take it next month?

ANTHONY FAUCI: --February even more. Yeah, if I-- if I'm within the group that's recommended, definitely I would.


ANTHONY FAUCI: I would look at the data, I mean, right now the C-- the FDA will make that determination. But I would have no hesitation to take it, nor would I have any hesitation to recommend it to my family.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Doctor Fauci, thank you, and good luck.

FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute with an update on President-elect Biden's transition with Symone Sanders, a key adviser. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to turn now to the presidential transition and senior adviser and spokesperson for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Symone Sanders. She joins us from outside her Washington home. Good morning to you.

SYMONE SANDERS (Senior Adviser and Spokesperson for Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris/@SymoneDSanders): Good morning, Margaret. How are you?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I-- I'm-- I'm great. I wanted to ask you about what you expect to happen tomorrow, because that is the deadline in the state of Pennsylvania for many counties to certify results of their election. This would take a key state out of play here in the President's attempts to overturn the outcome of the election. Do you expect that we could see this week the ascertainment of the President-elect?

SYMONE SANDERS: Well, Margaret, we do expect that counties in Pennsylvania will certify their results, just as folks have done in Georgia, just as folks have done in Michigan, across this country. The American people were clear, and Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States of America. And we do hope that GSA Administrator Murphy will legally do her job and ascertain the results of this election. You know, Margaret, I think it's important that folks at home understand that without ascertainment, there are key things that are not happening. Chief among them-- I just listened to your interview with Doctor Fauci. Chief among them is our ability to coordinate with current government officials, and really get inside the federal government and look under the hood of what's going on.


SYMONE SANDERS: A vaccine is coming very, very soon. A vaccine distribution will fall in the hands of a Biden administration.


SYMONE SANDERS: And with every-- every single moment that there is a delay of ascertainment, every single moment that our folks are not able to get into and work with current government officials, puts the effective distribution of that vaccine in danger.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're an adviser to the vice president-elect. Will she be in charge of the administration's COVID task force as the current vice president is?

SYMONE SANDERS: Well, Margaret, I don't want to get ahead of the president-elect or the vice president-elect on announcements of portfolios, but I can absolutely assure you that she has been a key partner with the president-elect throughout this transition. As you probably have heard already we will be announcing-- the President-elect and the Vice President-elect will be announcing some of their first cabinet picks this Tuesday. And they have really dug in on this partnership. So you can bet, obviously, COVID-19 will be a day-one goal and focus of this administration and the Vice President-elect will be a key partner in that work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will we get an answer to that question Tuesday? You said picks plural.

SYMONE SANDERS: Picks, yes, there will be cabinet nominations-- picks on Tuesday. I don't-- I can't tell you right now how--


SYMONE SANDERS: --many or who, but I can tell you that the President-elect is starting to put together his cabinet. And the American people will see the first glimpse of that on Tuesday.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about COVID. As you said, the Biden administration will have to distribute the bulk of these doses of a vaccine. Vice-- the Vice-- the President-elect, I should say, was critical of the Trump administration's current plan to use commercial entities, retailers, dozens of pharmacies to distribute the vaccine. He said this week there are a lot of them that aren't in rural communities and are not located in poor communities, African-American and Latino communities. What alternative is he proposing to distribute the vaccine?

SYMONE SANDERS: Well, Margaret, when-- the President-elect, frankly, has keyed in on a weakness that we've seen within the Trump administration, which is when it comes to distribution, whether we were talking about personal protective equipment or those PPP funds for small businesses in our country, it has not gotten to the folks that need it the most. So, it-- it should not be lost on folks that, look, it is rural communities, it is urban communities--


SYMONE SANDERS: --African-American and Latino communities, Native American communities who are most-- being hit hardest by this virus. And so in a Biden-Harris administration, that vaccination distribution plan will be one that doesn't just lean on these outside commercial companies, but really puts together a-- a plan from-- centered in the federal government on how to reach the folks that need it most.


SYMONE SANDERS: I go back, though, Margaret, to my previous note about the lack of GSA ascertainment.


SYMONE SANDERS: You know, I wish I could tell you about the distribution plan that we have set up with current government officials, but I can't because we don't have ascertainment. Therefore, those conversations are not happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we look forward to the answer to that question. Thank you, Symone Sanders, for joining us today.

We'll be back in a moment with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: With millions of Americans out of work this Thanksgiving because of COVID, and their government benefits soon expiring at the end of the year, you should consider donating, perhaps, to an organization helping those in need. For information on where you could contribute, go to Remember, we're all in this together.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a report from our Liz Palmer about coronavirus cases around the world, as well as former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, and the CEO of CVS Health will also join us. That's Larry Merlo. We'll also be joined later in the show by former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. Around the world, the numbers of coronavirus infections now more than fifty-eight million, along with deaths nearly 1.4 million people are staggering. CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports from London.

ELIZABETH PALMER (CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent/@ CBSLizpalmer): Good morning. Besides the United States, there are two other countries on Earth that have now registered more than six million COVID cases. They are Brazil and India. And in both those countries, the infection is still growing.

(Begin VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: Funeral fires in New Delhi burn non-stop. Two weeks after the main Hindu celebration of Diwali with its huge festive gatherings, infection rates have surged. That's a lesson to western leaders struggling with plans for a COVID-safe Christmas. It's a big worry as the virus gathers force in Europe. In Liverpool, in Britain, the military joined a vast trial of new rapid tests. If they work well, the idea is to test everyone in England every week. European ICU beds, especially in France and Switzerland, are filling up. And says the WHO's Doctor Hans Kluge, the numbers are alarming.

DR. HANS KLUGE: That is one person dying every seventeen seconds in the European region from COVID-19.

ELIZABETH PALMER: Sweden is no exception. It started out as an outlier over the summer with light restrictions that led Swedish carry on socializing mask free, but the experiment has failed. Infections hit a record high this week and deaths are spiking, too. At the same time, the world's hopes are focused on the vaccine. Here is a shipment of China's arriving in Brazil, where it's being tested. The data so far show it is safe but not as effective as the two American/European front-runners.

(Man speaking foreign language)

ELIZABETH PALMER: Meanwhile, world leaders gathered this week on the mother of all Zoom calls in a virtual G20 meeting. They pledged fair distribution of COVID vaccine to poorer countries like Iran, where CBS traveled earlier this month to witness the deadly toll of an infection out of control. But in spite of international goodwill, in countries like this, that will rely on the World Health Organization for vaccines, 2021 is already shaping up to other lethal year.

(End VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: Here in the U.K., the results are in on another front-runner vaccine being developed at Oxford University with the drug company AstraZeneca. The data show that it does produce a strong immune response even in old people. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Liz Palmer, thank you.

We go now to former FDA Commissioner Doctor Scott Gottlieb, who joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Doctor Gottlieb is a board member at Pfizer, which has just applied for FDA emergency approval of its vaccine. Good morning to you.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, MD (Former FDA Commissioner/@ScottGottliebMD): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let's start on that vaccine. You heard Doctor Fauci say life probably won't go back to normal in May, but he did seem to agree with the timeline that around that time frame, that's when the vaccine will be widely available. What do you know about that distribution plan?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, the supply is going to be limited in 2020. As we get into 2021, there'll be much more supply. And I think by the second quarter of 2021, maybe into the third quarter, we'll have a vaccine that hopefully will be licensed for general use if everything goes well and the data continues to support the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine. And we'll be able to vaccinate the public or a good portion of the public heading into the fall of 2021. I think 2021 is going to be a much different year with COVID with the combination of the vaccine and other therapeutics, the therapeutic antibodies that will be in wider supply in 2021. What we really need to get through is the next two or three months. And what I would say to the American people is there's light at the end of the tunnel right now. Try not to be the person who gets infected in the last two or three months of the acute phase of this pandemic. We protected ourselves for nine months. We have two or three months to go before we have technological solutions that are going to dramatically lower the risk. We need to just get through a very difficult period right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just to clarify your timeline, when you're talking about second or third quarter, you're saying it's really not until April, May, June, maybe later that your average healthy person can go get a shot in the arm? Correct?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think that's prob-- I think that's probably right, the emergency use authorization will be for a limited population this winter. I think what will happen is the-- the companies are likely to file amendments to expand the eligible population as supply expands. So think of the initial population maybe being elderly people who are in institutional settings like nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Then you expand it maybe to elderly people who might be living at home, and then you start expanding it down the age cohorts. So you basically walk it down the risk-benefit continuum. But the point at which it's going to be broadly licensed for that healthy thirty-year-old, that's probably second quarter of 2021, maybe early third quarter if things go well. But that's okay because we're likely to have a quiescent spring and summer because we're going to be getting off a very dense epidemic this winter. And what you really want is a vaccine broadly available in time for the fall COVID season. Also, remember, we don't need to vaccinate seventy percent of the public because by the time we get through this winter, probably thirty percent of the public will have had COVID. So they'll have some natural immunity. So what you need to do is get some percentage of the people who haven't already had the infection vaccinated and ideally some of the people who have had the infection to basically double down on their immunity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know if there are adverse reactions to the vaccine? And once you get it, will you have to go back and get it every single year?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: We don't know yet. I think initially it's probably going to be given on a general schedule until we learn more about the real-world benefits of the vaccine and how much it cuts down on transmission of the virus. You know, does it just prevent you from getting COVID symptoms or does it actually prevent you from getting the infection and spreading the infection? That's one of the things we're going to need to determine about the vaccine and how long the immunity is. There is some data that suggests the immunity is fairly durable. It might last longer than a year, but we just don't know that yet. And we're not going to know it probably at the time that this gets authorized. So, my guess is it's going to be an annual vaccination for a period of time until we learn more. As far as the safety profile, the safety profile has been good in the clinical trials. Most adverse events related to vaccines happen within the first forty days or first two months of vaccination. But we're not going to know the full profile until you have that long-term follow-up data.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: And that's why the FDA is taking a prudent approach here. And they're not going to probably generally license this vaccine until they have six or eight months of long-term follow-up data on the patients who have been vaccinated in the trial, as well as those that they follow who get vaccinated now over the course of the next several months.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Key point for those who hear this may be available next month, it won't actually be widely available for some time. I want to play for you something President Trump said from the White House podium on Friday. And I'd like to get your reaction.

(Begin VT)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You wouldn't have a vaccine if it weren't for me for another four years because FDA would have never been able to do what they did, what I forced them to do.

(End VT)


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think the FDA moved with a lot of speed here. And they worked very closely with the manufacturers. I have no indication that the White House forced them to do that. I think this was the public health mindedness of that agency in recognizing the urgency. I know they engaged very closely with the manufacturers, including Pfizer, which I'm on the board of, as you mentioned, and that certainly helped accelerate these development programs. I don't think anybody was forced to do anything here. I think everyone worked together very hard in collaboration. This was an unprecedented collaboration between the government and private industry because everyone recognized the urgency.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just back to your broader point, because Doctor-- what Doctor Fauci was saying carefully, he was clearly issuing a warning of what we need to prepare for over the next few weeks. We've talked a lot about progress that has been made in medical research and therapeutics and vaccines. But at what point does that progress get just overwhelmed by the infection rate? I mean, do we-- do we wipe out that progress just because it's so widespread?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, the problem is that the progress isn't going to be widely accessible over the course of time that we-- we're going to be getting through the acute phase of this pandemic and really the worst phase of this pandemic. What's going to happen over the next four or six weeks is largely baked in. And the spread is going to be so diffuse around the country that the federal government's not going to be able to backstop local regions who are going to be facing very unprecedented situations. You know, there will be therapeutics available and vaccination available probably to help on the tail end of what we're going to go through. But we're going to have to go through this the old-fashioned way. We're going to have to, you know, hunker down, reduce our interactions, wear masks more aggressively, higher quality masks. Right now, to contextualize this for the individual, the prevalence is about 1.5 percent. That means if you-- if you're in a restaurant with fifty people, there's a fifty percent chance nationally that someone has COVID in that restaurant. In North Dakota, where infection rates are higher, if you're in a group of ten people, there's a fifty percent chance that someone in that group of ten people has COVID. That's the kind of risk we're facing individually right now. And that's only going to get worse.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying hospitals are going to get overwhelmed?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Hospitals have a lot of ability to create new beds. They've-- they have figured out how to surge capacity. Where they're going to get overwhelmed, where they're going to get stretched is on personnel. What we were able to do during this spring wave and then again the wave in the summer was surge health care personnel into those regions to backstop the hospitals--


SCOTT GOTTLIEB: --to allow them to create new beds. So the hospitals can create new beds, they just won't have the people to staff them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor Gottlieb, thank you for your analysis.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: CVS Pharmacy is one of the locations where Americans will eventually be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes widely available. CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo joins us this morning from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Good morning.

LARRY MERLO (President and CEO of CVS Health/@LarryMerloCVS): Morning, Margaret. Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I'd love to get your insight for the American people on what they can expect. We hear from the U.S. government, from Operation Warp Speed Commander General Perna, that a vaccine can be distributed within twenty-four hours of approval to all fifty states. We know the elderly are likely to be among the first to receive it. And I know your company has contracts to give those shots in the arms inside long-term care facilities. What is the time frame? When you receive it from the U.S. government, how long before there's a shot in the arm?

LARRY MERLO: Yeah, Margaret, it's a great question. And we have been working closely with Operation Warp Speed and the CDC for several months now. And, you know, our first involvement in terms of administering the vaccine will be in long-term care facilities. That is not anything that is new for us. Our pharmacists, our nursing professionals, have gone to skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities for several years now, conducting seasonal flu clinics. So, we have the systems. We have the processes.


LARRY MERLO: We have built the logistics directly for the COVID vaccine. And we just received information within the last few days that more than twenty-five thousand long-term care facilities have selected CVS to be their COVID vaccine provider. So, we're in the final step of matching our staffing plan to our logistics plan. And, to your point, Operation Warp Speed has said twenty-four hours after approval, those vaccines will be on the road. And forty-eight hours after we receive that vaccine, we'll be in those facilities providing that vaccine into the arms of our elderly, our most vulnerable population.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, for someone at home who has a loved one inside a nursing home right now, when they hear the FDA approval happens, what can they expect? Within three days, their loved one will get a shot in the arm?

LARRY MERLO: Yeah, we will be starting that process. And, you know, it-- it-- we will go to each of the facilities that have selected CVS. We will be performing three clinics over a-- over a three to six week period.


LARRY MERLO: But, you know, we will be starting that process, as I mentioned, within forty-eight hours.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. You're hiring thousands of people to do all of this work. Who's actually administering the shots? Are these pharmacists? Are these interns? Who are they?

LARRY MERLO: Yeah. They-- they will be pharmacists, along with pharmacy interns and licensed pharmacy technicians, who collectively-- those will be the professionals that will be administering the vaccines all across the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And will CVS employees who are giving the vaccine also be among the first to receive it themselves?

LARRY MERLO: Well, we will await for guidance from-- from the CDC in terms of, you know, the various protocols in terms of the phases and who's eligible for those phases.


LARRY MERLO: And, you know, we will certainly be involved when it's our turn.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Have you briefed the incoming Biden administration on the plans that you know so far? And I understand you're saying you're still waiting on a lot of this information yourself, but what kind of contact have you had?

LARRY MERLO: Yeah, we have reached out to the-- to the Biden COVID task force. We've talked about the role that we have been playing in fighting the virus, the role that we played in-- in-- in testing all across the country, the fact that we've now tested more than seven million Americans for-- for COVID. The plans that we have to play an important role in administering the vaccine, and the fact that, you know, we have ten thousand pharmacies--


LARRY MERLO: --about seventy percent of the U.S. population lives within a few miles of a CVS Pharmacy. But, you know, equally important, we have built mobile kiosks where with testing, we have gone into historically underserved communities to, you know, bring access to COVID testing. We'll do the same thing with the vaccine, and-- and-- and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean, temporary facilities?

LARRY MERLO: Yeah, think of a-- think of a mobile trailer, that, you know, we can put on wheels, and, you know, take it to a particular location to provide testing availability. And we'll be doing the same thing to administer vaccines at the appropriate time when the vaccine becomes available. And, you know, we've also talked to the-- to the Biden team about our commitment to work with them in terms of ensuring that, you know, we work together to make health care more accessible and more affordable.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, because when the Vice President-- the-- the President-elect said that he doesn't fully endorse the plan to use commercial retailers, grocery stores, pharmacies to distribute, because he thinks underserved communities will be overlooked. Do you think there is a blind spot there?

LARRY MERLO: Margaret, for us, there is not. You know, as I mentioned, seventy percent of the population lives within a few miles of a CVS Pharmacy. And, you know, we have worked with state officials in terms of bringing testing to underserved communities where we may not have--


LARRY MERLO: --a CVS Pharmacy today.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. How stretched are you when it comes to testing demand now? I know if I'm asymptomatic, I can't get a test.

LARRY MERLO: Yeah, Margaret. We have come a long way from that very first testing site in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, back in March. We now have forty-three hundred testing sites up, most at CVS Pharmacy drive-through locations. We have seen the demand for testing increase substantially over the last ten days, and we're continuing to roll out additional testing sites. We'll have more than five thousand within the next two or three weeks, including about a thousand point-of-care testing sites where we'll use the antigen test that will provide real-time results in about thirty minutes. And customers can go to, put in--


LARRY MERLO: --their ZIP code, and find a testing site that's nearest-- nearest to them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But if you haven't had contact with someone who's COVID positive and you're not sick yourself, can I still go in and get a test?

LARRY MERLO: You can. And we have leveraged our-- our digital capabilities where we've created a seamless experience for, you know, customers to fill out a simple questionnaire and, you know, that will determine their eligibility to--


LARRY MERLO: --you know, schedule an appointment for a COVID test.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mister Merlo, thank you very much.

We'll be back in a moment with former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to President Trump's former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. The retired Army general has a new book, "Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World." Good morning to you.

H.R. MCMASTER (Former National Security Adviser/Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World): Good morning, Margaret. Great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to have you. Joe Biden is the President-elect. President Trump has no viable legal pathway to litigate his way to two hundred and seventy electoral votes. But he continues to raise doubts about the election and to sow doubt among the American public. How corrosive is that to our national security?

H.R. MCMASTER: Well, it's-- it's very corrosive, Margaret. And what-- what concerns me is that the President's kind of playing into the hands of our adversaries. You know what, what I write about in "Battlegrounds" is how Russia really doesn't care who wins our elections as long as a large number of Americans doubt the legitimacy of the result. And I think what all of us need to do at this point is to demand better from our political leaders, in this case, especially the President, that they don't play into our adversaries' hands and-- and-- and divide us further and reduce our confidence in our Democratic principles and institutions and processes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The President fired Chris Krebs, the official in charge of election security in the past few days after he said there was no evidence any U.S. voting system was compromised. That contradicted the President's legal team. Krebs called that press conference this week the most dangerous hour and forty-five minutes in American history and possibly the craziest. Is he overstating it?

H.R. MCMASTER: I think he's overstating it. We should be confident. Now, of course, I think it was just a travesty to fire Chris Krebs, because really what the administration should have done is taking credit for the vast improvements that the Trump administration made in our election security since 2016. Chris Krebs was a big part of a comprehensive effort to do so. But hey, Margaret, it's Thanksgiving week. We should be thankful for the framers of our Constitution because they designed our form of government based on what they saw as worst-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios based on the bloody wars in England--


H.R. MCMASTER: --in the seventeenth century. And so we have in place a transition that will occur without really the-- the say of the executive branch. Right? The President doesn't get a say in the transition itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Afghanistan. I know you feel strongly about the conflict there and our troops who continue to serve. This week, President Trump halved the number of U.S. troop presence from forty-five hundred down to twenty-five hundred by mid-January, even though violence is spiking, even though the Taliban has not cut ties with al Qaeda. Is the President handing the Taliban a victory on the way out the door?

H.R. MCMASTER: Yes, Margaret. In fact, what I think President Trump has done is paradoxically doubled down on all the flaws of the Obama administration approach to Afghanistan by conjuring up the enemy we would prefer, instead of the actual enemies that we are facing in Afghanistan. An enemy that-- that-- who-- if they win, if the Taliban establishes control of large parts of-- of Afghanistan, give safe haven and support base to terrorist organizations who want to commit mass murder against us on the scale of 9/11, we will be far less safe and-- and vulnerable to these groups. And I think what happened is the prioritization of withdrawal over our interests led to us actually empowering the Taliban. I mean, if we were going to leave, just leave, but don't force the Afghan government to release five thousand of the most heinous people on Earth. Don't-- don't-- don't make this assumption--


H.R. MCMASTER: --that there is this bold line between the Taliban and these other terrorist organizations. Hey, we saw today with these rocket attacks in Kabul and-- and the images of-- of hundreds of young girls fleeing these-- these rocket attacks. We saw it with, you know, an attack on a maternity hospital where they gunned down pregnant mothers and-- and killed infants. We saw on the attack of-- on the American University in-- in Afghanistan. I mean, what does power sharing with the Taliban look like? Does that mean every other girl school is bulldozed? Does that mean there are mass executions in the soccer stadium every other Saturday? I think it's-- it's abhorrent what we're doing. And-- and I hope that-- that a Biden administration will reassess based again on what's--


H.R. MCMASTER: --in it for us. I mean, Margaret--


H.R. MCMASTER: --this is not a theoretical case, right? We know what happened on 9/11.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, the conflict to come with China. You were the architect of the Trump strategy. Is Joe Biden inevitably headed for conflict with China?

H.R. MCMASTER: No, and I think what the Trump administration has done is really set us up to-- to be competitive with China. And this should be a form of transparent competition. We know that the assumption on which previous China policy was based was flawed. Right? That China, having been welcomed into the international order, would play by the rules and as it prospered, it would liberalize its economy and liberalize its form of government.


H.R. MCMASTER: The exact opposite is happening. And so it's important to compete as a way to avoid a confrontation with China.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. H.R. McMaster, good to get your insights. Thank you.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us. Thank you for watching. And today is a sad day here at FACE THE NATION, because its senior producer Cat Reynolds-- Catherine Reynolds' last broadcast at CBS. We want to thank her for all of her hard work. Wish her luck in the future. I will miss you, Cat. We all will miss you.

And for the rest of you, have a safe Thanksgiving, please. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.

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