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tv   Brendan Borrell The First Shots  CSPAN  February 23, 2022 7:01pm-7:31pm EST

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in the news including a conversation with authors of book in elections and also hearing from abc news chief washington correspondent jonathan carl, on his book betrayal, the final act of the truck show and author john mcwhorter talks about new religion and betrayed black america and books on current affairs all day tomorrow, here and "c-span2". and we continue with our look at technology and science. >> , reported the new york times and really happy to be here tonight to talk with brendan borrell, my friend and fellow journalist about his new book, "the first shots". >> either. >> it is amazing it to have you with us and your telling of what happened behind the scenes and learned so much reading the book and tell me a little bit about how you gotot started it and abt
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the genesis of the book and when did you first come up with the idea and why this. >> well, as we all experience in the beginning of 2020, he was a very chaotic and a confusing time and am a freelance journalist for magazines and i was planning on a year in this pandemic it was unfolding and basically my project that get pushed down the line as i traveled that is booted to the screens and reading quite often your articles. you are in the thick of it. and here i am remote freelancer to figure out how i contributed my skills to the project and i think this is the first step from you was that i hold up in all sorts of mind, the doctor for massachusetts general hospital's michael, and he is like this infectious disease guy who is dropping into rooms all over the world and, i'm thinking
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this guy was onto something interesting and i finally reached him and he said that you know, i just got back from wuhan i'm working for the trump administration i said okay, i'm going to keep talking to you predict. >> that is amazing at a he's a really interesting. are any start of the book with him and he really takes you into the action right away so that was a really great choice. and even you said, that you are reading a lot of my articles but it was crazy to be writing those articles because we were learning about covid-19 every single day and so how did you make this changing on a daily basis and how you could gather your information at things were changing on a daily and hourly and weekly basis. >> it was very hard for me to set aside what to focus on.
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so i talked to callahan, and then i started to write a few essays here and there and by march and april, we know that the only way to in this pandemic or to reduce the mortality was a vaccine. but even then, this landscape was changing fast and as a basic science, much of which was as a science journalist but i do not cover immunology in the technology and all that and i had to learn it when antibodies were and how b they were create. but yeah, the vaccine landscape was crazy, backpay then then everything 250 companies are working on the vaccine and the operation warp speed and been announced at i signed a contract with a publisher that i was going to somehow deliver a book. and i needed to just sort of put out by peelers and figure out what direction it was going to give me a story, a story that was going to kind of be timely
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but i think i can say that because i wanted something that people would be reading it two years later and still get something out of it read and that was a challenge printed. >> i think you deliver on that because behind-the-scenes look at how we got to the vaccines is so interesting it and wanting to learn about that for quite a long time card when you said that you had to learn about immunology and biology and a lot of us, i didn't really know much about the cells when a i started either. but given this information that was coming out of so quickly, how did you even report and as you would alone, figuring out what comes first, whatt comes second in the vaccines and tons ofof candidates and colleagues t the time created vaccine tracker i think 95 percent of those were thrown by the wayside. how did you come in on pfizer
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and moderna and i did you figure that out. >> the first thing that i dididt after finding my publishing contract was that i was putting out feelers to the big players. in hindsight, we see that to the first companies that i reached out to come they were not successful and is also looking at small companies i just thought that is really neat. i thought that when i started this that i was going to try to get in the room with some of these companies i was going to try to go to the meetings and experience things in real time when i was completely shut out and there's that kind of a sort of negative attitude that you have to have this reporter which is already can do this and among the biggest story of my life i'm going to succeed and the doors were shut we all know that moderna was the greatest company and i remember just beingik frustrated every time reached
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out and getting a quote from somewhere else and then so it became a like how to get the information that i need and step-by-stepep i started buildig it sources within the government with operation warp speed in the company said there talking with the government e-mails andnd the are no two people who want to tell the story ended that became my way and and that became a thread inbo my book which is kid of the story recreation collaboration warp speed and incredibly historic public-private partnership. >> how did you do that, first of all to talk to you and how did you make sure and they told you what happened in such colorful detailed ways because we know that the scientist in the government people can be kind og boring so how did you manage to
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convince them to be colorful. >> it was a long process and i remember beginning this how my going to make the vaccine development and regulatory process interesting without being la and i was getting the doors my face and i was not going to be a fly on the wall for conversations. i had to get the information over the fact.wo and until every once in a while i would meet somebody say hey, i'm notes from that meeting i would you like to take pictures of my calendar and gradually things open up more and more after the vaccine got approved in november of 2020, then with that administration in 2021, then the doors relate open in terms of sourcing. and i think as you know well, one source leads to another and we sort of develop a
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relationship but some people towards the pending gear like michael callahan eventually led me to health and human services, they weren't giving those details that i craved with somebody in the room so it wasn't you know, just brute force of like i'm going to do dthis and i need to go back to this person i need to get the documentation of that and somehow managed to pull it off. pull itnk you more than off and really has a sense of gripping stories that developing it, very fast pace and actually part of it is also an insanely hot process so we have not seen vaccines come out this quickly and can you talk a little bit about that and how i think a lot of the generalia public maybe doesn't fully appreciate howly
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quickly this happened and to get these amazingly good vaccines until it's a little bit about that. >> we all know that we were told early on the pandemic you know would be the need a vaccine we do is not going to be for 18 months, and the doctor was talking about the very early in the spring of 2020 is working at the leading vaccine t developers and felt sort of had this pessimism about the timeline and even i going into this, i sort of started with the launch of operation warp speed and we heard this bold timeline going to deliver over 300 million doses by the end of 2020. and there was you know scientists respected scientistse people who have developed vaccines in the past aghast at that idea and yeah, i think we
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didn't realize what slows down the vaccine development is kind of the regulatory process inn te money in the company's wanting to take the risk and the sort of moved some of those hurdles out of the way and combine that with good scientific luck which i think the board was very interested in hearing aboutut it somehow and a possible timeline made it possible these vaccines, so much research and number one, we had the success of the mrna platform which had been under development for a dream for 20 years or 30 years, under development at dr. anthony fauci for ten and sort of this packaged and through how you actually get this mrna vaccine and construction into the body cells where they can stimulate
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the immune system to try to that response. all of the stuff was just kind of like on path the moment the pandemic broke out, if this was a year to earlier, we would be still waiting think in the second thing this will kind of lucky with this coronavirus because of her people who are concerned about coronavirus, a small group of people admittedly, the first outbreaks 20 years ago and then also watching what was happening with these other related coronavirus is and this was a lot of research going into understanding these viruses manipulating them and realizing it the coronavirus was going to be ideal target to go for and i was already to go right there in the beginning of 2020 so we kind of lucked out in that department is welcome the scientific it revelatory and then if you put
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ar$10 billion down, you can see this quite easily but of course people want to have a safe vaccine made them very nervous we've seen that people tell me all of the time these vaccines were developed into quickly andt approved it too quickly. and i think that one of the things that i try to do in the book is to t our people through how these tough decisions were made. >> i think that one of the things that made people more nervous with the name there was a fun story behind that so maybe you can tell us about that at operation warp speed how they came to be. something that youn' should entrust back. >> the warp speed name got a lot of issues so yeah, i think it is kind of funnyny because warp spd is associated with the trump administration anything oh yeah, this thing but it's actually his
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name comes from the vaccine regulator who is one of the architects behind the idea of warp speed, star trek fan any kind of code-named his project project warp speed but the funny thing is, nice with the administration generally like thee name. then these other ideas, manhattan project two-point oh and then were going to call it something else and warp speed was about to be announced. an biden was giving an interview and referred to inke apollo like when shot for vaccine is necessary and suddenly, the politicos were like we can't use that moonshot name so public affairsn guy and health departments i'm in a meeting is in hate and what did you call and he said warp speed night ended up in a new story every
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day, named on the spot. >> was really kind of creative anything about it because the people who thought is put together like drug names are which are flashy committees and focus groups. but start track so a funny anecdote and so much lately because he is now number two had the fda and the make many decisions about boostersac and vaccines which we will talk about a bit more but he said oh yeah they didn't really succeed there is soor much that had to e done for us to get to these mrna vaccines and were so lucky. why is it so difficult to make vaccines and there aren't a lot of companies that make them, a lot of them are actually in india.f but the rest of the world, there hasn't been this really strong tradition of making vaccines inn the last few decades why is
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that. >> i think the reputation within the pharmacy industry is that they are not and apart from the seasonal flu vaccine and a few infectious diseases out there and emerging disease like the coronavirus, or a able like outbreaks disappears before you have it population to test on in order to test vaccine you actually have to have people that are at risk of catching a disease and you might say a safe but i don't actually know how effective it is that ultimately you don't have anybody to sell it to so much of the vaccine research and academic laboratories, nonprofit institutions, and only later on someone picked up by a pharmaceutical company which they actually know how to make a vaccine and make it to the
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standard that we needed to get approved through the fda as the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, i described in my book as these manufacturers were there in early january and everybody seen in the news about wuhan and they just wanted to talk but theac flu vaccine in americans savories going to watch and see what happens and of course there were negotiations happening and pfizer salicylate told them that the biotech partner in germany, the know we don't think that we're going to develop a covid-19 vaccine lineup of course they were able to and that was a big story is that pfizer actually did step into the game that the other companies, they lost little boy have been for pfizer one of the biggest - so it makes you wonder
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about that sort of it, and view the vaccines are not common been actually maybe are one is working on the book, brendan borrell actually get the data to look at how much the companies profit, that was actually pretty tough. that you're going to make money from rare diseases and f cancer medicines but clearly a big disease like this is a good example. >> even if they have all of the intentions of having that market is sose important because specially diseases are much bigger problem. and recently run about that malaria vaccine, 230 years there almost no players in that the financing is going to be so difficult pretty basically, committed to buying millions of doses so the kids can live in the severity and it's great when
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they work out for us but it doesn't seem like a set up to help people when it does not affect the entire world. >> the other example is the hiv vaccine which is been such a scientific challenge it then that is a much more difficult disease. and covid-19. and i just want to go back as a kind of white the vaccines are difficult to develop which is you know going back to those issues y with medicine and givig the medicine a to people who are already second there is a lower bar than your giving something to have the people a lot more people at potential disease and then a rare side effect is a problem and i think that scares away a w lot of the vaccine maks and we know that the vaccines resistance is actually real dent in the market because like the lyme disease vaccine at full from the market years ago some
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unsubstantiated process. >> it doesn't seem like companies really want to wait into those territories if there is all of this resistance and how much about is available i mean are there safety issues with vaccines are there any big problems that we just don't know about. >> there are very very mean thed coronavirus vaccine, you've seen it did command that the cdc has been telling that bad millions of doses that have been deployed in a few hundred cases very rare of most of which result in their own and you're probably more aware of these latest numbers. >> yes it's very hard problem with the covid-19 vaccines we atlly nothing many problems all and some young women but rare so il extremely think the covid-19 vaccines been
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very lucky in the vaccines actually much safer than some of the drugs we take that strong side effects pretty but as you said the people sentence was strong psychological barrier against taking something monastic. we all live with this but they say it's not going to happen to me i'm not going to get it and i'm going to be fine i just wanted takef the chance i think there a lot of people think that way. that's certainly why that they been so strong because so many people don't take it very seriously in the mrna vaccine, the safety protocol seems to be great had other infectious disease, there's a lot of excitement about these now for hiv would you mention it in fore malaria which i was talking about earlier braided in this particular topic, when you think the vaccines something that you
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learn in this book that you think the people should know. >> i think there were a couple of things,be number one, the dramas in the book that i found very fascinating it had that much coverage is how you pull off a vaccine trial in a pandemic and how do you plan it during this whole process of the possibilities that the disease will vanish before you have a chance to test it in one of the details that i loved and covering this was the national advising on trials they actually had an ethical console about running the trial in prisons which were experiencing terrific outbreaks and you thought this could be a way that he could goe very quickly test the vaccine it and remember we were hearing about the challenges, the great number of people were thinking that would be the most efficient way. actually nationally happening.
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and we didn't need to use all of these tools because covid-19 spread across the country and is clear to everybody is getting to them quickly t and i think that the tools that were developed in terms of tracking and spreading the disease, the potentially ulvery useful running trials ona very fast timeline it with other emerging it and i hope there's lessons i hope they are shared no politics reporter and barely knew if our government how it worked when i started this and i just found myself so impressed by like the dedicated civil servant at all levels uneven i daresay political appointees. often not very glorified and there is so much passionate and you must've experiences talking
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to people that crisis just brings together people can also divides them in certain ways and i learned so much talking to the civil service. >> it was very striking about the pandemic, the fda and people are generally in the post office and they follow all of the rules but during the pandemic, 70 of them were willing to talk to the press because they felt things were being done that they completely disagreed with predict i was impressed with aithat they were help demoralize the media because all of the work was being warped and destroyed by the trump administration it and getting all of this political interference including written to say something that they would never stand behind and many of them did not want to quit, they
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wanted to quit but they decided no, i'm actually needed here even though i am unhappy. even though i'm miserable i want to stay and serve my country and i think that such a very powerful thing to see and you said the cdc a lot of them were actually commissioned and part of the military and officers they had this really strong sense of service which i didn't fully realize before the pandemic of how committed and how focused they are on the mission it is a very cool thing to see. >> there's been so much reporting the cdc and you mentioned that you reported and reported it that being alternate with the policies and then this year, going back to the vaccines we have, this interesting situation for the booster shot. in m the mean this is something that i really struggled with in the book was understanding what is political interference. there's a sort of divide the see
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how the administration deep operational that the accounting of scientific it and i wonder you have a clear view of the topic and considering your reporter. >> i thinkbe of always seen political interference in every administration just a matter of degree in this to get off to a new level, and it was political interference in the event that people would say one thing and they were completely overwhelmed and doing something entirely different in the testing is that you mention for example, neuroscientists working very hard on a document and then a sensually the deputy help in the services secretary came in and then backed up as if it hadn't been written by the cdc scientists predict i was one extreme a political interference where they got completely railroaded and the biden administration and is different
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some ways i think the end result is similar for they got so far ahead of the boosters that invited said boosters for everyone before the site is headache chance to review anything and so is like they couldn't posted anything else, had to be met the boosters because otherwise it would've created a lot of confusion and shown some level of dissension within the government and you know, uncomfortable not justci e administration but all citizens. to believe the white house, the fda and so you know one of the things that been really fascinated by the last few weeks to months is an individually, thesee advisors, the vast majority of them do not believe that boosters are required for those under 65 and yet we have seen unanimous vote go through to say yes.
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it salutes a bit confusing and i think that is a different kind of political interference we basically they tied their hands without meaning to perhaps maybe it was intentional sort of made it clear that that is what happened. >> and is been incredible and frustrating for me this for my book in this in may of 2021. but i think that it is put me in this interesting position people are always asking me to get a booster or not. >> how did you come down on that. >> i say will if you got the moderna shot you could way because we've seen communities in them moderna shot last a little bit longer. but it was striking to me how
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much pfizer was pushing very early on to be part of the conversation and, i mean, pfizer has done very well i will say that. >> extremely well they pulled way ahead of the competition it they just keep going, the kids in the boosters they were so far ahead of all of the other icompanies. some worked out very well for them and is a really good place to end this conversation because i think it illustrates really something that your book is highly entertaining and that true brendan borrell style of writing thank you for answering all of my prying questions. >> thank you for chatting with me. >> weekends on "c-span2" are an intellectual feast, every saturday he'll find events and people that explore our nations
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pass in american history tv, and on sundays book tv into the latest nonfiction books and authors, television for serious readers, learn, discover, explore. weekends on "c-span2". >> .. ♪ ♪ book a tv continues tomorrow when we focus on topics that are in the news. including a conversation with john fund, authors of our broken elections. we'll also hear from abc news chief washington correspondent jonathan karl and his book, betrayal. the


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