Skip to main content

tv   Brendan Borrell The First Shots  CSPAN  February 24, 2022 7:29am-8:01am EST

7:29 am
today. >> more booktv later today when we focus on topics in the news including a conversation with john fund, author of our broken election and from abc news chief washington correspondent jonathan karl on his book betrayal:the final act of the trump show. and woke racism, a new religion as betrayed black america. books on current affairs all they starting at 8:00 am eastern on c-span 2. we look at technology and science. >> i am happy to be here tonight to talk with my fellow science journalist brendan borrell about his new book "the first shots". it is amazing to read your
7:30 am
telling of what happened behind the scenes was i learned so much reading your book was how do you get started? when did you first come up with the idea and why this? >> experience in the beginning of 2020. it is a confusing time. i was planning when this pandemic was unfolding of all my projects got pushed down the line and i was glued to the screen reading quite often your articles. you were in the thick of it and here i am a remote freelancer trying to figure out how to contribute my skills to this project and the first step was calling up an old source of mine, doctor from massachusetts
7:31 am
hospital named michael callahan, a swashbuckling infectious disease guy dropping into hot zones from all over the world. i read a profile of him 10 years earlier, he was doing something interesting. i finally reached him and he says i just got back from wuhan and i'm working for the trump administration. i will keep talking to you. >> a really interesting character and you started the book with him. it takes you into the action right away and you said you were reading a lot of my articles, it was crazy because we were learning about covid every day. how do you make the decision to cover something that was changing on a daily basis? >> it was very hard for me to
7:32 am
decide what to focus on. i talked to callahan and started writing a few essays here and there and by march and april, the only way to reduce the mortality was a vaccine but even then the landscape was changing fast. basic science, much of which was new to me. i'm a science journalist but don't cover immunology. i had to learn what antibodies were and how they were created. the vaccine landscape was crazy. they were saying 250 companies are working on the vaccine, operation warp speed had not been announced. i had agreed, sign a contract with the publisher to deliver a book and i needed to just sort
7:33 am
of put out my feelers and figure out what direction was going to give me a story that would stand the test of time because i wanted something people would be reading 2 years later and get something from it and that was a challenge. >> you deliver on that because the behind-the-scenes look at how we got to the vaccines is so interesting and people will want to learn about that for quite a long time. you said you had to learn about immunology but i didn't know much about t cells when i started writing about the virus either but given information that was coming at us so quickly, how did you do this as you went along, figuring out what comes first, what comes second, the vaccines, there were tons of candidates and my colleague at the time created a vaccine tracker, 95% have
7:34 am
fallen by the wayside. how did you come in on pfizer and motor in a? >> first thing i did was i was putting out feelers to the big players. and 9 site we see merck was not successful but those were two of the first companies i reached out to and i was looking at small companies that i thought this is really neat and when i started this i thought i was going to try to get in the room with these companies come into zoom meetings and experience things in real time but i was completely shut out. there is that save it until you make it attitude which is i can do this, i'm on the biggest story of my life and i will succeed and doors were being
7:35 am
shut, it is a very secretive company and i was frustrated, give a quote somewhere else and not talking to me so it became a strategic thing, how do i get the information i need and step-by-step i started building more and more sources within the government because companies were talking to the government and sending emails. they wanted to tell the story and that became my way in and the threat of the book which was the story of the creation of operation warp speed and this historic public-private partnership. >> how did you do that? how do you make sure they told you what happened in such colorful detailed way?
7:36 am
scientists and government people are dry and boring the? how did you convince them to be colorful? >> i remember thinking how am i going to make vaccine development and regulatory process interesting? i was getting the door slammed in my face which i was not going to be a fly on the wall so i had to reconstruct after the fact. i was at a loss until sometimes i would meet somebody who would say i have notes from that meeting or take pictures of my calendar. gradually things opened up after the vaccines got approved and then with the change in administration was when the
7:37 am
floodgates opened in terms of sourcing. one source leads to another, you develop a relationship. i had people like michael callahan who led me to health and human services, they were talking to me but not giving me details that i craved. it was force, i got to do this, i need to get some documentation and somehow managed to pull it off. >> it has that sense of a gripping story that is developing at a fast pace and that fast pace part of it is your writing style but also it was an insanely fast process. can you talk about that and how
7:38 am
a lot of the general public doesn't fully appreciate how quickly this happened and to get these amazingly good vaccines. >> we all know we were told early on in the pandemic we may not need a vaccine or it won't be for 18 months or two years. anthony felt he was talking about that timeline and working with one of the leading vaccine developers on the covid vaccine and they all had a sense of pessimism about the timeline and even i going into this i started with the launch of operation warp speed and we heard this bold timeline, we will deliver 300 million doses by the end of 2020. scientists who developed vaccines in the past were
7:39 am
aghast at that idea. i think we didn't realize how much vaccines element is the regulatory process, the money and the companies not wanting to take a risk. when you remove those hurdles and combine that with good scientific luck which people are interested in hearing about, that impossible timeline becomes possible. these vaccines would not have happened without so much research preceding the pandemic. we had the success of the mrna platform which was under development for 20 years, 30 years, under development at moderna from this lipid system
7:40 am
to how you get your mrna vaccine, genetic instructions come into the body cells where they stimulate the immune system to create that response. all of this was on tap. if this happened a year or two earlier we would still be waiting i think. the second thing is we were lucky was a coronavirus because there were people concerned about coronavirus's who had seen the first sars outbreak 20 years ago and watching what was happening with related coronavirus is. an ideal target, that will go
7:41 am
in the beginning of 2020. scientific regulatory and $10 billion down you can speed things up quite easily. people see that all the time, vaccines were developed too quickly, don't know if i trust them as one thing i try to do is walk people through how these decisions were made and what went into this. >> something that made people nervous was the name. is a fun story, tell us how operation warp speed came to be, sounds like something you shouldn't trust. >> the warp speed name has long issues. it is funny because warp speed is so associated with the trump
7:42 am
administration, this overblown thing but this name comes from the vaccine regulator peter marx, one of the architects behind the idea of warps become a star trek fan who codenamed his project, project warp speed the funny thing is the administration didn't like that name. they had other things, manhattan project 2.0 and apollo moonshot but the week before was announced, biden was giving an interview and referred to and apollo like moonshot for a vaccine is necessary and suddenly we can't use apollo moonshot so public affairs guy saw peter mark in the hallway and said what do you call it?
7:43 am
warp speed. that ended up in a bloomberg news story. it was named on the spot. >> people thought it was put together with flashy committee and focus groups but it was peter marks, a funny anecdote. peter marks has been in the news a lot. boosters and vaccines we will talk about but there was so much, so lucky. why is it so difficult to make vaccines? a lot of them are in india but
7:44 am
the rest of the world there hasn't been a strong tradition of making vaccines in the last few decades. >> they are not big winners. a few infectious, the coronavirus, it disappears. people are at risk of catching it. if it fades out, the vaccine is safe but don't know how effective it is. much research takes place in academic laboratories. with some luck it picked up
7:45 am
with pharmaceutical companies who make a vaccine, what we would get it through the fda. the end of the covid pandemic i describe in my book the scene at davo's where these major vaccine manufacturers are there and everyone is seeing the news about wuhan but they want to talk about their food vaccine. we will watch and see what happens. there were back channel negotiations, biotech partner in germany, we don't think we will do a vaccine but we were
7:46 am
able to have it. for pfizer, the biggest in 5 or 6 years, makes you wonder about the common view that vaccines are not moneymakers. making rare diseases, cancer medicine but a big disease like this is a good gamble. >> even if they have all the attentions, having that market, infectious diseases are a bigger problem. i recently wrote about the malaria vaccine at no players in that and even though they have it the financing will be
7:47 am
so difficult. it is a very messed up system. it is great that it worked out for us but doesn't seem set up to help people when it doesn't affect the entire world. >> the other example is the hiv vaccine, more difficult disease than covid and i want to go back to why vaccines are difficult to develop, back to the safety issues, you're giving a medicine to people who are already sick, there's a lower bar, you are giving it to a lot more people, even a rare side effect is a problem and that scares a lot of vaccinemaker's.
7:48 am
put a real dent in the market and lyme disease vaccine, unsubstantiated claims for side effects. >> it doesn't seem companies want to wade into those territories. how much of that, safety issues with vaccines are things we know about? >> we see the data coming in, millions of doses deployed, a few hundred cases, most resolve on their own. the latest numbers. >> with covid vaccines, with j
7:49 am
and j, they are extremely rare. of her vaccines are much safer than a lot of drugs with strong side effects which people have strong psychological barrier, we live with this uber is that it's not going to happen to me. a lot of people think that way. that's why the anti-vaccine is a strong, they don't take covid seriously. a lot of excitement about these, from malaria, with
7:50 am
vaccine development. what do you think public doesn't know about that you learned that you think you should know? >> number one, one of the dramas i found fascinating, that much coverage, how do you pull off a vaccine trial with this process, that the disease is going to vanish. the national institutes of health was advising on the operation warp speed trial, they talked about a terrific outbreak in prisons and this could be a way to test the vaccine.
7:51 am
we were hearing about challenges, that is the most efficient way to do it. this is naturally happening. we didn't need to use all these tools because covid spread through the summer and by early fall it was clear we wouldn't get an answer very quickly but the tools that were developed in terms of tracking of the spread of the disease, that could be useful on a very fast timeline with other emerging diseases. i'm not a politics reporter. i barely knew how government worked when i started this and i found myself so impressed by the dedicated civil servants at all levels, even political
7:52 am
appointees who are often not very glorified. there is so much passion you must of experienced, talking to people, crisis brings together people and also divides them in certain ways but i learned so much talking to civil servants. >> i think about the pandemic. i worked on the cdc and the fda and people in the press office follow all the rules but during the pandemic so many were willing to talk to the press, things were being done they disagreed with. i was impressed they felt they were being villain eyes to in the media, demoralized, treated poorly, their work was being destroyed by the trump administration come all this political interference, things
7:53 am
they wrote was being rewritten to something they would never stand behind but many want to quit but they decided i am more needed here even though i am unhappy and miserable. i want to stay and serve my country and that is a powerful thing to see all the civil servants, the cdc a lot of them are commissioned officers and they have this strong sense of service that i didn't fully realize before the pandemic how intensely focused they are on their mission. >> you have done so much reporting on the cdc, the guidance documents with respect to the testing policies and this year going back to the vaccines this interesting situation with booster shots. this is something i struggled
7:54 am
with. understanding what is political interference, this divide between how an administration is -- i wonder if you have a clear view of that topic? >> there is always political interference which is a matter of degrees and the trump administration took it to a new level. people would say one thing and were completely overruled and asked to do something different. the testing, there were scientists working hard on a document and essentially the deputy health and human services secretary rewrote the whole thing and i went up as if it was written by cdc
7:55 am
scientists. that's the one extreme of political interference where they were completely railroaded. the biden demonstration has been a little different, little subtler but the end result is similar in that they got so far ahead of the conversation on boosters, he said boosters for every one before federal scientists had a chance to review everything so they couldn't have said anything else, they had to authorize the boosters or they would have re-created confusion for the public and shown dissension that would have been uncomfortable, do you believe the white house for the fda? one of the things i have been fascinated by is individually when i talk to the advises the vast majority don't believe boosters are required for
7:56 am
anyone under 65 but unanimous vote after unanimous vote said let's have boosters for everybody. it is a little bit confusing and a different kind of political interference, maybe it was intentional but he made clear that is what would happen. >> the booster story has been incredible and frustrating for me since my book ended in may of 2021 but i think it put me in this interesting position that people ask me should i get a booster or not? >> where do you come down on that? >> i say if you got the moderna shot, wait a little longer.
7:57 am
we see evidence of immunity in that shot lasts longer. it was striking to me how much pfizer was pushing early on to make boosters part of the conversation. pfizer has played this game very well. >> extremely well. they pooled ahead of the competition and keep going with the kids, the boosters, so far ahead of the other companies and they have made record profits. it worked out very well for them. that's a good place to end this conversation. it illustrates that you learn a lot but it is highly entertaining and the true brendan borrell style of writing. thanks for answering my questions. >> at least six presidents
7:58 am
recorded conversations while in office would hear those conversations on c-span's new podcast, present a record is. >> season one focuses on lyndon johnson. you will hear about the 1964 civil rights act, the presidential campaign, the gulf of tonkin incident, the march on selma and the war in vietnam. not everyone knew they were being recorded. >> johnson's secretaries new because they were tasked with transcribing those conversations. they were the ones who made sure the conversations were taped as johnson would signal to them through an open door between his office and there's. >> you will hear some blunt talk. >> i want a report of the number of people assigned to kennedy the day he died. if i can't ever go to the bathroom i won't go.
7:59 am
i won't go anywhere. i will stay behind here. >> presidential recordings which find it on the c-span now mobile apps wherever you get your podcasts. >> c-span's new american president website is your guide to the nation as commander-in-chief from george washington to joe biden. find biographies, video resources, live facts and rich images the tell the story of their lives and presidency in one easy to browse website. visit to explore c-span resources today. >> more booktv later today when we focus on topics that are in the news including the conversation on the authors of our broken elections. we will hear from abc news
8:00 am
washington correspondent jonathan karl on his book betrayal:the final act of the trump show. author john mc order talked about woke racism, and religion has betrayed black america. books on current affairs starting at 8:00 eastern on c-span2. now we look at technology and science. .. who are joining us virtually i'm speaking to you from washington dc where you need to show an identification and a vaccine card to enter a gym or a restaurant, but you do not need to show an id to vote. it is the same in many states across the country >> it is the same in states across the country. last year at 2020 election for for a town council in florida was overturned by a judge and the new winner was declared because of voter fraud. the same thing happen in mississippi where a judge overturned the results of


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on