FULL EPISODE: 7/25/21 Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo on the Delta variant and latest COVID surge

Published: Jul. 24, 2021 at 11:06 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, for “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, July 25, 2021. The episode will also feature a discussion with news anchor and reporter Frances Watson of KY3 in Springfield, Missouri, an area that has become a COVID hotspot.

Gov. Hutchinson told Van Susteren that low vaccination rates in Arkansas have been a challenge. “We’re a very rural state. We have a lot of resistance. It’s a conservative state,” he said. “Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government, and we’ve just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence.”

Hutchinson defended fellow Republican leaders, saying some have been “very vigorous” in telling people to get vaccinated, adding: “I just came from a Republican governors’ meeting and everybody there is for vaccines. They’ve got the vaccination themselves. And so everybody deals with their community and their culture and their state uniquely. So I think it is important that we have bipartisan messages from all leaders across the board that you get vaccinated.”

When asked about mask mandates, Hutchinson said the focus should be on encouraging vaccinations. “We’ve got some medical professionals in the CDC that talk about whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, wear a mask. I think that’s the wrong message,” said Hutchison. “If you’ve been vaccinated, that gives you the freedom not to wear a mask and that’s an incentive to go ahead.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo suggested people who have had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should consider also getting one of the mRNA vaccines (Moderna or Pfizer) to help further protect themselves from the Delta variant. “It would make a lot of sense to me to optimize the likelihood that you’re protected against Delta. And to do that, you want to get two doses of an mRNA vaccine.”

Marrazzo also said the COVID variants are in part due to unvaccinated individuals. “The problem that we’re seeing now is we have so many unvaccinated people ... that it’s like a machine for the virus,” explained Marrazzo. “Basically it’s like a factory where the virus can just generate mutants as it infects people, and eventually the strongest mutant is going to win out.”

Interview excerpts are below.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson Highlights

On Arkansas’ and conservative communities’ COVID vaccination rates

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Well, that’s a big challenge for us. Why is our vaccination rate lower? We’re a very rural state. We have a lot of resistance. It’s a conservative state. Sometimes conservatives are hesitant about the government, and we’ve just got to counteract that by getting better information to them, building confidence. I’ve learned that it’s not what the government tells you, it’s what your trusted advisor, your medical doctor, or somebody that you trust tells you. And that’s the best persuasive technique we can use to change those attitudes.

Greta Van Susteren

When you say it’s somehow political, does that mean it’s sort of a Trump-Biden thing in some parts, that the people who support Trump won’t get the vaccine, or some at least, and those who supported Biden will get the vaccine? Is it that bad along political lines?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Well, it is disappointing that there’s a political part to it.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Trump got it [the vaccine]. And I supported Trump, I got the vaccine. Arkansas, 65% or more of the vote goes for Trump, and tens of thousands of those have been vaccinated. So you just can’t put it across the board as far as attitudes on that.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Some of the Republican leaders have been very vigorous now and saying, “Get vaccinated.” And I think everybody realizes the threat that’s out there. And I think that’s overcoming any bad information and partisan taint that might be there.

Greta Van Susteren

Would it be more helpful to you if more Republican leaders would get out there supporting it?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Well, I think they are. I just came from a Republican governors’ meeting and everybody there is for vaccines. They’ve got the vaccination themselves. And so everybody deals with their community and their culture and their state uniquely. So I think it is important that we have bipartisan messages from all leaders across the board that you get vaccinated.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, Governor Ivey, a Republican from Alabama said that it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks for the latest surge. Would you go so far as to say that?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

I would say that there’s a legitimate concern and criticism if somebody is not getting vaccinated because they believe in the conspiracy theories, or they’re stubborn, or they don’t trust the government. Come on. Do better research. But obviously you have to understand that there’s some that have compromised health situations that they don’t want to get it for an allergy or some other reasons. Those are things they got to talk to their doctor about.

On Arkansas COVID hospitalizations

Greta Van Susteren

Are your hospitals overwhelmed right now? You feeling the surge in the Delta variant?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

They are. They’re overwhelmed and I think that’s fair. They’re managing it, but we had, I think it was over 1300 hospitalized at the height of the pandemic last January. We’ve got 800 and some now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got a cushion. Because there’s been so many postponed health needs that are crashing in on the hospital. So, the hospitals are totally full and they have to then make room for the COVID patients. And that creates its own set of problems. And so what we do see though, is that those that have been vaccinated are not going to the hospital, it’s those that are not vaccinated. And so even though you still can get COVID virus if you’ve been vaccinated, maybe a one in 10 chance of that, your chances of going to the hospital are almost minuscule.

On the Biden administration’s vaccine messaging

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

In terms of the White House, they’ve been responsive, they’ve managed it well. Very importantly, their messaging is good, consistency on the importance of the vaccine. I do believe, if you look back as to mistakes that were made, which we do not necessarily have to point to those...

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Whenever they paused on the J&J vaccine, that created more hesitancy out there. And I don’t think they had the data to do that pause, I think you could provide information. But beyond that, I’ve urged them to make sure we get FDA approval. Dr. Fauci says we don’t have it because the FDA is dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. To me, that sounds like bureaucracy. And you’ve got sufficient data out there, and that eliminates at least one excuse that some raise as to why they’re not getting vaccinated, they’re waiting for the final approval. So I hope that could be done.

On mask mandates

Greta Van Susteren

In your state, in Arkansas, which has a Republican legislature, Republican governor, there is a ban on schools requiring masks. Democrats in the legislature have asked that there be a special session or that you reconsider something be done about that so schools can mandate masks. Your view on that?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Well, I hate to get sidetracked in the mask issue. It’s a legitimate question because if the vaccine was available for everybody, the solution is just simply get vaccinated. But when you have a gap in the age group 12 and under, that leaves a vulnerable population. I want to keep the focus on the vaccines and not the masks.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

We ought to encourage masks, but it’s just against the law to mandate it.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

But it is important that we encourage vaccinations. And we’ve got some medical professionals in the CDC that talk about whether you’ve been vaccinated or not, wear a mask. I think that’s the wrong message. If you’ve been vaccinated, that gives you the freedom not to wear a mask and that’s an incentive to go ahead. And so we want to keep that focus on the vaccinations and not get into that side debate, even though there’s a legitimate concern and reason that we have a guideline to encourage it, encourage it. And they can make that decision without having a mandate.

Dr. Jean Marrazzo Highlights

On whether people who got J&J vaccine should also get Pfizer or Moderna

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

If you have the opportunity and the wherewithal to get the mRNA vaccines on top of a J&J, you should consider it. Again, this is not something that we are hearing is formally recommended by ACIP or the CDC or anybody really, but I think in talking to people as you see this Delta explosion, it would make a lot of sense to me to optimize the likelihood that you’re protected against Delta. And to do that, you want to get two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

On the new COVID variants

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

The problem that we’re seeing now is we have so many unvaccinated people, as you know, in so many parts of the world, and in the U.S. unfortunately, that it’s like a machine for the virus. Basically it’s like a factory where the virus can just generate mutants as it infects people, and eventually the strongest mutant is going to win out. And that’s what the real concern is, or one of the many concerns with having such a large pool of unvaccinated people.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

But the bottom line is mutations are inevitable. Some of them are going to be worse than others from our perspective. Better for the virus, but worse for us.

On breakthrough infections in vaccinated people

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

We know that people who have any degree of immunocompromise ...Those patients do not get as high protection from these great vaccines as somebody who is not in that situation.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

And in fact, the committee that recommends vaccine regimens is meeting this week to talk about whether those patients need a third dose of either of the mRNA vaccines. I’m pretty confident that they’re going to go ahead and recommend that.

On vaccine hesitancy and concerns about mRNA vaccines

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

DNA is not affected. The mRNA does not integrate into your DNA. And in fact, the messenger RNA is incredibly short-lived in your body…. So there is no genetic manipulation, there’s no gene therapy, there’s nothing that remains in your body. So I do think that’s a very important message for people to understand.

On when the FDA will give the vaccines full approval

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

I do think that there are still concerns that the FDA has not licensed the vaccines.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama

What I’ve seen in the past with FDA approvals, is that for full licensure, the FDA likes to have all the data and all the information in hand, …That’s why I’m hearing that it’s not going to be until January 2022.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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