Afghan interpreter "Zak" who risked his life to save U.S. troops escapes the Taliban. The White House today announced a plan to give additional vaccine shots, third shots to Americans who have already had their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Okay, we`re going to start tonight with a story where -- when I start to tell the story, you are going to think that you know where it`s going.
You got to think that you know where this is going to end up. But I`m telling you, you are wrong about that.
This is an amazing story that happened today. It does end where you think it does. Just -- I don`t mean like this is a weird cable news tease thing or anything. I will just say I believe -- it is my experience of having done this show for 13-plus years and knowing what matters to people when we put it on TV and knowing what news chances the way you think about the world, this is one of those stories. So just watch this. Stick with me until the end, okay?
Here we go. September 2010, the war in Afghanistan was closing out its ninth year. And of course for a long time it hadn`t been just American troops fighting the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. A lot of our allies joined in the war effort too. For years, for example, the British army had been engaged here in the town of Sangin in Helmand province.
And that area -- Helmand province generally, but that area around Sangin in particular was a key center for the opium trade. It was also just absolutely swarming with Taliban fighters. So on the earlier side of the war, the first decade of the war, the British were deployed there to try to beat back the Taliban, prop up support for the Afghan government there, and that experience was just absolutely devastating for the British army.
By June of 2010, the British had lost around 300 soldiers total in all of Afghanistan, but nearly a third of that number, nearly a third of all the British soldiers killed in the entire country, in the entire war, were killed in Sangin, in just that one single town in Afghanistan.
"The Guardian" newspaper in the U.K. called Sangin, quote, the poppy town that became a death trap for the British army. And it wasn`t something that was specific to the British. At one point Sangin was responsible for more than 10 percent of the daily casualties of the entire NATO mission, of all the NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan, that one little town.
In the middle of that bloodshed, amid that hugely disproportionate share of the bloodshed in the war be centered in that one town, by September of 2010, the British foreign minister announced that Sangin was going to go through a serious change. It was no longer going to be Britain`s problem primarily.
He announced that henceforth, all responsibility for Sangin would be taken over by the American military, by a group of U.S. Marines. One of those marines sent to perhaps the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, at one of the most dangerous times in the war, one of those marines was this man. His name is Dr. Thomas Schueman. He`s a Marine infantry officer in Afghanistan. You see him there on the left.
Over the course of his long service in Afghanistan, he served seven astonishingly difficult and intense months in Sangin. He says during his seven months in Sangin, 25 marines he served with died there in that one town. More than 200 others were wounded.
He recounted one particularly brutal day in Sangin to "The Chicago Sun- Times". It was a day in which he earned a Purple Heart. He told "The Sun- Times", quote, my squad leader stepped on an improvised explosive device and he lost his leg. I was blown up. My platoon sergeant was blown up in that same blast on that same day.
It was one of a couple of times I was blown up on that deployment. Another marine who served in Sangin says they put up a map of the city when they got there and that one marine`s vivid description, he said it looked like somebody had sneezed blood all over the map because the map was covered in red dots. Every red dot on the map marked a place in Sangin where the Taliban had opened fire on allied troops.
It`s just absolutely, absolutely perilous place for those U.S. marines coming in after the British had experienced so much death and so many -- so many casualties there.
But in Sangin, like in so many places over the course of the war, the marines were not there on their own. They had help. This guy right here that we`re going to show on the screen, there`s a red arrow pointing to him. His arms are folded in front of him and he`s focused intently on the local guy he is speaking to.
The red arrow is pointing to a young Afghan man who goes by the name Zak. That`s not his real name but that`s what the marines called him.
He was just 20 years old when he signed up to work with the marines in the Helmand province. Zak was an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He would help the marines talk to other Afghans like he is doing there. He would not only translate from whatever the local language was into English.
He would reverse those translations and also tell them the meanings, sometimes the subtle meanings of the words that were being used.
He was also helpful to the marines in translating radio communications among Taliban fighters that the marines were able to intercept technically but they weren`t able to understand or interpret without help from Zak.
But there was something else about Zak that caught Major Thomas Schueman`s attention. Here`s how "The New York Times" describes the first time that Zak and Major Schueman met in Sangin. Quote: Major Schueman concedes he was in a transactional mood on the day he met Zak. He had already worked with so many different interpreters, but Zak was different. He was physically fit for one. His English was excellent. Most of all, he was willing to go to Sangin, which many interpreters avoided, given the dangerous terrain.
He said, quote, I immediately recognized that he was a special guy and I was very lucky to have him. Marines in other platoons began to eye this new addition with envy, but Major Schueman had no intention of sharing him. The patrols were long and terrifying as the marines made their way through mined territory toward villages, often being ambushed in a campaign that killed and severely injured scores of troops.
At one point, Zak overheard two Taliban fighters from a distance talking on their radios as they organized an attack on the group of marines plodding slowly toward them in formation behind an engineer with a metal detector. A metal detector to detect mines. Major Schueman recalled Zak`s next actions. Zak just runs through the field and tackles the guy. Zak not only obviated the attack, he also marked a clear lane with his footprints for the marines to advance.
Major Schueman says, quote, there`s no other interpreter that would be willing to accept all that risk. We would give Zak a loaded weapon and have him on security while we were working on casualty.
Major Schueman told "The Chicago Sun-Times" that Zak basically became, quote, one of my marines.
Well, eventually, Major Thomas Schueman went home. He`s now at the Naval War College in Rhode Island. But Zak stayed behind when Major Schueman and the rest of his battalion left.
Zak, as I mentioned, was just 20 years old when he started working with those marines. He`s now in his early 30s. He is now married. He has a wife and four young kids.
Like most Afghan interpreters who helped U.S. troops, Zak and his entire family qualify to immigrate to the United States in exchange for the sacrifice he made for our country. The country created a specific visa category specifically for men like Zak, who helped U.S. troops so they could come to the United States.
And Zak first applied for that visa six years ago but it hit a snag, because overall, Zak spent about three years working for the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. In addition to working for Major Schueman and that battalion of marines, he also spent time helping -- working for a U.S. government contractor that was supplying translation services to the U.S. Army.
In order to get this visa, this special visa that was created for people like him, he needed to prove that he had worked for U.S. troops for two years or more. In order to do that, he needed a letter from everybody he had worked for, including that contractor who set him up to translate for the U.S. Army. He needed that attestation to his service so he could get credit both for his service with the Marines but also for his time in the army. He needed credit for both to qualify for the visa.
The problem is, the contractor through whom he worked for the U.S. Army, that contractor doesn`t exist anymore. Like so many military contracting organizations that existed for a moment, provided a service and then, poof. But because they are gone, they`re defunct and have left sort of no trace, Zak has not been able to get a letter from them. They don`t exist anymore.
And the fact that he wasn`t able to get a letter from a defunct contractor that doesn`t exist is enough to deny him a visa, which again, he applied for for the first time six years ago. It means he has been stuck in Afghanistan ever since, which, of course, is a very dangerous place to be if you`re an Afghan citizen who helped the United States, particularly one who helped in so many, so many literal battles against Taliban fighters.
In February of last year, February 2020, Zak started getting menacing phone calls from the Taliban. They told him you are an infidel because you worked for the Americans. Just a few weeks ago, Zak received this letter from the Taliban, written piece of paper addressed to him. With the Americans on their way out, the evacuation under way, the Taliban making it clear in this letter to Zak that they know where to find him because they wanted and intended to kill him for having worked with the U.S. forces.
So they have got his cell phone number. They have got his address. They know how to find him. They`re telling him they`re going to kill him.
Zak is essentially being hunted. So he can`t leave his house, let alone work outside his house to support his family. He told "The New York Times" last month he, quote, can`t find a way to live a life. I can`t find a way to have a life.
After he got that threatening letter from the Taliban, Zak and his family did go into hiding. The province where they were living was taken over by the Taliban. Their hope was to somehow miraculously, almost impossibly, try to get themselves from that outlying province where they were living to Kabul. Then once in Kabul to get to the airport to try to iron out this long-standing, years-long snag in his visa and then to see if he and his family could get on one of those last flights out as the U.S. continues its chaotic exodus out of Afghanistan.
Now, if any of this sounds familiar to you, it may be because Zak and Major Thomas Schueman actually spoke to us here on this show a few weeks ago with my colleague Ali Velshi, and you may remember that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. THOMAS SCHUEMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS INFANTRY OFFICER: Zak, undoubtedly risked life and limb. Zak undoubtedly went above and beyond his duties as an interpreter. Whether that was running through a minefield to detain an enemy EPW or picking up a rifle after one of my marines became a triple amputee to help us provide covering fire, Zak has made more sacrifices for this country and risked more for this country than most of our citizens.
ZAK, AFGHAN TRANSLATOR: Now it is your time, our American friends, our American partners` time to help us and get us out of this crisis because the enemy are looking for the people who worked with American and who worked for the American mission, and to find them and kill them and kill their family.
We cannot stay. Yesterday one of our former interpreters in Herat province, that Taliban attacked, killed him. Also in the future, maybe they target us and kill us. Now please, President, it`s your time to help us and take us out of this crisis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Zak, working as an Afghan interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, his friend, Major Thomas Schueman, both of them here on this show together two weeks ago today.
Now, what`s happened in the interim two weeks? Besides, you know, Afghanistan falling in its entirety to the Taliban.
Back home in Rhode Island, Major Thomas Schueman has been in repeated contact with Zak in Afghanistan, trying to do for Zak what Zak was asking of President Biden. Take him out of this crisis, somehow help him flee the country.
Major Schueman had helped Zak with his visa applications. He wrote letters, sent Zak money so Zak could try to get his family from where they were living and then in hiding to Kabul.
You have to bribe your way through checkpoints in Afghanistan, sometimes with a surprisingly large amount of money. It is just a fact of life. Ask any journalist who has ever spent time there. You have to bribe your way through check points. It`s just the way things work.
Knowing this, Major Schueman sent money to Zak to try to help facilitate him and his family get across the country so they could get to the capital and ultimately get to the airport to try something.
Even Major Schueman`s mom tried to help. She is a retired Chicago police officer and a force in her own right by all accounts. She wrote to both President Biden and Vice President Harris trying to elevate Zak`s case. The senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, brought Zak`s case personally to the attention of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and told him the story at an open hearing, asking for the secretary of state`s help as well. The secretary of state said he would look into it.
But Zak`s story has become one in a chorus of stories about people just like him stuck in Afghanistan, unable to get out despite an explicit promise made to them by the U.S. government. Despite on paper a specific remedy set up just for them so they could come to this country with less hassle, with less wait in a way that wouldn`t get bureaucratically hung up, right?
This process was set up specifically to get people like him and his family out and it`s just been story after story of these bottlenecks and it not working and glitches. And it`s not just Zak`s story that is familiar by now. It is Major Schueman`s story too, right?
The experience of all of these American combat veterans of the war in Afghanistan who are now working what amounts to second full-time jobs, trying to do what the U.S. government as a whole hasn`t been able to do quickly enough. Individual veterans all over the country cashing in every favor they can, pulling every lever they can reach, trying to get their guy to the U.S. before the Taliban get to him first.
It is the excruciating story of so many other Afghanistan -- U.S. Afghanistan veterans right now. Just look at some of the headlines over the last few days. Look in local papers.
Look at this. I am begging you guys. Ft. Myers veteran fights to bring Afghan interpreter home to America. That`s in Ft. Myers news press.
Here`s one out of Texas. Jarrell woman fights to bring former student home from Afghanistan.
Here`s the "Philadelphia Inquirer". In a Kabul under Taliban control, Philadelphia-area Quakers try to get one man out to safety.
Here`s one in Redmond, Oregon, right there with them. Redmond marine works to get translator out of Afghanistan.
Here`s hall summit, Louisiana. Former police contractor pleads for help for former interpreter in Afghanistan.
Here`s Biloxi, Mississippi. Former marine tries desperately to get Afghan colleague out of harm`s way.
Local papers, local TV stations, local news coverage all over the country, these individual stories not just of the individual Afghans who people are trying to get out, but the individual Americans and small groups of Americans who have some connection to the sacrifice of these folks, who are now trying to pull all of their American strings, use all of their American connections, use all of their American resources to try to pluck these people out of danger.
And it`s just -- I mean, it`s inspiring, but it`s also obviously this deeply painful, deeply angering, frustrating thing for these veterans and these groups that are doing this right now. Just desperately trying to get these people out who they know, who they worked with who in some cases saved the lives in Afghanistan of the American service members who are trying to return the favor, right, leveraging any resources they have before the Taliban rounds them all up one by one. Call your contacts, call your congressmen, call your local TV station, call your mom, anything -- anything that might help, just seeing this play out all over the country.
And thanks in part to Major Schueman specifically, we know what that effort looks like not in general, not from being able to characterize it in these general terms. We know about it in specific, what it looks like for the veterans back home in the way they`re pulling on strings from this side and for the people like Zak who are fleeing for their lives right now.
And the reason we can see it in detail with Major Schueman and Zak because the major has been chronicling his effort out loud and in public, specifically on Instagram, not just to provide a record of what`s happening to Zak but also as a way to beg for help to anyone who might see his posts and might be able to help at all.
So here was Major Schueman three days ago. Quote, if Zak can get an escort to the airport, we can get him on a plane today. He is 7.5 kilometers from the airport. If you have someone on the ground who can transport his family right now, please let me know. And if you swipe to the side on that post, you would then see that the second thing that he posted in that post was also this little video of Zak`s young kids. Two of Zak`s four young kids. Then one day later we get another update from Major Schueman.
Quote, Zak is at the airport. He is trying to find the Abbey Gate. Anyone who can escort his family to ramp 8, please let me go.
Soon after he shared a photo of Zak and his entire family, but it did not come with good news. Major Schueman wrote, not the ending we hoped for. Zak and his family made a harrowing escape from Kunar province to Kabul.
At 2:00 a.m. he fled his tiny apartment and walked to the airport. He crossed multiple Taliban checkpoints and just barely made it. I told them meet the marines at a specific access point because I had confirmation an officer would let him through. That officer is no longer responding to my messages.
Another officer told me he would make sure Zak and his family boarded a plane. He hasn`t responded in several hours and it`s highly doubtful he`ll be able to put Zak`s family on a plane.
Finally, a friend who`s a contractor said he would escort Zak through the perimeter. My friend is surrounded by Taliban and cannot help. Zak has four children under 5.
His youngest daughter is 1. She`s in the red sleeping on her mother. I`m not sure what happens next. They have no food, no water, no bathroom. They`re sitting outside an American access point to the Kabul airport.
I`m not sure what will happen to them. I don`t know what else to do. I pray to god I have a better update tomorrow but it doesn`t look promising. That`s two days ago.
Then yesterday, Major Schueman was texting with an American on the ground. You`ll see -- I`m going to show you this text exchange. Major Schueman is on the right there. He`s posting in blue and that picture that he posted on the right side of the screen is from him.
The reason he`s posting that picture, that`s exactly where Zak was standing at the airport. He said after sounding that picture, does that look about right? The reason this is happening at this level of granular detail because he`s trying to hook him up with an American he`s texting with so he and his family can get processed and put on a plane.
The American on the ground confirms: Yes. That`s us. We will get your boy.
But no. Major Schueman posted this photo yesterday. The caption says we, meaning Zak and his family, we were this close today and didn`t make it. This close.
You can see there`s a marine at the photo helping at the airport but they could not get on a plane. Major Schueman also posted this video of Zak and his family. This close and didn`t make it. You hear his kids crying. At one point, it sounds like a gunshot goes off in the background.
I mean this is literally how this is going right now. Call every person you know who has any influence. Dial every number in your phone. Call the contractor who turns out to be surrounded by the Taliban.
Call the marine that`s near the checkpoint or could maybe get to the check point. Get a picture of his exact location. Keep texting that officer that stopped returning your messages.
Identify the exact ramp number in Kabul from your kitchen table in Rhode Island. This is how veterans back home are trying to get their interpreters out. This is not how this was supposed to go, right?
This is not the might of the U.S. government. This is not the promise we made to the people like Zak. It is not how we were supposed to be bringing him home, because getting this wrong doesn`t mean, oh, they`ll hop the next flight out. The window is closing. Getting this wrong means these people will get killed. And so you just keep doing whatever you can.
And so today back at it. Major Schueman started this text chain with Zak and with an air force major at the airport, a U.S. Air Force major. Major Schueman again trying to play the middle man and remotely put these two together from the other side of the world. It`s incredible to see these screen shots. You see the Air Force captain trying to get Zak to spot him in the chaos.
This is the U.S. Air Force guy explaining what Zak should be looking for. He says you are looking for me and two guys in black shirts and NVG, knowing that Zak will understand that means night vision goggles. He says, Zak, put your kid with the blue shirt on your shoulders as a way for them to figure out how to spot each other. And Zak sends a picture of his exact location at the airport. The air force captain responds got him.
Major Schueman says thank God, you are safe. I`ll see you in America.
Zak responds with a few videos of his family. He writes to Major Schueman, waiting for the flight, sir. Hope to see you soon, sir.
Major Schueman shared this picture of Zak and his family on their way to the airport after meeting up with that air force captain. As of this morning he said he didn`t know when they would make it on a plane or what their final destination would be but he knew they were safe because they were with the marines.
And then look. One last picture today. Posted nine hours ago. The caption on this one was two words. Wheels up.
I`m not crying, you`re crying. It`s dusty in here, somebody is -- somebody is chopping onions. Major Thomas Schueman joins us next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Here was the first update we got early this morning. Quote, I don`t know when they will make it on a plane. I don`t know their final destination. I do know through an enormous effort by a few individuals, they won`t be executed by the Taliban. That`s all that matters right now. He is with the marines.
That post was from Marine Officer Thomas Schueman sharing the good news today that his former Afghan interpreter, Zak, had made it to Kabul airport. A few hours later, we got this picture with the caption wheels up.
It was not easy. Zak waited six years for this moment since he first applied for a visa to get out. From Rhode Island from a world away from Afghanistan, Officer Schueman made it his mission to help him out.
Joining us now is Marine Officer Thomas Schueman. He`s founder of the PB Abbate Foundation, which helps veterans across America.
Major Schueman, thank you for being with us tonight. I really appreciate this on what is kind of a huge day.
SCHUEMAN: Thank you, ma`am. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: First, let me ask if I screwed anything up in trying to describe the story and what you`ve been through thus far, and also if you can bring us more up to date if you know of anything further about what`s happened to Zak and his family now?
SCHUEMAN: Sure. I think your summary was accurate, and nothing to add as far as the details. I think you captured the important elements of the story.
From what I understand Zak flew out several hours ago. I don`t know exactly specifically what time or if he`s landed. I assume he`s headed to a country in the Middle East. So whether that might be Qatar or Dubai, I`m not sure. But he`s headed somewhere in the Middle East right now.
MADDOW: Major Schueman, part of the reason I wanted to talk to you about this is because I feel like a lot of Americans, particularly Americans who are professional, well-off, well-connected, well-integrated into our communities, imagine that we would have resources to bring to bear, people to call, strings to pull, influence to exert, weight to throw around to try to make something like this happen.
Knowing all of the different things that you tried, all the different ways you worked on this, I feel like I can`t imagine if this was -- if Zak had been my interpreter, if I had been trying to do this, I don`t know what else I would have done that you didn`t do and still it just seems like he barely, barely made it. It feels like this was maximal resources for something that only just barely worked. That was my perception from the outside.
Is that what it feels like to you?
SCHUEMAN: We pulled every lever, poked every bear. It was just a series of Hail Marys. You know, when Senator Durbin, we`re very grateful that he took this cause and brought it to the top. We thought that`s it, that will be -- negative.
There are so many close calls and so many moments where we thought maybe we`d contacted the right person, maybe we had the right solution to this, and it was a series of tragic events that just continued to unfold, and so many close calls. It was a very harrowing experience over the last month or two.
MADDOW: Obviously, the system that was set up within the U.S. government, the special immigrant visa specifically for men like Zak, people who had provided this service to our country, had been promised that they would be given safe passage to be here in this country for us to pay them back for what they did, that system was literally set up for somebody like him and yet for all intents and purposes it did not work for him until this series of Hail Marys, as you describe it at the very end.
Do you feel like having been through this with I imagine the elation and relief that you`re feeling today, do you feel like you have anything that you have learned that you can say right now about things that can be done to change that process right now, to get people out right now? Things that can be done in the short term to fix what is obviously a broken system, at least to save some more lives in coming days?
SCHUEMAN: Sure. It`s worth noting that the system did not work for Zak. Even though the fact that Zak is evacuated, it wasn`t due to the system, it was due to the bravery and heroism of some Air Force folks and some marines who rallied around and picked Zak`s family up from outside that gate.
And so he`s still not successful in his SIV application. He`s still not actually past the first phase which is chief admission approval. So, what could be added to the system, I think common sense and potentially a little human aspect. If maybe an officer can attest that I served with this person and puts their name on the line, maybe that, I think, definitely could expedite some things.
I know the Department of State is absolutely trying their best, DOD is doing their best with the very, large task but just a little common sense that I can attest this person was there and we can sort everything out later. It will all buff out later. If we can get their safe, get them secure to a third-party location and then let`s flush out the details.
But right now, it`s every minute, every second is life or death and be can`t allow some kind of technicality to be the cause that someone ends up executed.
MADDOW: Let me just ask you before I let you go, Major Schueman, just how it feels today having been through all of these years, having made this commitment that you made more than a decade ago and having been through all these years trying to make it work in this incredibly intense period of months, weeks, days and hours leading up to him finally being wheels up, as you said today. Just do you know how you feel yet having actually done it?
SCHUEMAN: Yeah. I think eventually there will be additional feelings to sort out. Right now, I just feel thankful. I feel thankful that we have these 18-year-old marines manning these posts, demonstrating that there is no worsen me, no better friend than a marine, demonstrating our ethos, semper fidelis, being always faithful, that we do have these young infantry marines holding the line and making this happen.
And so, I`m just grateful for all of the people who rallied around Zak`s cause and all of the support received. But it`s important to note that while Zak made it out, there are thousands like him who do not have the same advocacy and there`s still a lot of work to be done.
MADDOW: Marine Infantry Officer Thomas Schueman, founder of PB Abbate Foundation which helps veterans communities across America -- thank you for being here and helping us understand this and tell this story tonight, sir. Thanks for your service.
SCHUEMAN: Thank you, ma`am.
MADDOW: All right. So much more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Three really big developments on COVID today. Two things that are brand new and one which is an ongoing developing story that is becoming a bigger deal each day. First in terms of what`s new, the White House today announcing a plan to give additional vaccine shots, third shots to Americans who have already had their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. Now, that`s pending FDA and CDC approval, but that`s expected to start next month.
Now, if you didn`t get Pfizer or Moderna, if you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, are you supposed to get another shot too? Great question.
Surgeon General Vivek Murtha saying they expect more data on the Johnson & Johnson question in the next few weeks. That means so far the booster shot recommendation is only for people who got Moderna or Pfizer. Stand by if you got Johnson & Johnson. So that`s new today.
Also new today, something I think is a big deal, specifically about the people who have been most vulnerable to this virus and the Americans who since the very beginning have made up a shocking portion of the deaths in this pandemic.
That other piece of new news today is about people who live in American nursing homes. COVID deaths among nursing home residents have accounted for a third of all of the fatalities in this country from COVID. It has along side those numbers been this very unsettling trend for months now that despite the horrific toll that COVID has taken in U.S. nursing homes, so many people who work in nursing homes, assisting and caring for the elderly, they`re not getting vaccinated at high enough rates given the vulnerability of the populations in those facilities.
Only about 60 percent of people who work with the elderly and people who work as staff as long-term care facilities, only about 60 percent are vaccinated at this point. Again, they are working with the population that has made up a third of the fatalities so far in the pandemic. Well, that is likely going to change now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I`m announcing a new step. If you work in a nursing home and serve people on Medicare or Medicaid, you will also be required to get vaccinated. With this announcement, I`m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Biden today announcing that nursing homes that don`t require their staff to be vaccinated, those nursing homes will lose their federal funding. That`s one way to make it stick. This new rule could start as early as next month. This is like 15,000 facilities nationwide this applies to, 15,000 facilities that collectively employ more than 1.3 million people. This is a big deal.
Could mean a significant boost to the country`s vaccinated population overall, but it`s specifically important thing for nursing home residents, who again have been so disproportionately represented among the dead in this pandemic.
So, three developments today. The first is the booster shot announcement, the second is the nursing home staff vaccination requirement.
But as for the third thing, this is something that we have been covering sort of intensively this year, even at times when it was clear to me that nobody knew what I was talking about. It did not have any resonance whatsoever even as I became obsessed with it.
But now this story is starting to get traction and resonate because it is becoming a new part of the country`s response to this part of the COVID crisis. Here`s the headline in Alabama right now.
Quote: Monoclonal antibodies, the answer to Alabama`s COVID surge, doctors say. Doctors in Alabama urging COVID patients to seek out treatment with monoclonal antibodies to build quick immunity to COVID as soon as symptoms set up. It is approved for anybody older than age 12 who tests positive and isn`t super sick yet.
It`s an infusion that takes about 20 minutes and then you have to be supervised for an hour or so afterwards just to make sure you`re going to be okay. In total, the appointment takes about two hours, but that can keep people with COVID out of the hospital. It`s free. There is good data suggesting huge reductions in hospitalization among people who get this kind of therapy.
That is necessary right now. Not just a good thing for people who have COVID and are at risk of progressing, but it`s a good thing for places with overrun hospitals.
As one doctor in Montgomery puts it today, quote, this is the golden goose, okay? This is what we need and we`ve got a short window to get these people treated. This is the only thing in COVID I`ve seen that is not controversial. Everybody understands this is the answer.
Joining us now is Dr. Vin Gupta. He is a pulmonologist and global health policy expert. He`s an affiliate and assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Dr. Gupta, it`s really nice of you to join us tonight. Thank you so much for being here.
DR. VIN GUPTA, GLOBAL HEALTH POLICY EXPERT: Thanks as always, Rachel. Great to see you.
MADDOW: So, we`ve talked over the months about monoclonal antibodies and their promise essentially as a way to keep people who have been diagnosed with COVID but aren`t very sick yet, a way to keep them from getting very sick, a way to keep people from getting hospitalized and dying.
Does it seem to you like we are entering in a new phase as a country where these treatments are going to be used at scale finally to try to change the course of disease?
GUPTA: Rachel, I hope. Part -- relative to the last time we had this conversation a few months ago, the indications have changed and broadened for monoclonal antibodies. So, now, for all your viewers out there, if you have a loved one that`s immunocompromised, if you`re immunocompromised, if you know somebody that`s not vaccinate at all and they`re exposed to the virus, you can now get treatment with monoclonal antibodies. You`re 12 and older.
To your point, go to CombatCOVID.hhs.gov. It`s post-exposure prophylaxis, Rachel. You don`t actually need a confirmed anymore. If you`re not fully vaccinated or if you`re immunocompromised, even if you got two shots, you could potentially be eligible. Go to that website. So that`s the big change here.
And the reason why it`s important is for the reasons you highlighted. To get fully vaccinated, it`s going to take time for that to take effect. So folks that are at risk of dying in real-time, this is a part of the solution.
MADDOW: Dr. Gupta, I feel like part of the reason there hasn`t been more uptake for these drugs previously is, number one, because there wasn`t a big push to make them available. That seems to be changing. Number two, there`s a perception they were very expensive. They are expensive relatively speaking to develop, but the federal government is covering the cost and they are delivered free to patients.
But I think the other reason there`s been less uptake than you might hope is because people who aren`t sick enough to be hospitalized, people who are only experiencing mild symptoms or no symptoms with COVID don`t necessarily want to take a drug, especially a new drug, especially if it`s one that you have to go to an infusion center and take a two-hour appointment and have a needle put in your arm and it seems like a scary thing.
Our experience with these drugs and their use so far, is it clear that they are safe, well tolerated, that they don`t have side effects that people should be scared of?
GUPTA: You know, I think you hit on a point, Rachel, that we`ve been trying to socialize broadly, which is there is no harm signal to monoclonal antibodies. These are not harmful therapies. Literally there are no serious side effects that accompany these because you potentially have some injection site soreness if you got the sub-Q formulation, sure, but no major side effects.
You also touched on something that I want to emphasize for all your viewers. We have moved from getting an IV to get this therapy to a subcutaneous injection. So like insulin just into a muscle every day. Now, we`ve moved towards subcutaneous formulations of these drugs so now we can rapidly deploy them. You don`t have to be at a clinic waiting for multiple hours. Administration is much easier and that was a big hurdle as well.
MADDOW: Dr. Vin Gupta, pulmonologist, global health policy expert at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, Dr. Gupta, it is always a pleasure to have you here whenever we can get you. Thank you for making time tonight.
GUPTA: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On January 20th, this year as Joe Biden was preparing to be sworn in as president, the former guy, the outgoing president was very, very busy that day signing pardons and commutations for a whole rogues gallery, 143 pardons and commutations on his last day in office alone.
A pardon for Steve Bannon who ran his 2016 campaign. Bannon was facing fraud charges relating to that build the wall scheme that ended fleecing all that saddled Trump supporters who sent in their money to privately build the wall.
A pardon for Elliott Broidy who was vice chair of the Trump inaugural committee. He had pled guilty to being a foreign agent.
You`ll recall the chairman of the Trump inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, was also more recently charged as a foreign agent.
You might remember Maria Butina, the Russian operative charged with infiltrating the Trump movement and the NRA at the direction of the Kremlin, on his last day in office, Trump decided to pardon Maria Butina`s boyfriend. Okay.
He pardoned former Republican congressman convicted on corruption charges, several of them. He pardoned Ponzi schemers and convicted racketeers. Anybody who had a connection to him or, frankly, who bought one, he`s just lined them all.
Oddly and conveniently for historians of White House scandals, the White House also listed in the announcement of these pardons who exactly had arranged for the pardon where, who had lobbied for it.
For example in that description we learned the Maria Butina boyfriend pardon, that was Kellyanne Conway who secured that pardon for him. Why?
For the Ponzi schemer guy, that was Alan Dershowitz who said that guy should get out and also Congressman Jeff Van Drew, whose constituents in New Jersey were among that guy`s victims. But, hey.
One of the high profile people that Trump pardoned in his last minutes in office, though, the White House didn`t list anyone as having arranged for that particular pardon. Perhaps they figured any attribution like that would be unnecessary since anybody Googling that guy`s name they`d find anything they needed to know in the form of many, many online pictures of him with Jared Kushner.
Jared Kushner used to own "The New York Observer" newspaper. This guy who Trump pardoned his final day in office, his name is Ken Kurson, who was the editor at that newspaper. In 2018, Trump had tried to install the same guy at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Unfortunately for him that appointment came with a FBI background check, and that routine FBI background check apparently turned up some troubling evidence that this guy maybe had a harassment problem of some kind.
In any case, the glitches that turned up in his background investigation ultimately led to there being felony federal charges filed against him.
And Ken Kurson was facing those charges, he`d not yet gone on trial in January when Trump pardoned him. But now, look, Mr. Kurson and all the pictures of him with Jared Kushner, they`re all back in the news today, because today even though Trump just pardoned this guy a few months ago today Jared Kushner`s friend, Ken Kurson, found himself in handcuffs in a courtroom, because today, New York state prosecutors brought state felony charges against him for allegedly cyber stalking and harassing his ex-wife. The behavior described against him in indictment today in New York was behavior alluded to in his federal charging documents, actually in a footnote.
But now, that alleged conduct is being charged in state court where Trump`s federal pardon is going to do this guy no good. He`s facing possibility of if you years in state prison if he`s convicted. The New York prosecutor, the district attorney in Manhattan who brought the charges against him today is the same New York prosecutor who recently brought criminal charges against Trump`s business and Trump`s business` CFO Allen Weisselberg.
Today, that prosecutor Cy Vance said this about his decision to bring state charges against Ken Kurson despite the federal pardon Kurson got from Trump. Vance said, quote, as alleged in the complaint, Mr. Kurson launched a campaign of cyber crime, manipulation and abuse from his perch at "New York Observer" newspaper. And now, the people of New York will hold him accountable. He said, quote, we will not accept presidential pardons as get out of jail free cards for the well-connected in New York.
That point there about presidential pardons not being get out of jail free cards like in general, that might just be some good speechifying today from that New York prosecutor there, but it may also be a warning to somebody else in Trump`s orbit because that same prosecutor, that same D.A. who charged Ken Kurson today after Ken Kurson was pardoned by Trump in January, that same prosecutor also right now has an open investigation into Steve Bannon who was pardoned by Trump on federal fraud charges the same day Trump pardoned Jared`s friend as well, the guy who was just charged in state court today.
Trump`s pardons are a get out of jail free card when it comes to federal charges but not state charges. These state criminal charges today I`m sure were a shock to the Jared Kushner part of Trump`s orbit. I imagine they were deeply, deeply unsettling for Steve Bannon. What do you think?
Watch this space.
MADDOW: That`s going to do it for us tonight. I`m sorry for falling apart at the end of the "A" block tonight, but it was unavoidable. I knew I could not steer away from that before I started telling that story. I knew it was going to end that way.
I`ll see you again tomorrow night where I`ll have it much more together.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORLD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.