'(Researchers should) proceed based on evidence and not emotion' on vaccine: Ashton

Dr. Jen Ashton, Tom Bossert and Jon Karl discuss the threat of coronavirus on "This Week."

Video Transcript

GEORGE BUSH: A pandemic is like a forest fire. If caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it. But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day, many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: President George W. Bush nearly 15 years ago. Let's talk about that now with our experts. ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Jen Ashton, Tom Bossert, former Homeland Security Advisor for President Trump, and our Chief White House Correspondent, Jon Karl, who's also out with a new book, "Front Row at the Trump Show." And, Tom Bossert, let me begin with you right there. You also worked for President George W. Bush. The warnings were there in 2005. The warnings were there under President Obama. They've been consistent throughout the government for the last 15, 20 years, yet we still appeared to be blindsided. How do you explain that?

TOM BOSSERT: Well, I'm not sure we were blindsided. You know, when President Bush read that book on the great 1918 flu, he tasked us to do things more than just writing strategies. We were putting in place budgets. And, in fact, the Strategic National Stockpile that we're drawing from today was populated with these PPE and things that we needed for not just terrorist attacks, which had been the focus of the stockpile previously, but for naturally occurring outbreaks like this now.

We've gone through fits and starts through his presidency, and President Obama's, and President Trump's over this competition for annual funding that we go through between the daily pressing needs and then these low probability, but high consequence events. But there's a lot of trench work that's been done here, and a lot of goods and supplies planning and thinking that's gone into this. In fact, what we're implementing now is the strategy that came out of the president's tasking there from that video. And that social distancing work was published in 2007.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jen Ashton, let's take on the situation we're facing right now. You've seen both Vice President Biden and the Defense Secretary say that there are going to be moving towards face coverings, towards masks. The president said-- we also had another tussle yesterday at the press conference. The president saying he might take hydroxychloroquine. And Dr. Fauci being much more equivocal about the possible benefits. Let's start right there. As a doctor, what's your thinking now on this possible treatment of hydroxychloroquine?

JENNIFER ASHTON: Well, George, anytime you talk about any treatment in medicine, you have to weigh the risks versus the benefits, versus the options or alternatives. So let's start with what we know about hydroxychloroquine. We know it's been effective and safe against malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis. We know that it does come with some rare, but potentially fatal side effect of an irregular heartbeat. That's why it's recommended that an EKG be done before someone starts this medication.

And we think we know, based on limited, early data out of China and France, that in patients who are moderately ill with COVID-19, that there may be some benefit. And it has shown some antiviral and possibly anti-immune properties in the lab. What we don't know is its safety profile in patients who are critically ill or moderately ill with COVID-19. We don't know exactly the right dose or when to give it. And we have to remember that just because something is available doesn't mean we should jump to its use. We always have to weigh the risks versus the benefits, and proceed based on evidence, and not emotion.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Jon, one of the things we're seeing playing out in that new socially distance briefing rooms you spend many days in during these press conferences, is that kind of a tugging war between the president and his science advisors nearly every day on nearly every subject?

JONATHAN KARL: It's remarkable, George. On one hand, the president on the big decision points, at least so far, has actually listened to and taken the advice of the medical experts. But on the messaging on each and every one of these things, there's been a divergence. Think about it. On the facial coverings. The CDC comes out and recommends it. As they're announcing it, the president wants everybody to know that he's not going to be wearing facial coverings. On the question of a national stay at home order, you've seen both Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci saying that every state should have a stay at home order, that it's essential.

And at the same time, the president is raising questions about that and thinking, well, some places that aren't hot spots don't need that. And on the question of whether we can get back to normal and when we can get back to normal, the president is making it clear once again that he doesn't want the cure to be worse than the problem, that he wants to get back to normal quickly. Meanwhile, Dr. Fauci is basically at the rooftops warning about the possibility of a second wave if what we're doing now is lifted too early. So it's really something else and it's across the board. But on the major decision points so far, he has actually listened to the experts.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Tom Bossert, you're out with a new piece today, saying we only get two strikes on this. You said the first strike obviously is that we were a little slow to implement the proper social distancing. Going forward, we saw the president again yesterday talk about maybe having people go to church services on Easter, pushing hard for opening as quickly as possible. If you were inside the White House right now talking to the president, what advice would you be giving him about the next week, the next month?

TOM BOSSERT: Yeah, George, the piece doesn't just suggest that we were slow. It suggests that we also didn't pivot into some common sense approaches. You know, I know what I'd be telling the president right now, would be to lift his gaze. He's looking 10 feet-- and it seems to me a lot of our leaders-- are looking 10 feet in front of their bumper right now, and dealing with the daily tactics, and distribution issues, and all these questions of these daily press briefings.

He needs to be looking 20 yards, 200 yards, and as far in front of his headlights as he can. We're going to end up having shortages or shortfalls in our vaccine manufacturing capability. So once we get a usable vaccine, we then have to produce 340 million doses of it. You know, we need to start thinking about how we get that production capacity in place.

We need to start thinking about how to message to people the extreme, extremely difficult and massive mobilization of effort and testing that's going to come ahead of tomorrow and the next day. All through April, but also all through this summer, it's going to be a very tedious affair that requires very careful planning and very careful execution. We just don't want people at the end of April to think, I'm tired of this, and we're all going to run back out into the streets.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Jen, one of the big questions of whether or not people can go back, especially those who've suffered from it, is whether they can be tested for actually having the antibodies to COVID-19 in their system. And once again, in this whole question of testing, it appears that we're behind.

JENNIFER ASHTON: George, the antibody or serology testing is a critical piece of this whole strategy here. And to dovetail on what Tom just said, I would say we're in the third or fourth inning medically or scientifically. And the testing is a huge part of that. What this basically will tell people is whether they've had a recent or possibly current infection, whether they're immune, or whether they've never been exposed to coronavirus. It was FDA-approved late Thursday night under emergency use authorization.

But it's not fully rolled out yet. It's very sporadic. It's minimally used right now, whereas South Korea, China, Germany, and the UK have been doing this now for quite some time. And we critically need this information, not just to say when someone can go back to work, but health care workers need this for their protection. And we need this data to track the degree of silent transmission. So, you know, just because the FDA approved it Thursday night, we've heard that it could be weeks or possibly months till it is widespread. And that may be too late.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally, Jon, we're facing all these questions against the backdrop of an election year. You pressed the president on that at the last briefing. And we're seeing real differences starting to emerge over how this election is going to take place.

JONATHAN KARL: Well, Joe Biden told you that the Democrats may have to hold a virtual convention, and should be prepared to do that. The president has said there is no contingency plan for the Republican Convention, that it is going forward. And I asked him about what preparations are to be put in place to ensure that the fall election can happen. I mean, there are scenarios where this comes back, where you have another wave in the fall, potentially even right going into the November election.

What's being done? I asked the president about one proposal, which is having every state have an option for mail in voting. And the only thing he told me is that he opposes that idea, that he does not like mail in voting. So I don't get the sense there's a lot of thought at this, at least on the White House. But it's a huge, huge question going forward.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, it sure is, among so many. Thank you all very much.