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10M+ Americans have received 1st COVID-19 vaccine: CDC

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Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Dr. Steven Corwin, NewYork Presbyterian Hospital CEO, discuss the latest coronavirus news as U.S. deaths climb.

Video Transcript

[INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC]

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back to our Yahoo Finance special, "COVID-19 Overcoming the Pandemic." The largest public health crisis in a century has pushed many hospitals around the world to the breaking point, with some doctors likening the pandemic to wartime medicine. In the US alone, there are now more than 23 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 385,000 deaths. That's according to Johns Hopkins.

Joining me now is Dr. Steven Corwin. He is president and CEO of NewYork Presbyterian, which is comprised of 10 hospitals in about 200 primary and specialty care clinics in the New York area. Dr. Corwin, it's always good to see you. Thanks for your time. Give us an idea of how--

STEVEN CORWIN: Thanks, Alexis.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --badly stressed your hospital system is right now.

STEVEN CORWIN: We're stretched, but not nearly as badly as we were in March and April, worried about a third of the peak that we were at in March and April. And thankfully, if the current trend holds, we look like we've peaked out. We're sort of flattening now. So I think if-- if the rest of this week turns out to be the same, we would start to see a decline next week by our probability models.

So I'm encouraged by the signs that I see. And having said that, there are other areas of the country, like Southern California, et cetera, that are still going through horrific phases of that. So we're certainly not out of the woods as a country, for sure.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, we actually spoke to an ER doctor from LA last week, and she was talking about how they're having to make the difficult decision to ration care there. They've stopped elective surgeries. What is-- none of that is going on within your hospital system. And do you foresee that happening in the coming weeks?

STEVEN CORWIN: We do load balancing within our 10 hospitals to make sure that no one hospital is overwhelmed, and we have various levels of surge, Alexis. So basically, what we do is we titrate down the number of operations that we do or elective surgeries that we do, depending on how much COVID we have.

So we're doing at about 40% to 50% of what we would ordinarily do, and we have committees of our surgeons and specialists to determine what gets done and what doesn't get done, and looking at our operating rooms, how much we have to scale back. So fortunately, we haven't had to cut out all electives, but about 50% of the electives we cut out to make sure that we have the ICU and the bed capacity for COVID patients.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Sure, makes sense. I want to ask you about-- what the Trump administration did this week releasing second doses of the vaccines that were reserved for booster shots. It's urging states to give the vaccine now to folks 65 and older and also with those who have preexisting conditions. What does this do to the logistics of administering the vaccine, from-- from where you stand?

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, I think it's a little bit of a Rubik's cube. Clearly, we want to vaccinate as many Americans as we possibly can to get to herd immunity, so holding back all of the doses per second doses didn't make a lot of sense. There probably have been some analyses saying that more could be released.

The problem, if you release all of them, is, will you have enough vaccine for the second doses, or are you playing a game of Russian roulette where you're not quite sure? I believe strongly that we ought to follow the FDA guidelines-- 21 days later for the Pfizer vaccine, 28 days later from the Moderna vaccine. That would be point one.

Point two, there's no proven evidence that if you delay this thing for a series of weeks beyond that that it's going to be as effective. So you don't want to take the risk of that. And then finally, we feel very strongly that mixing vaccines is not a good idea, meaning you get the Moderna one dose, and the Pfizer the next dose, or AstraZeneca. I think that there's no science behind that. So if we're going to follow the science, let's make sure everybody can get the second dose. Let's make sure that we're producing enough. But I'm very reluctant when we get vaccines not to have enough vaccine for somebody's second dose because I think it'll be self-defeating.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Absolutely. Yeah, we've heard the CDC and Dr. Fauci come out and say you need that second dose to have it really fully work. President-elect Biden has said the vaccine rollout, one of his top priorities when he takes office. What are your hopes as we have new leadership in Washington on that front?

STEVEN CORWIN: Well, we have to do mass vaccination. We have to have the federal support so that we get mass vaccinations so that we get as many vaccines out as possible. I love the idea of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of office. I think that that's spot on. I think that the initial criteria were too restrictive. We assumed that it would be in linear fashion-- do the 1As, then the 1Bs, but life doesn't work that way.

So I think expanding the aperture to over 65 makes a lot of sense, and then dealing with patients who have comorbid conditions that are immunocompromised. So I like the notion of opening up the aperture. You still have vaccine hesitancy in our communities of color.

So we really do need public service campaigns, public awareness, education. What we found in our hospital system is one-on-one conversations, understanding where people's hesitancy might be, concerns might be, lead to higher vaccination rates. And just by putting the vaccine out there, you're not going to get many communities to do it unless you explain it, explain that this is not an experiment, explain that this is not something that was rushed into production, explain that it's not the virus itself, and so on and so forth.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What percentage of your health care workers has been inoculated so far? And do you have both of the vaccines available at your hospitals?

STEVEN CORWIN: We have both of the vaccines. We had more Pfizer than Moderna because we have a lot of storage capacity at minus 80 degrees. So-- but we've had both. We had most hesitancy in our communities of color within the hospital. We're at about 75% vaccinated so far without a mandate, and we found that vaccination rate going up when we do town halls, when we send out information, when we do one-on-one conversations.

People then understand and then get the vaccine. So in the larger context, Alexis, what I would say is, if we want to make sure that the vaccine is not only distributed equitably, but that people actually take it, we need a lot of education, particularly in underrepresented minorities, communities of color.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, speaking of education, I know that NewYork Presbyterian is also a teaching hospital. And I'm curious what this pandemic has done to the incoming class, the graduating class. Are you seeing that more people want to go into the medical field? I have a sister who's an ER nurse, and this has been a trying time for all the front line workers. Are you finding that the pandemic is having more people choose not to go into the industry, or is the opposite happening?

STEVEN CORWIN: Just the opposite. And you know, we've had a lot of trials and tribulations in the country the last couple of months, as we all know, especially over this past week. But if you want to have faith in this country, just take a look at the young men and women going into medicine, going into nursing, their level of dedication, of loyalty, the stick-to-itiveness, what they contributed during the pandemic.

For me, it was really humbling. And that's what this country is about. They really-- they sacrifice. They put themselves on the front lines. We should be very proud of our young men and women who are trainees-- young nurses, young physicians, young physician assistants. Really extraordinary. And we found a lot more interest in people going into medicine because it's a meaningful-- it's a meaningful way to contribute to society.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Before we let you go, Doctor, is 2021 going to be a year where we all still have to wear masks? I mean, even my kids are saying, you know, how much longer do we have to do this? And I know you don't have a crystal ball. But your best educated guess-- do we have another full year of mask-wearing?

STEVEN CORWIN: I don't think so. I think there's always a lag effect. There's a hysteresis effect where people are going to be reluctant as we start to get the mass vaccination, slowly to come out of it. But I think by this summer into the early fall, we should be well along the way. And I think people will have to accommodate themselves to that.

That's why I think that some of the stimulus effects now could be of real importance to get us to that point in time. Will we ever be the same again is the real question. You know, I'll tell you something. If you look at what the flu statistics were this year, they were extremely low. And a part of that is, we've been so assiduous now about social distancing and mask-wearing.

Are we going to shake hands again? Are we going to not use masks in the wintertime when there's a lot of flu around? How durable will this vaccine be? Do you have to get vaccinated every year? A lot of unanswered questions. But I think we're going to feel a lot better as a country as we go into the summertime.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: The light at the end of the tunnel, from your mouth to God's ears, Dr. Steven Corwin--

STEVEN CORWIN: Exactly.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --CEO of NewYork Presbyterian, thanks so much.

STEVEN CORWIN: Thanks.