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'The biggest risk for Americans right now regarding COVID-19 is what’s happening across the world': Doctor

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Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers and Alexis Christoforous to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back. Let's turn now to the coronavirus pandemic. An independent panel has found that the pandemic was, quote, "a preventable disaster," while the state of Massachusetts is providing a model in fighting the virus that other states could, perhaps, use. We're joined now by Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center.

Doctor, thanks so much for joining us today. What is Massachusetts doing right? And can it be replicated by other states in this fight against the pandemic?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Thanks so much for having me. It is a good time to be living in Massachusetts. I think there's a lot to learn. I wouldn't say that Massachusetts or anywhere else has done everything right the whole time, but having our first day with zero COVID deaths is really a milestone in many months, unfortunately.

I think the major things that Massachusetts is doing is vaccinating-- trying really hard to get the vaccines out to the people. There's so many initiatives for that happening. And I think it's balancing not being overzealous with reopening. We're seeing effects of policies from weeks and months ago slowly adding up.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, having said that, doctor, we're here in New York City, and we're looking at fully reopening, according to our Mayor de Blasio, on July 1-- restaurants are going to go to 100% capacity May 19. It all seems like it's moving a little fast. What are your feelings on that?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: I mean, I agree. I think many of us would say it's really scary to be reopening when we-- to that degree when we don't really have control yet. And I have to say what's really scary is that although there is this feeling of a light at the end of the tunnel with zero deaths, you know, there's another tunnel coming, I worry, from the other side of the globe and everything we're seeing in India. That's really going to all come back home and effect us here too.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point then, doctor, can we get out of this pandemic if we don't-- as that independent panel that I had mentioned in the introduction-- they had recommended that wealthier countries like the United States need to start donating vaccines to other nations. Can we get out of this pandemic unless we make moves like that?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah. You know, I think that there's going to have to be dramatic changes in the ways that we get vaccines out there. It's just not enough. And I think I would say that the biggest risk for Americans right now regarding COVID is what's happening across the world. I'm so worried about the development and spread of those variants. We know, and the WHO report kind of confirms, that the ability to collaborate, strategize together, and to contain and eradicate the virus has just been lacking across the globe.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, doctor, we know now that children ages 12 to 15 have been green-lighted to receive the Pfizer vaccine. You know, there were two camps out there-- there were some parents who were clamoring to get their kids vaccinated and others who say they might not believe that these vaccines are safe enough for their children. Or others are saying, you know what? The virus doesn't affect kids, it seems, the same way as it does adults. If enough adults have coverage, why do I need to get my child vaccinated? What would you say to those folks?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: That was my seven-year-old in the background, and I can't wait to get her vaccinated. All of these concerns-- the concerns are real. And what I would say is that the biggest reason to vaccinate kids isn't to protect the kids, it's because kids can also be a vector to spread the virus.

And we don't know with variants if that will change, if they'll be more spread amongst kids. We just don't know all of that. And the best way to suppress the virus spreading is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. I, of course, I think we should be following the guidelines, as we are. We shouldn't rush to vaccinate children earlier than the safety data kind of shows. But you know, I will have my kids first in line once they're eligible.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, doctor, how much do you think these variants and these mutations might continue to present a hurdle or an obstacle moving forward, even as we get now even teenagers vaccinated as well, in addition to all of the adults? I feel like I see so many different headlines about, one, the efficacy of the vaccines against those variants, but then two, about how dangerous or how damaging some of these mutations really are in this fight.

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: It's a great point. I think if-- so many of us have been so unsuccessful at predicting the future. But what I see is that we get better and better control of the virus at home. We reopen more and more and everything is looking good. And yet at the same time, across the world, we have what's really, I mean, unspeakable tragedy.

I'm constantly talking with family and friends out there and trying to help and figure out what's going on. But what affects us here is also the fact that that's where these variants get created from-- when there's such widespread virus. And that's going to affect us. So I worry that we'll get better and better control here, and I worry that if we don't get good control everywhere, then it's going to come back and bite us hard.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, I want to ask you something we're seeing in pockets throughout the country, most recently with the staff of the New York Yankees, where we're seeing a few cases of folks who have been fully vaccinated coming back positive for COVID-19. They're calling these breakthrough cases.

You know, it leads to the question, why am I getting vaccinated if I can still wind up getting this virus? You know, what would you tell those people?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah, I'd say, you know, the upper 90% in the best, kind of most optimistic data that we've seen of effectiveness of these vaccines-- isn't 100%. We don't expect, necessarily, 100%, right? But the cost and risk of getting these vaccines is still incredibly low. And that 90% is incredibly high-- even short of that, even 70% is still incredibly high.

What I would say is that there's going to be some people who get sick after being vaccinated. And there's going to be some people for whom that's true even with the full vaccination, and all the timeline, and all of that. I think we can say that in many cases, the impact is less severe. That's a major reason.

But the biggest reason is still just that you have an incredible, incredible amount of protection when you're vaccinated. It really means a lot. And to point to these kind of, like, one-off cases that we expected would happen and we're seeing now is really not a good reason to be hesitant about getting the vaccine.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, doctor, on that point of vaccine hesitancy, just anecdotally, about six weeks ago, I was trying to get a vaccine appointment for one of my parents, and there was nothing to be found unless I wanted to drive about 400 miles or try to cross state lines to get a vaccine. And now just the other day, I went to make an appointment again, and appointments abounded.

I mean, I could have taken myself a couple of football teams with me to get vaccinated. That's how many appointments were available. How do we, then, overcome that point of hesitancy, as we're clearly seeing that demand, which far outstripped supply at one point in time, clearly now falling below?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah, it's challenging because I can imagine people are saying, look, things are getting better. Zero deaths in Massachusetts. We're on the right track. Maybe I don't really need to go out and get my shot.

Really, this comes down to the point that you get a shot not just for yourself, but for your whole community-- in a way, for the whole world. And so I think it's still beneficial for everyone who can to get out there and get vaccinated, and at the same time to say, it is-- it's hard to be in Massachusetts right now as an Indian-American and see all these vaccine appointments, and this incredible surplus, and vaccine hesitancy-- and then to have my family and friends in India have an exactly inverted situation. So we should be grateful for the privilege we have, and we should take advantage of it because it helps everyone.

KRISTIN MYERS: That is so true. My best friend lives in India, and she also now struggling with the virus-- having a very difficult time there. So it is definitely a very timely and also important reminder. Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center, thanks so much for joining us today.