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Booster shots are an ‘ethical question’ we have to look at: Doctor

Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis & Former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer, joins Yahoo Finance for the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Well, the Delta variant continues to surge around the country as we head right into back to school season. And in Texas, new guidelines stipulate-- get this-- that schools do not have to inform parents of positive cases, they don't have to conduct contact tracing, and if they do, parents can still send a student to school, even if they were in close contact with another infected student. We're joined now by Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis and former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer.

Doctor, always great to have you here with us. So let's just start with some of these guidelines that are being put forth in Texas for the schools. They are, at least to me, I'm not a parent, though, a little bit alarming. I'm curious to know what you think is going to happen in a state like Texas, which we already know is contributing to the high numbers of cases that we have in the country, once school begins again.

RISHI DESAI: Yeah, I think using the word, guidelines, is very generous. I would use the word, unmitigated chaos. I mean, that's just nonsense-- you know, the idea that if a child is sick, I think it makes a lot of sense-- common sense-- to let parents and other children know so they can be aware. And this is something we've had 18 months to learn about, so I think at this point when when politicians are passing rules like that, there's really no excuse for it.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Do you think at a bare minimum, then, that we should be having schools mandating mask-wearing? Some are. Some haven't made decisions yet and school is just a mere weeks away.

RISHI DESAI: It's a really good question. I think that it's a question that we should answer region by region. So let's say you're in an area where there is a lot of rapid spread-- I'm thinking of Florida, Louisiana, Georgia-- then absolutely you should require that schools have masks for their children. In areas where maybe the spread is less severe, maybe it could be a school by school decision. I'm thinking of places like Vermont where the rates are generally much lower.

KRISTIN MYERS: What about booster shots, doctor? Because this is something that we've heard a couple of CEOs say that they are already starting to test. They say that they could have booster shots available as soon as this fall. Of course, we have heard about waiting to give booster shots until some other countries can at least get the first and second shots in the arms of their people. But is this really, now, a time that we need to start talking about getting some of those booster shots, perhaps as early as a couple of weeks from now?

RISHI DESAI: So I think it's a great question. I think that the other question we have to think about in parallel would be shots for unimmunized children below the age of 12, right? So that's another big group that we want to protect. And they don't have any immunization. So with booster shots, it's an ethical question that we have to look at with the framework of the whole world in mind. Delta variant didn't come up in the US, but it arrived in the US from abroad.

And again, if folks overseas are not vaccinated, we'll be dealing with the epsilon variant, the gamma variant-- you know, it's going to keep going. And so what you want to do is say, OK, with the limited amount of production capacity globally for a vaccine, where should those vaccines go and how do we best protect Americans? Would we be better off, potentially, by getting those vaccines into the arms of folks overseas that have zero protection, and therefore protecting us from getting another variant? And I think that makes a lot more sense in the near-term. And in fact, that's the position of the WHO.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, to that end where we need to really get the world on board with this vaccination program, we heard from the biotech company Novavax saying that it's going to delay the submission of its vaccine to the FDA for emergency use authorization until at least the fourth quarter. Novavax's stock, by the way, is down something like 20%. We're going to be speaking with the CEO a little later on. But is that a huge setback when you hear a biotech company producing the vaccine come out with something like that?

RISHI DESAI: No, I don't think that's a huge setback. I think that that's probably a very responsible take. I mean, obviously, they have the internal data to make those calls. And they have a vested interest in getting their product out in the market. So if they're saying, no, there's a reason for a delay, I would trust that and think that that's probably based on shrewd guidance based around safety issues and efficacy issues.

So you know, you don't want a product coming to market before it's ready. Because what happens is then it gets into the arms of folks, and maybe it's not effective, maybe it's not safe, and that's the last thing that we need right now. So we need to stay the course and make sure that we give folks the time that they need.

There are many other manufacturers out there, and we're very lucky that there are vaccines out there that are very effective. I think just scaling up the existing vaccines is where we should focus our efforts.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask about something else that we've seen a lot of folks doing lately, which is traveling. We have Europe essentially reopened, particularly to vaccinated Americans. We recently heard President Biden saying that he was going to make it a requirement for all foreign travelers that are hoping to come to the United States, requiring that they be vaccinated before they can make the trip. But I'm curious to know if right now folks should even be traveling at all, as we are seeing not just the Delta variant, but now we're hearing about this Delta-plus variant that is now making its way around the country-- or the world, I should say.

RISHI DESAI: Yeah, exactly. It's a really good question. I mean, travel can come in many forms. I can go to a neighboring city and I can drive over there. It can mean flying to a major metropolis. And so those are very different situations. In general, if you have unvaccinated folks that are traveling and they're going to places where there's high levels of circulating disease, that's the worst case scenario, right?

So probably an unvaccinated person like, let's say, a young child flying to Florida is the last situation that you want. The opposite situation would be driving from a low level of circulation to another low level of circulation-- much safer. So those are the extremes. And I think in general, it's probably a good idea not to travel to any areas of high circulation. The US, keep in mind, is another hotspot.

So if anything, you know, we're in the area of high risk. And within the US are pockets of high risk, and I would avoid those areas if you can.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, we're going to leave that there. Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis, former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Officer, always great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.