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WHO classifies triple-mutant Covid variant from India as global health risk

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Dr. Sejal Hathi, Physician & Clinical Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital & host of “Civic Rx” podcast, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the lastest on covid-19.

Video Transcript

- Let's bring into the stream Dr. Sejal Hathi, physician and clinical fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. Also host of "Civic RX," the podcast. And Doctor, thank you for joining us. Got to get right to this news that broke within the last two hours about the WHO saying that this new variant out of India-- I hate the terminology, because I've heard people call them scariants. But triple mutant variant.

Do we know one, if vaccines are effective against it? And what do we know about the ability to recover if you become infected with it?

SEJAL HATHI: Well, firstly thank you so much for having me on. And I am glad that the WHO has come out and classified the Indian triple mutant as a variant of concern, which means that it is more transmissible, perhaps more deadly, perhaps more powerfully evasive of the vaccines we have so far. And we're eagerly awaiting the report that the WHO will release tomorrow conveying the full breadth of evidence that undergirds this new statement and decision on their part.

But preliminary reports do demonstrate that this triple mutant, which is likely the principal driver of the surge, devastating surge in infections across the country of India, is more transmissible. It's more contagious. And it's more resistant to the vaccines we have available.

So this is a variant of concern, not merely to India, but to the entire world. And certainly to those of us here in the United States who especially remain unvaccinated.

- So Doctor, we're learning about this variant at a time when more and more companies are bringing their workers back to the office. We just got a couple of more announcements over the last few days. Should companies be bringing workers back? Is it still too early? How are you reading that scenario?

SEJAL HATHI: Well, I think that companies are absolutely right to begin to bring back their workers to the office so long as their workers are vaccinated. And they can ensure that they are fostering therefore a safe and secure environment for their employees. I think particularly as Pfizer and subsequently other vaccine manufacturers begin to seek full FDA authorization beyond merely the Emergency Use Authorization for these vaccines, more and more companies will feel empowered to require vaccines of their employees.

And with that requirement, in turn, to begin to encourage, if not mandate more of their employees to return to the workplace. So certainly we need to continue to wear masks indoors. I'm fully aligned with the CDC in that requirement. And we still need to continue--

- Right.

SEJAL HATHI: --to act as caution, but I think companies are right to begin to bring back their workers into the workplace.

- But let's talk about vaccines. Because in the other variants-- the Brazilian and the UK variant-- we've come to learn that the vaccines are effective. So the ruling is still out on this Indian variant. And yet we've got states in the United States having trouble getting people to get the vaccine who haven't been vaccinated. And are now going to take less of their allotment because it would go to waste. If they were to accept it. How to get on top of that situation?

SEJAL HATHI: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And we're seeing that-- I think largely along political lines, states are beginning to use less and less of their vaccine allotments. Arkansas, a couple of weeks ago, declined its full share of doses for that week. Wisconsin officials asked for just 8% of the doses that the federal government had allocated and so on and so on.

And so you're starting to see the states have not only a surplus, but a full glut of vaccines on hand. And accordingly, I think we really need to think more about how to encourage more individuals to take up those vaccines, whether it's incentives like various states have adopted, monetary incentives encouraging folks to get vaccinated.

Whether it's enlisting the support of trusted messengers like primary care providers who had been largely excluded from the earlier rollout. To the 40,000 pharmacies now distributing these vaccines to church leaders, engaging those trusted leaders and in encouraging vaccines to, of course, vaccine passports and other mandates that we might start to see increasingly across the country.

We need to encourage more folks to get vaccinated. So we can meet that July 4 deadline or goal of 70% of the population, whereas now we're only at 50% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose. But let me just say one more thing.

- Sure.

SEJAL HATHI: I think that because more and more states are starting to see a surplus of these vaccine doses, that's even a stronger argument for the United States to step up and provide that excess dose to countries like India that are suffering this devastating shortage. We are making more than 20 million vaccine doses a week.

- Sure.

SEJAL HATHI: States have more than enough supply. I think we need to do more to supply those doses to the rest of the world.

- Dr. Sejal Hathi. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll be right back.