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We need to come to an agreement as a country: Research Director on preventing the spread of Covid-19

Research Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Mercy Kansas City - Dr. Barbara Pahud joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the rise in coronavirus cases across the globe and its impact on businesses.

Video Transcript

- As we continue to see some states instituting restrictions and moving backwards here, we got the update here in New York City yesterday from Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, that New York City would be closing down schools again after the city's positivity rate here, in terms of coronavirus testing, hit a 3% average over the last seven days. It also comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly removed a disputed document that it had posted earlier in the year after President Trump had been pushing for more reasons as to why we should be reopening schools this fall despite some concerns that coronavirus still would be able to be transmitted by students and younger children as they returned to schools. Want to break down that issue as well as the latest vaccine updates here with our next guest.

That would be Dr. Barbara Pahud, a Research Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy in Kansas City. Alongside-- I also want to bring into the conversation here Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani. And Dr. Pahud, I mean, when we break this down, that is one of the big question marks that had been there when we talk about faith in the system, in the CDC. Perhaps some pressure is coming from President Trump to perhaps, you know, overlook some of the scientific concerns here. What have you seen when you specifically look at schools, children, and the risks around coronavirus?

BARBARA PAHUD: Listen, when we started working on this at the very beginning of the pandemic, trying to get kids back to school, it was crystal clear to us pediatricians that the best spot for a child to be is at school. But we were unaware of what the risk would be for the child and for the teachers to open up schools. We now have data to show that those that have opened up have been able to go back to school as long as they continue to serve measures, like wearing masks and cohorting their patients.

My daughter is in school right now and she's doing face to face, and things are going great. Unfortunately, the schools are at the mercy of the community. So the community is not doing the correct thing, they're not wearing masks, and there's ongoing transmission within the community, there's going to be cases in school, but not because the transmission is happening inside of the school. So, if I ruled the world, which I don't, I would say community spread needs to stop by putting more harsh measures, by maybe closing some restaurants or businesses, and ensuring mask wearing, but not necessarily closing the schools.

- Yeah, on that point, we've seen Mayor Bill de Blasio here in New York City really getting hit hard by critics who say, why is it, in fact, that bars and gyms are remaining open when schools are being closed. He's consistently pointed to this 3% positivity rate as the bar for closure when the WHO, for example, said 5% is OK. When you look at what's playing out here, is the city being too conservative?

BARBARA PAHUD: I mean, I am not in New York City. I used to live there. So I understand they're trying to close everything, but I agree with you that if it was my decision, I would limit the spread of disease in the community, not in the schools.

There are children that require those lunches, that they need to be in school to avoid being exposed at home to a concern for child abuse. Parents are stressed. Communities are stressed. We should be thinking about this backwards, in my opinion, and closing, like you said, gyms before we close schools.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, we just heard from the CDC on several points dealing with Thanksgiving guidance. On one hand, going back to the point that schools are closing, and the guidance that had come previously from then, but also looking now for Thanksgiving and restrictions on travel, or at least the idea of it, or the suggestion of it, coming down from the CDC. It's probably one of the first times we've seen any kind of national strategy coming from them.

Can this really be enforced? Is this something that we should be taking into account? Or is it just too broad and too much for the CDC to enforce?

BARBARA PAHUD: I think it's too much and too broad for the CDC to enforce. As you know in this country, everything goes down to a very small level. Even if the governor of Kansas imposes, for example, wide range use of masks, it's up to each county to decide if they want to enforce it or not. So that is one of the problems we're facing in the United States, that everything is decided at a local level, and there's pretty much nothing that happens at a national level.

And remember how hard it was for us to get seatbelts approved. But it's not until that happened as a law that we were able to stop preventing deaths in cars. So, unfortunately, at some point, if we really want to take care of this pandemic, it's going to have to be something that everybody agrees to do as a country, not case by case, state by state, county by county.

- Yeah, and that's the big question here too. I mean, we talk about New York so much just because we're here, and also it's the nation's largest school district. So, obviously, it's big news when they reverse course. But also, on that front, I mean, you have the mayor coming out and saying, look, indoor dining, the writings on the wall. That's probably going to shut down in the next week or two as well, just a matter of time.

So maybe splitting hairs here when we say, all right, well, which one's going to close first, if the overall trend is going backwards and shutting more things down. So when you look at it, what's been your take here as we've seen renewed discussions? It sounds like Biden's task force discussed the idea of a nationwide lockdown, but has swept that aside. Not necessarily something that President-elect Joe Biden wants to do here. But what is your take on maybe some of those restrictions and how much farther we should be going as cases continue to rise?

BARBARA PAHUD: Well, again, I think we should be-- I mean, it's my understanding in New York that the school closure came way before the idea of closing restaurants, or gyms, or anything that makes money. So I guess this is what we should be talking about in this type of media, things that make money, people are afraid of locking down the economy, right? Well, my job is not-- I'm not an economist. I don't work in that field.

I'm a pediatrician. So I'm more worried about the kids than I am about the economy. And of course, I worry about the economy, but my point is, if the kids and the schools are not driving this pandemic up, why are we starting there? Because it's the easy thing to do politically speaking? I don't think that's the right thing for us to do as a nation to curb this pandemic. And we should be going with the data, not with the finances.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Doctor, one of those things, of course, that the financial industry, and really all sectors in the business world, are looking at is the vaccine and the good news that we've received. But of course, the one that reach the general public until next April, at earliest, according to many officials. So going off of that, there has been a lot of focus, and I know it's something you're passionate about, about diversity in those clinical trials.

We've seen some results coming out with the diversity of the demographics of the trial participants. Has that been satisfactory? And I know that the children and toddlers that are going to be entering the trials, you know, it might be a little bit harder to get the diversity there. I wonder what your thoughts are on that.

BARBARA PAHUD: So many thoughts on that. Number one, let's start with the kids. We need to start doing pediatric clinical trials. The only company that is currently doing it is Pfizer. They started with teenagers.

And other companies are going to start doing that as well. And that needs to happen because again, speaking about the schools, if you had a vaccine for children, and children were immunized, parents and teachers would feel more comfortable about going back to school, even though the data shows that schools are not the major driver of the pandemic. Now for the other vaccines, of course, it's very reassuring data we've been seeing.

I would not focus too much on the 90 versus 95%. From the very beginning, we knew the data were going to be comfortable because when Pfizer released their results two weeks ago, they said, 90%. That was one week post second vaccination. Moderna released 95% two weeks post vaccination.

So when you normalize those two things, obviously, the data is going to be very similar. They use similar technology, Messenger RNA. It's very reassuring to know that the vaccines are working. And the diversity--

- That efficacy rate is not the one we should be focused on, what should we be looking to?

BARBARA PAHUD: Well, what I mean is, the details of 90% versus 95%. I mean, we're splitting hairs. They're both really 95% at the end of the day. They were just reporting at different time frames. One was reporting efficacy at one week post, second dose. The other one was reporting efficacy two weeks post, second dose.

And then when Pfizer realized that's what Moderna did, the two week post, they came out with their new results this week of, we are also 95%. Of course, what I'm saying is they're all over 90%. They're both great. That's fantastic in the vaccine world. I think all the other vaccines, as we continue to finish clinical trials, are going to continue to show good efficacy. But a difference of 90 to 95, they're both great, and it's fantastic news.

And from a diversity perspective. We are doing our best to try to enroll African-American and Latinx populations, but there are still a lot of distrust among these communities of joining these clinical trials. But we are doing the best we can. And there's been more enrollment of African-American and Latinos in this type of study with the COVID vaccines than ever before in clinical trials. So it is definitely a step in the right direction, but we need to do more.

- Yes, and to your point, I mean, we saw the threshold by the FDA being set at 50% efficacy. So you're right. Splitting hairs at 90, 95, the market seemingly agreeing with that as well as we're not seeing as big a pop on the AstraZeneca news as we did earlier. But appreciate you coming on to chat with us today. Dr. Barbara Pahud, alongside Yahoo Finances, Anjalee Khemlani. I thank you both.