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COVID-19 deaths, cases rise as vaccinations slowly begin

Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman and Brian Sozzi discuss the latest in the COVID-19 pandemic with NYC-based HIV primary care physician and Vote Health Co-Founder Dr. Stella Safo.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: We want to turn back to coronavirus and the fight against it now. As we told you, a million vaccinations have now happened, at least that first dose. it's a two-dose regimen necessary to provide that immunization. At the same time, there's a new USA Today Suffolk University poll that showed 46% of Americans say they'll take the vaccine as soon as they can. And that's almost double the amount who were ready to get that shot in a poll in late October. So the sort of acceptance of getting the vaccine is rising.

Let's bring in Dr. Stella Safo. She is Vote Health co-founder and she's an NYC-based HIV primary care physician. Dr. Safo, thank you so much for being here. It is so interesting, the public perceptions about getting this vaccine. And I'm curious what you have been encountering among patients and how you're sort of trying to bring them around, if they are skeptical about getting it.

STELLA SAFO: So patients are always really, really concerned about how safe it is. And one of the first things they'll say is, doc, are you going to take it? And I think just having that understanding that many of us health care workers are very excited to get it when it is our turn, is very helpful for patients. I will say that what I found, is that I work primarily in an HIV clinic, and so I have individuals who are used to taking many medications.

And even they have questions. They want to know how safe it is. And they also want to know how effective it is, especially as we're hearing a lot more data about these new strains that are coming out. So I find that clinicians are answering a lot of very basic questions about its safety and its efficacy, because as you've said, every day we get more and more information about what is happening with the coronavirus transmission rates themselves.

The individuals that are most concerned that I have found in my clinic are my African-American and Latino patients that are really worried, and I think have had a history of being maybe a bit more doubtful about some of the safety around certain medications and treatments from the health care system. And as a black physician, that's something that I feel a lot of responsibility to provide information so that those patients feel particularly comforted as they're making the decision about taking the vaccine or not.

JULIE HYMAN: I'm glad you brought that up Dr. Safo, because one case that is also getting a lot of attention right now is the case of a black doctor, Dr. Susan Moore, who unfortunately, has just died as a result of the coronavirus. But while she was getting treatment in the hospital, she said that her white doctor was not listening to her as she was talking.

I mean, this is a doctor. And she was talking about her symptoms and telling him what she needed and felt she wasn't being listened to. And so we hear stories like that and examples of what people of color are encountering in the health care system, it's certainly understandable, the skepticism, right? So how do we overcome that?

STELLA SAFO: I mean, it's devastating. I just want to start off by saying, look, as a female physician in medicine, the way that we've all been hit by the news of Dr. Moore's death is something that we take very personal. If we're not safe as black people, if we're not safe as black physicians, we know the language, we know the, we know the medicine, and even then, we're at higher rates of having an adverse outcome if we're in the hospital for COVID or for many other things, like maternal mortality, time to being treated. If you're having a heart attack. All of these things that we've historically known.

So what we're seeing, unfortunately, is the ways in which there's a kind of a rolled in systemic racism within medicine that impacts different groups differently. And I think that that just adds to the mistrust. It's exactly as you've said. When people see the story of Dr. Moore, they think well, I can barely get treated correctly, what makes me think that the vaccine is for me. And so it does a disservice for everyone.

And this is what we talk about when we talk about racism, is something that is heavy for the entire society, because if individuals are scared to engage with public health measures, like taking a vaccine and we don't get to herd immunity, none of us are safe. And so for as much as we need to do I think to address issues like Dr. Moore, it makes all of us safer when individuals can trust that the medical establishment really is for them.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, have you had the opportunity to take the vaccine yet?

STELLA SAFO: Not yet. I work in a health system that has thousands, tens of thousands of employees. And so those who are on the front lines in the ICU in the emergency department are going first, and then the rollout is kind of happening from there. But as you can see on social media with everyone's selfies and everyone's excitedly getting the vaccine, I think one of the things that has helped, is that as clinicians are getting the vaccine, they're showing that they trust it and they're getting it.

And I think it's helping to spread that number that went from lower 20s to 46% wanting to now engage with this vaccine are seeing that people that they know are signing up and saying, yes, it's new technology, but we trust it and we'll take it.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, when it's time to get, when it's your time to get the vaccine, take us through your process the first day or two before you were to get the vaccine. How do you prepare for getting it?

STELLA SAFO: So you know, it's like the flu vaccine. And many people know the flu vaccine to be one where when you take it, you feel a little bit achy afterwards. So for any kind of vaccine that you're getting, just kind of check what you're doing around those days. You have to go and give a big presentation, maybe you want to kind of schedule yourself so you're not doing that, because as with anything that you're putting in your body, some people have different reactions.

You might have a little bit of soreness. You might have a little bit of feeling like you're a little bit not yourself, a little bit under the weather. And so for me personally, I'll take it whenever it's ready. Like I will move my schedule and make sure that I'm able to take it. But individuals may want to just check what they're doing around that time so that if you're doing something that requires you to be fully engaged, you just kind of take your time with it and think about whether you'll have some soreness in that site.

But honestly, everything that we've seen so far from the thousands, tens of thousands of individuals that are getting it, is that people literally feel a very small pinprick. That evening, they might feel a little bit of soreness and that's it. There's three people now that have had an allergic reaction to it who have a history of having anaphylaxis. And other than that, we really haven't seen individuals coming out that are having catastrophic reactions. And so that's a great question. How do you prepare? Get a good night's sleep, get some Tylenol for after you get your shot and you should be good to go.

JULIE HYMAN: And Dr. Safo, finally, I want to ask you about the medical community, which obviously, globally, everyone has had a tough time through this pandemic. But the medical community in particular in the United States, there in New York City, you've been so overtaxed through all of this. So as the vaccine starts to get deployed, just talk to me about mindset. I know people are really burned out, physicians. Is that starting to turn yet? Is some hopefulness hopefully creeping in?

STELLA SAFO: Yeah, I mean we were celebrating the other day because we all watched Dr. Fauci get his vaccine. I think part of what is helping with hope is seeing your colleagues and hopefully all of us, start to get the protection that we've been asking for by getting adequate PPE, by having the public help us by practicing safe measures, like mask wearing and socially distancing.

And so when we get a vaccine, it's just another tool that we have to keep each other as clinicians safe, and to keep the public safe. So heading into the holidays, it's just a depressing time. Nothing feels the same. I was in clinic and I have a bunch of patients that are coming in with food insecurity that that just hasn't been an issue historically.

You see in New York City more and more people are on the streets and are homeless. Nothing feels quite the same. And so I think the clinicians are feeling that kind of sadness from how much we've lost of this year, how many patients we continue to lose. And you're seeing the upsurge kind of continue. So I don't want to kind of suggest that people aren't still struggling, because they are. It's a very, very tough year and a really, really tough holiday season. But there is hope. And the vaccine being here and watching individuals get vaccinated is giving people some hope.

The main I think takeaway at this point is, how do we make sure that people know that yes, the vaccine is here, but we have many months to go. So all of those safe practices that we talk about, masks, socially distance, avoid gatherings, all of those remain in place. And that is the way that you can help your clinicians continue to feel OK with how much they're giving, is to just stay safe, keep yourself safe and keep your loved ones safe. But the vaccine has given individuals some hope.

JULIE HYMAN: Yes, great point to end on. Keep wearing that mask, keep social distancing, keep following the protocols. Hopefully there's light at the end of the tunnel. Dr. Stella Safo, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. The Volt Health co-founder and New York City-based HIV primary care physician. Be well. Happy holidays.

STELLA SAFO: Thank you.

JULIE HYMAN: Hopefully we'll catch up with you in the new year. Thank you so much.