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COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be key 'layer of protection' going forward, doctor says

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Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, an urgent care medical director in Nevada, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the importance of getting a booster shot to protect against COVID-19, how at-home tests are helping, and access to health care.

Video Transcript

KARINA MITCHELL: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance. Well, it seems like Omicron has a relative, a sub variant called stealth. To discuss, let's bring in Dr. Bio Curry-Winchell, Family Medicine and Urgent Care Medical Director. Doctor, thanks so much for joining us today. What can you tell us about this new variant? I understand there are about 100 cases in the US, more cases in Europe and Asia. But is it something that we need to be concerned about? Do we see another wave?

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: Thank you for having me. So it's important to really share that viruses naturally mutate, so this is expected. But when we talk about this new sub variant, the things that are of concern that we have to just kind of take note is, number one there seems to be an increase in transmissibility, as well as possible reinfection if you have contracted Omicron before, as well as it seems it's harder to detect when you look at lab studies. So those are some of the things that we have to make sure we take note. But at this point, there doesn't seem to be an increase in lethality or any sort of severity.

KARINA MITCHELL: And doctor, I'm wondering, Pfizer and Moderna both working on Omicron specific booster shots. With these new variants, as you say, they're going to come in because this is what viruses do-- they mutate. How necessary are those specific shots? Won't they just be outdated because they're already behind the curve?

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: So booster shots actually can be helpful because we do know that it helps you really have a return to a higher level of antibody protection. So they can really help you have decrease in symptoms so you're not really having those really severe illness or possible hospitalization. So I really want to socialize the importance that boosters can help, number one, decrease your risk of being in the hospital and possible death.

KARINA MITCHELL: So then do you envision these booster shots turning into something like the flu shot, where you come up with a new shot every year because the strain varies? Is that the way you envision future sort of booster shots happening? Because as you say, there are all these new variants. And a specific shot won't target an exactly new variant, sub variant, that comes up, for example.

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: I do, and we have to take a historical look back, that when you think of other vaccinations, we have a cadence to really help increase or have a steady level of protection. And so having a booster every year or even if it's every six months, we have to really take note on how lucky we are to have a layer of protection that can be consistent in hopes that we have less symptoms.

KARINA MITCHELL: And then, doctor, tell me what you're seeing on the ground there in Reno as far as cases. Have they peaked? Or are they starting to subside now? Are hospitals overwhelmed? What is the situation as you see it there?

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: So here in Nevada, we have not peaked. We continue to see an increase in hospitalization and case rates. And what's really important to mention is, you know, in Nevada, we were short-staffed pre-pandemic. And so when you add a pandemic plus additional surges, it really makes it difficult on the front lines to continue to do the best that we can. However, I'm so grateful for my colleagues because we have just really banded together, and we are providing the best care that we can.

KARINA MITCHELL: And doctor, the world just topped 10 billion vaccine doses that have been administered. But there are still gaps in those who are getting it and those who are not getting it. How important is it to fill those gaps to be able to get a better handle on COVID?

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: It is very important. We have to continue the dialogue and talk about the importance of vaccines and how they can help save lives. And so it's important that we invest in health literacy, as well as finding different ways to connect with patients across the world. Not everyone is able to digest information the same way. And so this is a time where we have to think outside of the box to provide health-- like credible, accurate health information because that's how we're going to close that gap.

KARINA MITCHELL: And I want to talk about the COVID pills that are now on the market from Pfizer and Merck, saying that they are actually very effective in helping treat Omicron once someone has developed it. Now we have these home kits that the government has sent out for free and people who are actually receiving them and testing and then finding that they are positive, but however, they are having a very hard time being able to access this medication and these pills. So are you seeing people coming into the hospital because they're frustrated? They know they have COVID. They know these pills will help, but they just can't get their hands on them.

BAYO CURRY-WINCHELL: So we're seeing a blend. We are seeing some patients who have mild to moderate symptoms and those that are severe. And it's important when you look at these antiviral pills, which are a wonderful resource to help treat patients, there are also certain factors that really include or exclude patients. And so there is a level of connection that you need to have with an expert, a healthcare provider, if you are to take these medications.

And so we are seeing people come in. They're frustrated. They want to get better. But it's important that they know that they have to be examined. We want to make sure we give the right medication based on your symptoms. So I'm happy that the White House has delivered access to home tests. That's a wonderful piece in really fighting this pandemic. But we have to improve opportunities for patients to get access to care.

KARINA MITCHELL: All right, we will leave it there. Thank you so much for all you are doing and for your time today. Dr. Bio Curry-Winchell, Family Medicine and Urgent Care Medical director. Alexis, I'll send it over to you.