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The COVID-19 vaccine is an ‘important tool’ in a ‘much larger toolbox’: Doctor

Infectious Disease Physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the John Cochran VA Medical Center Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest as COVID-19 cases rise.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: I want to turn to the COVID pandemic because the confirmed number of cases surpassing 18 million here in the US. And this, of course, coming as vaccine distribution efforts continue nationwide and really around the world. Earlier today, Dr. Fauci, along with other top health officials, received Moderna's vaccine. So this is Moderna's vaccine on camera earlier today. You can see it there on your screen right now.

For more on this, we want to bring in Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis. She's an infectious disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the John Cochran VA Medical Center. Doctor, it's great to have you on the show. We're getting that high number of cases that I just mentioned, coupled with the news yesterday about that mutation coming out of the UK.

And speaking of Dr. Fauci getting the vaccine, he mentioned earlier today that that new strain is likely already here in the US. When you hear something like that in the conversations that you're having with your colleagues, how concerned should we be?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: I think, you know, it's definitely been a long stretch, and all eyes on the virus. So it's understandable that with news like this, it would cause some concern amongst the public. But I would reassure people in knowing that this is a normal part of what vaccines do. Vaccines mutate, we've seen this across viruses.

This strain, though, does bring with it some concern because it appears that there's data to show in what researchers are seeing both in the UK and South Africa that it may carry with it a higher level of transmissibility. However, we have nothing to show that, and more importantly, nothing to show that it would evade the vaccines that have already been approved in our currently-- in distribution.

It takes time. And we already have researchers at Walter Reed who are looking into what this could potentially mean.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Doctor, it's Brian Cheung here. I wanted to ask just in terms of, though, where we stand with the surging COVID cases. We need to bridge those few months before we get to widespread inoculation with these vaccines under development. But in many corners of this country, think Southern California, for example, where ICU beds are just really running short, are we able to really get to a point where we can actually, at least for right now, flatten the curve enough to bring that term back so that we can get to a point where the hospitals aren't overloaded and really experiencing a lot of death before we can get that widespread vaccine?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: It's such an important question, and I'm so glad you brought this up. Because how I talk to my patients is I tell them that the vaccine is a really important tool but in a much wider toolbox. It is going to take us time to even get to the types of the numbers we need to get to for this vaccine to have the long-term effect we need it to have.

And especially with this having to be rolled out in phases and not all at once, it will take time. And so in the meantime, all of the tenets that we've been talking about since the beginning of the year are still so crucial. And top amongst those are masking. We need universal masking at this time. These numbers are unprecedented.

We should not be at this point this late in the year with everything we know. But unfortunately, we are. And I sympathize with people and empathize with them. We're tired, it's exhausting. But the masking has to be in place, social distancing. Winter comes with it flu season and a myriad of other respiratory viruses.

And so without these other things in place, including not having large gatherings at a time where a lot of people have to be indoors, by definition of the season, it's so important that all of these things come together with the vaccine. And with that combination, we will get there.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, talking about getting there, it's going to be a long road, like you were just outlining. So many of these health and safety measures, it's so critical that Americans follow them over the next couple months. But when we talk about a vaccine, I guess the question is, when do you expect a vaccine to be something that is not rationed anymore? Do we need another entrant into the market in order for supply to meet demand and then possibly even exceed it?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Right. You know, we don't know how long this vaccine is going to last. And so part of this is continuing to collect data, seeing how much uptake we get in society, and then seeing what the long-term ramifications are. We have such a variability with vaccines right now. As you know, we have vaccines that you only need a booster every 10 years.

We have one vaccines where it's a one shot-- one shot phenomenon. And then we have things like the flu vaccine that require us to take them every year. A lot of us feel that coronavirus will fall somewhere in the middle there, where we may need to take a booster maybe every year to two years.

But even with that in play, that is a much better scenario where we are now. We just need to get this out, have transparent rollout and distribution, protocols in place, and have our communities continue to listen to these really important public health examples.

BRIAN CHEUNG: All right. Well, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, again, at Wash U School of Medicine, thank you so much for joining us today.

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Thank you so much for having me.