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COVID-19 vaccine rollout 'really has to be on a federal level': Doctor

Dr. Anand Swaminathan, Emergency Medicine Physician in New Jersey, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments, as the CDC reports 10 million Americans have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's chat now about the coronavirus pandemic. It's now risen to 23.1 million positive cases in the United States. And the death toll has surged to over 385,000 deaths. That's all according to the tracker over at Johns Hopkins University.

We have Dr. Anand Swaminathan, emergency medicine physician in New Jersey joining us now. Always great chatting with you, Doctor. I want to talk about that vaccine piece. We're seeing states expand eligibility for those vaccinations. In your estimation, because we're under where we want to be, how can we be doing a better job on the vaccination front?

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: I think there are a lot of things we need to do to get vaccines to more people. Expanding the pool of who can get it is, is one step. But it's really a logistical nightmare to get all of this done. And we knew this was going to happen. We knew that getting health care workers done was relatively easy, because, you know, where they're going to be most health care workers want it, which helps.

Now getting it out to the general public, we really need to be careful in how we do this. And a lot of the things that need to be in place takes a fair amount of federal funding and really has to be on a federal level. The fact that each state is creating an app or some kind of a website to get this done is sort of ridiculous when really what it should be is a federal effort to create one thing that the states can then roll out on their own but having each state do it on their own.

And we're hearing about people who are using SignUpGenius to figure out who's going to get a vaccine and when. And that's an absolutely crazy way to do this. So we really need is we need sites running 24 hours a day. We need a huge investment in people to get people there that can deliver these vaccines.

It's not hard. A little bit of training, almost anybody can do it. And that's how we're really going to get ahead of this but without the manpower, without the locations. Without the technological side of it, we're never going to get to our goal of a million vaccines a day, which is really what we should be shooting for.

KRISTIN MYERS: And to your point, the state of Florida turning to Eventbrite to handle their vaccine distribution. And that crashed and burned and failed miserably-- some of those attempts. You're in New Jersey. I want to talk to you about something that's happening in Jersey that we saw quite a bit of debate about on Twitter-- reminded me of my bioethics courses that I took back in college.

In the state, smokers are being prioritized since smoking is an underlying health condition that can make you more susceptible to death from this virus. And I am seeing a lot of folks saying that they don't think that that is fair to have smokers prioritized over themselves in this line for a vaccine.

I'm hoping you can explain why this is the right call to make. Or if you disagree, please let us know, given that it gives-- what the protection that it gives to the public health system and the health care system at large.

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: Yeah, I mean, as public health workers, we can't be making judgments on people's choices. We have to do the right thing to get the most people vaccinated and the most at-risk people vaccinated. Smoking is definitely going to be a risk factor. If you have underlying lung disease, you're going to be more likely to get very sick from Covid.

So yes, we should be hitting at-risk populations and getting them the vaccine and not making those kind of judgments on the choices that people have made. That's not our job to do. And also, that will protect more people. The more people we get vaccinated, the more people are going to be protected.

But Kristin, it's not just the smokers. We really need to expand this to other high-risk populations. We've seen almost 1/2 million infections in the prison population. The prisoners need to get vaccinate now. They should be at the front of the line because it's a high-risk group because of how they're living together.

And also, we have an opportunity to get them while they're in prison. We need to take advantage of that. And I think we know these vaccines are safe. We have millions of people who have gotten them. Let's get them to other high-risk populations.

The other group that we really need to be working to get is homeless people, because that's another group that it's hard to access, and they're very at risk. So yes, smokers, it's a good start. But there are some other high-risk populations out there that we also need to be getting vaccinated-- start working on that right away.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to pick up on something that I saw in your note which really resonated with me about some of the folks that you personally are seeing that are testing positive for Covid and the reasons why. So for everyone at home who's watching who isn't going out but says, oh, I'm going to go visit my mom or my dad or my relative. Or I'm going to go see my best friend because they just got tested, and it came back negative.

What would you say to folks who think that they're being safe? What are you seeing as some of the most dangerous, you know, scenarios where really this virus is starting to spread?

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: The last couple of weeks of working, I've heard multiple times, patients coming in who are very sick Oh, I just saw my friend. I just had dinner with a couple of friends indoors, and they had tested negative. They recently got back from vacation. They got a test. They were negative, so I thought it was OK. And you really can't test into safety here.

If you get a test, you can have either a false negative, which means that you have it. Just the test was it was too early to catch it. Or you're getting the-- you're getting Covid immediately after getting your negative test and then passing it on. Those indoor meetings is the highest-risk situation right now that we really have to avoid.

This is the superspreader. This is where this disease is taking more hold and spreading further. And I've had so many patients over the last couple of weeks that have told me exactly that story. My friend got back. I haven't seen them in a long time. He tested negative, so we got together for dinner. We got together for drinks. And this is a really high-risk situation we can't get into.

And part of the problem here is the messaging that's been going on all along. People think you can test into a safe situation. It just doesn't work that way. Unless people are quarantining themselves for two weeks or at least 10 days, it's just not safe for us to be gathering indoors. And we just need to stick it out a little longer.

I think the fact that these vaccines are here, and we hear about so many people getting vaccinated and signing up-- we're starting to get a little bit lazy on the public health precautions that we need. And this is really the time to double down, especially with the new variants out there. We know that's more transmissible.

We really need to focus our efforts on good, simple public health measures so we can protect each other, protect ourselves. You just can't say, oh, they got a test. It's safe to do this. It just doesn't work that way.

KRISTIN MYERS: Very, very good reminder indeed. I think this pandemic fatigue really sets in. And folks think that it's safe to see just one or two people. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, emergency medicine doctor in New Jersey. Thanks so much for bringing us all those updates.