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COVID-19: ‘Vaccines absolutely decrease the risk of transmission’, doctor says

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Dr. Ben Weston, Medical Director for the Milwaukee COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest in the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

- --you. And we want to bring in our next guest, Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for the Milwaukee COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center. Doctor, thank you so much for your time today. Just want to get your reaction to that news and if you think that there should be a mandate in place for large companies and, you know, smaller ones as well to get employees vaccinated?

BEN WESTON: Yeah, thank you for having me back. I think the answer is yes. We've seen that vaccine mandates work. We've seen that large companies that have instituted their mandates have had really great employee compliance with that.

And of course, we've seen that vaccines work. We see it locally, we see it nationally, and we see it worldwide. The countries that have more vaccines have less cases, less hospitalizations, and less deaths ultimately from COVID.

- Doctor, I think a lot of people are looking at what's happening overseas. Germany reporting a record number of new cases, Italy and France are weighing whether or not they should implement new measures as cases rise. Is the jump in cases in Europe-- I guess, how alarming is that to you? And is it a sign of what could potentially come to life or could potentially happen here in the US?

BEN WESTON: I think it is alarming. We're seeing in countries that are far more vaccinated than we are-- Germany has 68% vaccination rate-- we're seeing them have higher levels of cases than they've had throughout the entire pandemic. And if we've learned anything throughout the pandemic, it's that we don't live in isolation.

What happens around the world, what happens around the country eventually comes back to us. And so it is concerning seeing these rises in cases in Germany. We are vaccinated at 59% and they're at 68% so there's no reason to think that that same thing won't happen in the United States.

- Hey, doctor. I wanted to ask you a question about this. A lot of celebrities, Bill Maher in particular, are making a big case about the death rates from COVID in countries where 50% or more of the population is classified as obese. I think that's us, the United States. And it's-- the World Obesity Federation did a study where like Vietnam where only 18% of the population is overweight has a much lower COVID death rate.

Is the discussion-- does it need to shift? Because we've spent almost two years now having discussions about vaccines and masking and these kinds of things. And what we haven't talked about is the exercise and are you eating healthy as hospital rooms, where they're-- well, hospital rooms are filling up again.

BEN WESTON: Well, I think obesity is one comorbidity that makes people more vulnerable to COVID. That's one in a list of many, many, many comorbidities. We think about diabetes, we think about heart disease, we think about immune disorders or medications people are on that cause immunodeficiency.

Then we think of just age. There's a lot of different factors that can make you more vulnerable to COVID. So I don't know that there's a lot of use in singling out one factor or a different factor. The fact of the matter is we have thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are getting sick with COVID, who are getting hospitalized with COVID, and ultimately, who are dying with COVID.

And we as a society need to work together to get vaccinated and get protected and get beyond this.

- Hey, doctor. A lot of people already on the road or at their destination for Thanksgiving. Governor Kathy Hochul of New York says that large indoor gatherings should be avoided at all costs. That's something that a lot of people just don't want to hear after the last, you know, year that they've been through.

How should we safely be celebrating Thanksgiving? And then I want to ask you after the Thanksgiving holiday, you know, when people have sort of gone and come back to their destinations, do you think we see a spike in cases at that point 10, 14 days out?

BEN WESTON: Yeah, to your first question, I think the way to celebrate Thanksgiving safely, which all of us want to do-- there's nothing we want to do more than get together with people we haven't been able to get together with in a while. And the way to do that safely is to think about layers of protection.

Most important layer is vaccination. No doubt. Getting boosted is also a critical layer of protection. But then there's getting tested. There's rapid, relatively cheap tests out there that are easy to get. Get everybody tested the morning of-- tomorrow morning if you're getting together.

Get tested. It's an easy swab at home. 5 minutes later, 10 minutes later, you have the result. And then for unvaccinated people, you want to mask, you want to ventilate. If you can, crack a window if you're in an environment where you can do that. And then avoiding those large groups.

It's OK for people who are vaccinated, who are doing the layers of protection to get together. But the more people you have, the more risk you have. And to your second question, any time we have people gathering, any time we have people traveling to the degree that we have people traveling around the country right now, it is going to lead to an increase in cases. And that's bad for the whole country.

It's especially bad for the area I'm in, in Wisconsin and in surrounding Michigan and Minnesota. We're seeing record numbers of cases, record numbers of hospitalizations. And for 2021, the highest number of ICU admissions we've had yet,

- And doctor, I know a lot of people who are vaccinated, like myself, who have gotten boosted, they're still worried about breakthrough cases. I guess, how significantly do vaccines slow the transmission of the virus from one person to another?

BEN WESTON: So this is one of the key points is that-- and one of the key areas of misinformation. Vaccines absolutely decrease the risk of transmission. And they really do this in two ways.

The first way is that they decrease your viral load. So the amount of virus you have in your system and that you're able to spread to others. And the second way is they prevent infection in the first place.

And if you do get infected, you have that higher level of viral load for a shorter time period. So in each of those ways, it prevents us from spreading infection to other people. This is another reason why vaccination and boosters-- glad you have your booster-- are so critical.

- Such a valuable conversation. Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for the Milwaukee COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center. Thank you for taking time to speak with us today and wishing you a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving.