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Director of Vaccine Education Center: 'The governor of Florida has served as a friend of SARS-CoV-2 virus'

Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center and attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest in COVID-19 and the spread of the Delta variant.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: OK, first I want to get to another big story of the day, and that of course, is the rise in the Delta variant and the number of cases that we are seeing nationwide. What's different this time around is it seems like more children are getting sick. And that's the area that we want to focus on. So we want to bring in our guest Dr. Paul Offit. He's the director of the Vaccine Education Center, attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

And of course, our reporter on Anjalee Khemlani is joining the conversation as well. Dr. Offit, it's great to have you. I guess, just give us your perspective just on where things stand right now and what needs to be done to address this very, very serious matter, and this time around, the fact that more children are getting sick.

PAUL OFFIT: Well, we need to vaccinate the unvaccinated. Unfortunately, we only have about 50% of the population that's vaccinated. That's well less than it needs to be. We have, I think, done a poor service for our children. Children less than 12 years of age can't be vaccinated. Unfortunately, the 12 to 17-year-old, although they can be vaccinated, only about 30% have been. So we're about to go back to school when this susceptible group of people are going to be in one place with the Delta variant. And plus we'll head to a season where it'll be cooler and drier, i.e. late fall and early winter when this virus is going to spread more.

And we're not as good this year in terms of herd behavior. Last year, we were great in schools in terms of masking and social distancing. This year, not so much. And so I think it's kind of a recipe for what could be a difficult fall and winter. And hopefully we'll have a vaccine in hand for the five to 12-year-old. But that's not going to happen before school starts.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Dr. Offit, on that point, behavior much better last year. But this year, we're looking at states like Florida, for example, which if you look at the context of the case count, they're surpassing Botswana in terms of cases per capita. But meanwhile, at the school level, the governor has threatened to defund school districts or even stop compensating teachers or individuals in school districts that try to implement mask mandates and the like. What are your thoughts on how that's going to impact maybe hospitalizations, you yourself being in a hospital right now?

PAUL OFFIT: It's inexplicable. I mean, you have basically the governor of Florida has served as a friend of Sars-CoV-2 virus. I mean, for children less than 12 years of age, the only chance they have of avoiding this virus is to mask. That's it. Vaccines aren't available for them. And yet, the governor has put children in a position where they may not go into a classroom where there's masking. I was actually just on this NPR 1A program earlier today. And a nine-year-old called in from Florida and said she was scared. She knew that she couldn't be vaccinated, she knew that she could only mask, and she was hoping that all her friends would also mask.

I mean, you're listening to her talk, you would like to see her run for the governor of Florida. Because she seems to understand the concept of masking much better than he does. It just doesn't make sense. It's sort of like civil liberties uber alles, including above public health. It just puts children in a dangerous position unnecessarily.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Definitely. Looking forward to the end of the week, there's reports about the CDC advisory committee meeting to discuss boosters. What are you hoping will come out of that, especially considering the conversation has been immunocompromised versus other individuals more broadly speaking?

PAUL OFFIT: Again, so that's boosters for people who are immune compromised. I mean, either it's sort of bone marrow transplant, solid organ transplant, people who are getting chemotherapy like drugs to say for rheumatoid arthritis, or people who are getting biologicals for their multiple sclerosis. That's going to be the focus of that meeting. And again, booster dosing isn't really the problem right now in this country. The problem in this country is we have a critical percentage of people who aren't vaccinated.

And if you look at the contagiousness index of this virus, we're going to need to get up into at least the mid 80% range, preferably no low 90% range of population immunity if we're to successfully stop the spread of this virus. And we're not close to that. And so I think the discussion going forward over the next six months is going to be what you've seen over the last few weeks, which is mandates. I think we're going to have to compel primarily through the private sector people to do the right thing.

- Doctor, what do you say to people who disregard science, disregard facts, you can't have a rational discussion because they won't even acknowledge facts. So what do you say?

PAUL OFFIT: Well I think you can't say anything. I mean, if reason, and logic, and data are not persuasive, then you're faced with two choices. You have a group of people who are saying, we're not going to get vaccinated. We're going to allow this virus to continue to spread, continue to create mutants which may become more and more resistant to vaccine induced immunity, continue to cause harm. What are you going to do about it? So you can do nothing. You can stand back and say, this is your right to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection. Or you can do what I think is being done, to some extent at the federal level, but much more so in the private sector, which is to mandate vaccines.

I think it's sad that it's come to that. We shouldn't need to do that. Other countries are doing much better at this than we are. But unfortunately, I'm a child of the '50s. I saw a polio virus as an enemy, an enemy that we were able to conquer because we all saw that as a common enemy. Not this virus. This virus has a great many friends, and the ones you just mentioned, science denialists, vaccine denialists, people who are conspiracy theorists. What can you do? I think you have to compel them to vaccinate.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: On that point, we're seeing a lot more action out of the private sector with companies mandating either masks or vaccines. And we've also seen the federal government take some action, especially recently with the military. What does that all shape up to look like in terms of actual population being impacted by this? Are we just sort of focusing on individuals that may have already opted for vaccines at this point?

PAUL OFFIT: No, I think we are-- I mean, we certainly see it in our hospital. We just recently Children's Hospital Philadelphia have decided to move forward with a vaccine mandate, and a hard mandate, which is to say that if you're not going to be vaccinated, you can't work in our hospital. And so a number of private institutions have done that.

The other thing you'd like to see is what's done in a number of other countries like Italy, for example, and the United Kingdom, which is sort of a vaccination certificate that you can't even get into a certain bar that you want to go to, a restaurant you want to go to, unless you're vaccinated, which can be a selling tool. I mean, I would feel much better walking into a restaurant where I know everybody was vaccinated than when I didn't know that. So I think that's the fight that you're about to see.

It is hard to watch us sort of fight in this because it's not a war just against the virus. In many ways it's become a war against ourselves.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Paul Offit, great to hear your perspective. Attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. And of course, our thanks to Anjalee Khemlani for joining the conversation as well.