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Coronavirus vaccine: More people vaccinated is more important than boosters, doctor says

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Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center, joins Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Kristin Myers to discuss booster shot concerns and stopping the spread of coronavirus across the globe.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Moderna posting quarterly earnings today-- that beat on both the top and bottom line. The company also said its COVID-19 vaccine booster shot produced a quote, "robust antibody response" against the highly contagious Delta variant and that a third COVID-19 dose will be necessary probably prior to the winter season. Joining us now is Doctor Lakshman Swamy, ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center.

Doctor Swamy, always good to see you. Thanks for being here. First off, just what do you make of the news we heard out of Moderna today regarding that booster shot?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: You know, thanks for having me. I'm not that surprised, honestly. I think we've seen that things have certainly changed with Delta. And we've seen that there's more breakthrough cases. We're all hopeful that there's something we can do about that. And I'm optimistic that boosters are the way to go for that.

When and how is, I think, still in question I'd like to see some of the data kind of work its way through peer review and all of that before really jumping on it. I don't think people should be so anxious to get another shot in their arms just yet unless, of course, it's your first shot. And then you should be anxious.

KRISTIN MYERS: Yeah. I find it a little bit encouraging that folks are out there wanting to get a booster. I want to ask about the slowing pace of vaccinations that we are seeing right now. If you could just do a little bit of myth-busting-- I feel like we've all heard our armchair doctors out there giving us advice. So I want to talk to you since you are a real medical professional about this.

Is the slowing pace of vaccinations and having these pockets of low vaccinated communities around the states enabling the virus right now to mutate into something that is more severe? So I guess in essence, are some of these communities that aren't as well vaccinated, are they essentially weakening us as a country, as a whole?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Unfortunately, I think that there is some reality to that. And I think it goes deeper than that. I think it's really a global phenomenon. Delta probably didn't originate in America, right? I think as far as we know, it probably came from India. And I think that's not going to be surprising until we have global control of the entire pandemic.

We are truly all connected and in this together. So I think that it's true that patchy areas of lower vaccination rates can have an impact on everyone. And that's why, to put it together with this booster story, I think it's important to recognize that the vaccines already offer us a huge amount of protection. It's less than we hoped for, probably, regarding Delta. But getting that booster dose for you, although it gives you a little bit more protection, the reality is that getting someone who's not vaccinated, vaccinated at all, is going to give you and everyone else much, much better protection.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I want to bounce off that idea, doctor, because earlier, we actually had the Moderna CEO on. He spoke with our health reporter, Anjalee Khemlani, and she talked to him about the World Health Organization calling on a moratorium of boosters in wealthier countries in order to help the rest of the world sort of catch up. Take a listen to what he had to say.

- Every government has a mandate and wants to protect their citizens. So we cannot do much as a manufacturer because if a country that you mentioned wants to use the current vaccine on hand for which we shared the boosting those data that, again, these were 42 times increase of antibodies versus after the second dose. We can do nothing to stop them.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: It sounds like Moderna's hands are a bit tied. But, doctor, what do you what do you think about the WHO's recommendation there regarding booster shots?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: You know, I think that this is going to be, unfortunately, everything kind of coming to a head-- again, as we've seen many times the sort of individual person's kind of attempt to get what they need, right-- I need to kind of get my protection-- versus what will really give everyone the most protection is truly distributing those vaccines. That said, I think we have lots of vaccines available right now.

And it's true if we started a massive campaign of boosters, that would use up a ton of that stock. So I know that on a national and a global level, those decisions have huge impact. I think it's a tough point because the truth is that we've got to get more people globally vaccinated. That is way more powerful than getting boosters in arms right now.

KRISTIN MYERS: Doctor, considering that globally we don't have a handle right now on this pandemic, should we be considering-- reconsidering some of our open borders right now, reconsider travel, should Europe reconsider allowing American tourists to enter throughout these summer months? We recently have President Biden considering that all foreign travelers to the country will have to be vaccinated. Is that the policy that we should be implementing?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: I think there's a lot of nuance in that policy because, first of all, we got to make sure that it's real when people are vaccinated. I think that's a valid concern. It's also important to say, it's easy to say, let's keep everyone else out or let's not keep those borders open. But the reality is, as we just talked about, there's so many pockets of low vaccination and unvaccinated people right here at home.

So I think the danger is here regardless. And I think another challenge is that probably we're not out of this. We're not going to be out of this that soon. So these discussions about opening and closing borders-- you know, our family in Canada right now, we haven't seen them since this started. I'd love to make these things work. But the reality is all of these need to be played together in such a way. And the bedrock, the foundation, the cornerstone is just more vaccination to the unvaccinated.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And, doctor, we know that those under 12 still cannot get vaccinated at the moment. And I saw a disturbing stat today that COVID-19 cases in children are up 84% in just the past week, with 72,000 kids testing positive for the virus. Hospitalizations are still very low and deaths are near zero. But what does that tell you about the virus and how we should be thinking about the return to school, which is going to be happening in the matter of weeks?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah, it's coming up. And I work with our local public school on that as well. It's so challenging because we also know how much these kids have suffered from not being in school. And it's really hard to balance these together, because no one-- you know, I have three kids who are all under the age of 12. They can't get vaccinated any time soon. Hopefully that changes for some of them.

But you know, it's a tense time. We have to figure out how to balance this. There's no zero risk situation. It is heartening that very few kids are getting hospitalized or dying. It's also terrifying that kids are getting hospitalized and dying. So you know, children, just like anyone else, aren't statistics.

We have to balance that, though, with the very real suffering and mental health damage that's happening when kids aren't in school. I think there are ways to open schools with significant support to improve the ventilation, to keep masking in place-- I know, I hate to say it, but I think we need to do it right now-- keep masking, and some element of distancing, and improve the ventilation. I think there's a way to do that with a very high level of safety as we've done here in my town.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah. You know, it's very disheartening to see that Florida's governor is not mandating masks in schools. In fact, you got Arkansas's governor coming out and saying they regret not passing-- or passing a similar mask ban recently. So, Dr. Swamy, always good to see you. Thanks for being with us.