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Doctor: We could optimistically reach herd immunity by ‘late summer’

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Dr. Mike Gonzalez, Emergency Medicine Physician & Assistant Professor at Baylor University, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss the timeline of COVID-19 vaccine deliveries.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. The United States has now, sadly, crossed the half a million mark for deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in some good news, vaccine manufacturers told Congress today that they hope to deliver, at least in the case of Moderna, vaccines at a rate of double their current pace.

Let's bring on Dr. Mike Gonzalez, emergency medicine physician and Assistant Professor at Baylor University. So Doctor, vaccinating Americans obviously requires one, increased production on the part of those vaccine manufacturers, but also two, increased distribution once those vaccines are received. So manufacturers are saying that they're going to be stepping up the production by April. I'm wondering if you think that vaccine distributors can handle doubling its current pace or are there still some kinks and some struggles in the system?

MIKE GONZALEZ: Hi, Kristin. Happy to be with you. So yeah, I think that we really are struggling with matching that capacity. I think lots of organizations, cities, local health departments are doing everything they can, and we're finally seeing that improvement. So the recent events of our winter storm here in Texas has certainly increased the challenges on that front. But we're really seeing a nice rebound here as weather, water, everything sort of restores back to more normal operations.

KRISTIN MYERS: So if the vaccine distributors do double their production and give delivery by April or, let's just say spring, in the next couple of months, when do you think we can reach herd immunity? Your Baylor University colleague Dr. Dark yesterday told us optimistically he was hopeful by sometime in August. Do you agree with that timeline? Or would you push it up or push it back a bit?

MIKE GONZALEZ: I do. I think that a lot of the limitations that we've seen so far in terms of actual delivery of that vaccine has really centered around the immunization itself, the actual vaccine. So a lot of the capacity on the end of the delivery in terms of staff availability to provide the vaccine safely has not been the limiting factor. So optimistically, I'm looking at around late summer, early fall. And I think with a big push, if we can continue that and hopefully avoid any major weather events like we've had this year and in years past, I think we could be optimistically looking at around that late summer time frame. That is absolutely what we're focusing on here in Texas.

KRISTIN MYERS: OK, so we've continuously heard, we're trying to get to herd immunity, we're trying to get to herd immunity. And I think most folks kind of generally understand what herd immunity is, especially if they've been receiving vaccines for other diseases. But I'm curious to know what does that mean for us in the United States once that herd immunity is reached? Does that mean hey, everyone can go have birthday parties again, see their friends, see their families, go out to dinner, go to movie theaters? Does life essentially return to normal?

MIKE GONZALEZ: I think that's a great question, and that's, in many ways, the-- for many-- for health care, for business, the billion dollar question. I think all of us, if we continue to see the data trend in the direction that we've seen in terms of the vaccine's effectiveness on some of these variants that we're seeing now, then yes, it could mean close to near return to what we would consider normal life, which is the goal for all of us.

I do think that if we-- if there is some concern that a particular vaccine or, worst case, all of the vaccines may not have the same effectiveness against some of the variants, then we could see a persistence of some of the recommendations around mask wearing in large public venues and maybe a limitation of some of those on-- for particularly for indoor close-quarter events. We are certainly optimistic based on the data that we have now that we have enough effectiveness that-- that we're hoping, fingers crossed, that we won't have to keep those precautions in place.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, well, that means if I don't get my birthday, it's September 14, I'm going to be incredibly upset, and I'm going to be giving you a call, Dr. Gonzalez. I know we're all very optimistic. End of summer, early fall, hopefully we will all get out of this mess. Dr. Mike Gonzalez, emergency medicine physician and Assistant Professor at Baylor University, thanks so much for giving us all of those updates.