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Doctor on Covid-19: ‘Let history guide our future actions’

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Dr. Stella Safo, NYC-based HIV Primary Care Physician, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest in the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- President Biden is pleading with Americans to remain vigilant against the coronavirus. In remarks today, the president rallied states and private businesses to support vaccine mandates in an effort to avoid a surge in cases. While new cases of the virus are down more than 40% since August, nearly 2,000 Americans are still dying every day from COVID-19 as we head into the winter months. Joining us now is Dr. Stella Safo, a New York City based HIV primary care physician, and Yahoo Finance's Corina Mitchell joining us as well.

Doctor, thanks so much for making time for us. Look, it's no surprise that there is some COVID-19 fatigue out there. It is understandable. We've been going through this now for nearly two years. How can we best remain vigilant?

STELLA SAFO: Well, I think we just have to remember that COVID has been a step ahead of us every time we've let our guard down, you know. Heading into the early summer we all thought that, with vaccinations going up, that we'd be able to take our masks off. And the CDC said that we could unmask in inside spaces. And then a few months later, we were having to reverse that.

I think if we remember these lessons of the last almost two years, we'll know that we can't ever really let our guard down until we've gotten COVID very under control. And so I would say let history guide our future actions.

CORINA MITCHELL: And Dr. Safo, my thanks as well to you for taking the time to be with us here today. Now, I hate to be a Negative Nelly on this topic, but isn't there still so much confusion about these various shots? Earlier on we were told the efficacy for all three of them were the same. It didn't matter which one you took.

Now we learn that, after taking a booster shot, the antibodies increased fourfold in those who got a J&J, 35-fold in those who got Pfizer, and then 76-fold with people who got Moderna. Maybe that's why they're only requesting a half-dose for their booster shot. But doesn't this develop a sense of hesitancy in the people that have not yet had a first or their second shot? Right now in this country, more people are getting booster shots on a daily basis than there are people who are getting vaccinated for the first time.

STELLA SAFO: It is a really good point that you make, because we are looking at confusion among even those who are kind of responsible for relaying this information. Yes, there is a little bit of changing information that we're seeing. You know, initially we thought two shots were OK, as you said, that they were all about equal in preventing you from getting sick and being hospitalized. And now we're having to really update that information as we have more of the science backing us.

I would say this, though. If we wanted to be in the position where we knew every single thing about how these vaccines work as it related to COVID, we probably would be in more of a three to five year frame before any vaccinations were released. And if we think about the number of individuals that would have died as we tried to get the answers perfect, those numbers would have been catastrophic. And so I like to remind myself, and my patients are getting kind of frustrated about what am I supposed to do, that we had to move quickly because we were in a global pandemic.

And part of moving quickly means you get information in real time. You literally are flying the plane that you're building. And so there does require some patience for us, for our scientific advisors, as they're letting us know what it is that we need to know as it relates to boosters and taking these shots. However, one thing that is clear is that, if you are a high risk person, you're older, you have a chronic illness, and you've been vaccinated, especially almost up to eight months ago, you want to talk to a health care provider about what you may need to do, as it relates to taking another shot.

And that is OK if you need more of that guidance. But you want to have that conversation.

CORINA MITCHELL: You know, Doctor, you bring up speed, and I know that time is of the essence with a fast-moving pandemic like we have. But that's also one of the reasons that's giving a lot of people pause about wanting to get the vaccine, especially parents now considering vaccines for their children, age 5 through 11, once we get final FDA approval to go ahead and do that. What would you say to folks who are concerned about long-term effects of the vaccine, who believe that it hasn't been tested for a long enough amount of time, the studies haven't been long enough.

Yesterday, I was talking about Andrew Wiggins, who's an NBA player with the Golden State Warriors. He said he took the shot reluctantly, but quote "hopes he'll still be healthy in 10 years." There's this concern that there's going to be some long-lasting detrimental effect if you get the vaccine now.

STELLA SAFO: And that is understandable, because of how much kind of misinformation has accompanied this. But we have to remember that we as a nation have been vaccinating our people for the last tens of decades, right? And so we're in the situation where we're looking at, where we're acting as though the COVID vaccines and the technology behind the COVID vaccines is something that we've never seen, as though we've never been vaccinated as a population.

We have individuals who've been vaccinated now since the 1940s and '50s. So I think it's important for us to just keep in mind that some of the parameters and the science behind vaccinology still applies now. And we know that vaccines, for the most part, the side effects you're going to see occur within the first eight weeks. We know that vaccines don't tend to have lifelong impact on your fertility, that people are saying.

And so we know some of these things from the history of vaccines, that many of us have been required to take to even go to school or to engage in travel, historically. So I want people to feel a sense of calm, of, you know, we're not kind of delivering out to a population something that we haven't historically been doing for some period of time now. And I would say the other thing, too, about the COVID vaccines in particular is that, for those who have some reason to be very concerned, either you have an anaphylactic reaction to vaccinations, or there's some Guillain-Barre or other conditions you may have, again, worth having a conversation with your provider.

Most individuals do not have any cause to be concerned that these vaccines will act so differently than the way the other vaccines that we've been giving now for decades would go ahead and behave.

CORINA MITCHELL: Doctor, I want to know when is the worst of this thing over? When does it change from being a pandemic to an endemic? What's the criteria, the threshold for that?

STELLA SAFO: It would be wonderful to know that the worst of it is over. I think many of us are kind of holding our breaths and hoping that Delta represented one of the worst faces and phases of the coronavirus pandemic. If that is the case, I think we are heading more into, you know, an endemic type of setting, where we have COVID around all the time and we're used to taking booster shots the way we do for the flu, for example.

It is hard to tell, because the more that we have this pandemic, and this is why global vaccination rates matter so much, the more we have COVID transmission occurring, the more likely that we may get other very strong and virulent variants, as we had with Delta. And so, you know, no one has that magic eight ball where they can just say this is what's going to happen. I think if Delta is the worst of the variants that we see, we should be able to start heading toward something that is a little bit less misery-inducing than what we've been in for the last couple of months.

- I'll take that. Dr. Stella Safo, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.