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Doctor: COVID-19 vaccines 'do lead to a really strong immune response'

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The CEO of Pfizer has warned that a third COVID-19 vaccine dose will likely be necessary within 12 months. Get Us PPE Co-Founder and Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. Ali Raja joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Let's bring a doctor into the mix to help us continue this discussion here, Anjalee. I want to bring on Dr. Ali Raja, co-founder of Get Us PPE, as well as a Harvard Medical School professor.

And Dr. Raja, what's interesting is, we're kind of looking at what Bloomberg's pointing out as potential waning when it comes to vaccine enthusiasm right now. Of course, close to 40% of the US adult population has gotten at least one dose, but it sounds like, according to their data, states are now piling up some of the vaccines there, and that would seem to be a bit of a concern, considering how far we have to go before we hit herd immunity. So where are you in terms of grading where we're at right now, given the new concerns around variants and Johnson & Johnson?

ALI RAJA: Well, Zack, I'm really disappointed. I saw that report as well, and the fact is that even when we look at the state level, that doesn't give us enough information. It's important to think about getting down to the local level, because even within a state, especially if there's a large metropolitan area, there can be a lot of really diverse vaccine acceptance throughout a state. So if you look at some of the southern states and larger cities, the vaccine is getting used, and people are waiting in line for shots.

But out of large metropolitan areas, there are a lot of vaccines that aren't being put into patients' arms, and that's really disappointing, because especially in those more rural areas, they don't have a lot of health care resources either. And so if patients do get sick, it's a real strain on health care resources in all of those areas.

AKIKO FUJITA: Having said that, doctor, we're looking at some states that have now passed that 50% mark, in terms of those who've gotten at least one shot. Now we're talking about potentially a third shot that's going to be necessary down the line. Does that change anything in terms of the timeline that we've been looking at for trying to get most Americans vaccinated by the end of May?

ALI RAJA: It's a great question, Akiko. I don't think that it changes anything right now. What we know about the vaccine is that it does prompt-- the various vaccines do lead to a really strong immune response for the vast majority of patients. When we start talking about a third shot, we're talking about one that's, say, six months, a year out from the first couple of shots, because of the fact that quite honestly, as with the seasonal flu vaccine, it's perfectly reasonable and logical that with the variants, we'll need a booster shot as time goes along. But I don't think that changes the timeline of getting vaccines in most Americans by May.

ZACK GUZMAN: And Dr. Raja, that was kind of why I was a little confused as to why there were so many headlines around what we heard from the CEO of Pfizer talking about the need for that booster shot 12 months down the line, because even back in January, when we were talking to the CEO of Moderna about that, he told us that it was going to be likely that we would need to see that. Here's what he told us all the way back in January, I just want to play it and get your reaction on the other side. Take a listen.

- I believe SARS-COVID-2 is going to stay with humans forever. We're going to have to have boosts, adapt it to a virus like we have for flu, it's the same thing, they are both mRNA viruses, and we're going to have to live with it forever.

ZACK GUZMAN: So obviously, staying with us forever was pretty drastic when we heard it back then. Sounds like Pfizer would agree with that, in terms of the booster shot, but if you put together the fact that right now, it seems like Americans are getting-- I don't want to say not going to get vaccinated here, but clearly, a de-evolution in terms of excitement around vaccines, I think, if you look at the stats, does that become worrying if, even those people who were excited to get it as soon as it was available to them, now has to get a booster, and you worry about maybe even them also skipping a booster shot, what does that mean for our recovery and reopening?

ALI RAJA: It is disappointing, Zack. For years, doctors have been talking to their patients about the importance of getting a flu shot. And this is going to turn into the same sort of discussion. I tell my patients every year as we start approaching flu season that they should get a flu shot, and I've got to tell you that there is varying acceptance of that. And given the pandemic, it makes sense that everybody was excited to do what they could to get to a point where we can loosen restrictions and have herd immunity. But eventually, that crisis is going to pass, and this is going to need to become part of our annual treatment of and preventative medicine treatment of patients.

And that's where I worry, because once it becomes something that has to be done every six months or every year, we're going to lose patients' willingness to do it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, Dr. Raja, I want to ask you a little bit about that, because I know that when we were kind of discussing this before getting on the show, about the idea that it's a forever virus, there was a chuckle there, so I want to know, do you think that the part about it being forever is drastic? Is it just that we'll have to do concurrent vaccinations until the rate globally gets low enough, or are we truly looking at a seasonal flu type situation?

ALI RAJA: Anjalee, I think it's a little bit hard to tell right now. I think that calling it a forever virus is a little extreme right now, just because we don't know. And once you say forever to a population that is so bent on trying to get this thing under control, it can become demoralizing. And I think what we need to focus on right now is the fact that yes, we'll need boosters for six months, a year, a couple of years down the line. But we will understand more about this completely novel virus in that year or two. And I'm personally still hoping that we can get it to a point where it goes away.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, let's talk about, in the meantime, all the other vaccines that we're looking at coming out there. We know there's been that stumbling form, AstraZeneca, as well as Johnson & Johnson. Other vaccine players have just completely fallen out. So a lot of pressure and a lot of focus on these mRNA vaccines. Do you anticipate anything out of that CDC panel meeting next week in terms of maybe an age restriction, and if so, what might that, how might that impact our vaccination progress?

ALI RAJA: Anjalee, I do. I hope for two main things coming out of the panel that's meeting now, as you mentioned, in a week. The first is that I hope that they restart, that they allow for, and recommend restarting giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. As we've been talking about all week, the risk of these blood clots is exceptionally low. The J&J vaccine is very effective, and we should be using it.

The second thing is, I hope they get information about who the risk of blood clots is greatest for. Right now, it looks as though my 60-year-old male patients really shouldn't be hesitant about getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if what they're thinking about is blood clots. But there's probably a population of patients who should be a little hesitant, and there needs to be recommendations made around that. So those are the two things, but I really hope that we restart the J&J vaccine as soon as we can.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, certainly a lot of people waiting for it, and potentially having to reschedule those appointments. Dr. Ali Raja, great to talk to you today. Co-founder of Get Us PPE and Harvard Medical School professor. And our thanks to Anjalee Khemlani as well.