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Doctor: ‘People are craving really clear information about what is happening’ on the vaccine front

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Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., Epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, joins Yahoo Finance's Sibile Marcellus to break down the latest coronavirus developments.

Video Transcript

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And now I want to bring in Suzanne Judd. She is epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Now, Doctor, you've seen how much incoming President Joe Biden wants to devote to public health.

His overall stimulus plan is $1.9 trillion. I believe it's about $20 billion to help states coordinate with the federal government for the rollout of the vaccines. Do you think that's going to be helpful?

SUZANNE JUDD: It's absolutely going to be helpful. The states are really, right now, at a loss in terms of infrastructure to distribute the vaccine, ways to track who's up next. There's the gridding system that everyone talks about with 1A and 1B for the different phases. They need help to have systems to track people, to allow regular people to register so that they can be put on the list for the vaccine. So that money will definitely help, especially if it makes it into the states' hands.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And where exactly should the money be dedicated to? Is it more about manufacturing more doses of the vaccine? Is it more about getting the states to hire more people to deliver the vaccines? I mean, where could that money be best put to use?

SUZANNE JUDD: Manufacture is critical because we have to have supply. But once we have supply, we have to get it into the hands of the states so that they can begin to give-- give the vaccine to the people who need it. And that's one of the pieces that is not well understood, why it's taking so long to get it to so many people.

But as they're not making it through the various phases, at least here in my own state, we have gotten through, it looks like Phase 1A, with everybody that wanted to get a dose. It's just that we didn't have as many people jump to get a dose as we thought we would. So how do we get into 1B? How do we move forward more rapidly? That money can be spent to help states figure that out.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Yeah, to help states figure that out. Absolutely. Because it seems like there are doses of vaccines that aren't being distributed in certain states. So how do we get over that hump?

SUZANNE JUDD: That is just a simple data. We need to do a simple data fix. We need to get some type of database or an app or something developed where people can register to be put on the list. And then when their number comes up, they can get a text or be informed if they don't have a device they can use, some way to communicate with that person that, hey, you're up. Come on in and get your vaccine.

If we use a digital platform, we have to identify a way to cross the digital divide, especially in some of the rural counties, to make sure that everyone knows when it's their time to get a vaccine and how you go about doing it. It seems that in terms of administering it, the states will need help with that too, especially if they scale up rapidly with community health workers to give the injections, and also to help people know whether or not they're-- they're next on the list. So it's people, it's data systems, and then having the supply.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And we're not quite there yet where a majority of Americans have received the vaccine. But fast-forwarding a little bit, once people do receive the vaccine, because obviously that's the hope and that's the goal, what are the social norms after that? I mean, I look at lawmakers who have received the vaccine. They're wearing masks. Is that pretty much what we're going to have to do is continue to wear masks after having received the vaccine?

SUZANNE JUDD: For a while, yes, at least until the fall until we know whether or not people that have been vaccinated can still spread the disease and then we get enough people that have had the vaccine or have antibodies so that the disease isn't spreading so rapidly. We just don't know right now what that rate is. Just like with influenza, sometimes when you get a vaccine you can still be infected with the virus.

Usually, the infection's much less severe than it would be if you hadn't had the vaccine. But if you can be infected, you can spread it to someone else. So at least until we get more people vaccinated and it becomes less deadly to society, we're going to have to wear masks, even if you've had a vaccine.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And we're seeing, obviously, the rollout is slow, so we don't know exactly the timeline on when everybody's going to be vaccinated, or at least the majority of the population to get herd immunization. But once that does happen, how much longer do people have to continue to wear masks and social distance? Are we talking months? Or are we talking, like, another year?

SUZANNE JUDD: Hopefully, it's months. That really depends on how many people get vaccinated, though. Like I said, we've had very low uptake in our state in Alabama. We really need to get more people vaccinated.

The metrics we'll be watching is how many people wind up in the hospital and how many people die. And those numbers have to start coming down before we can take the masks off. So hopefully, we're talking months. But again, that depends on how many people are willing to get vaccinated.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And we know that later this afternoon incoming President Joe Biden is going to be giving a big speech from Wilmington, where he's going to be talking about how he's going to administer the vaccine to millions of Americans, which is obviously the priority, or one of the many priorities, that his administration is going to be facing once it starts. What do you expect to hear from Biden? What would you like to hear as a doctor?

SUZANNE JUDD: I would love to hear his plan for how we're going to make sure there's supply for everyone and then details on how we're going to get it to people. How do they know it's their turn? What's the communication plan? I would love to see some kind of a public-private partnership, like you do at Disneyland or Disney World, where you get a little-- this is your spot in line. You're now two days away from the vaccine.

Let's be really clear with people about when they're available to get the vaccine. Let's explain to people what the vaccine does, how it benefits them, why they might still have to wear a mask afterwards. And let them know that there may be side effects for a few people and what those side effects might be. I just think people are craving really clear information about what is happening. And so I hope it's a communication plan, a distribution plan, and then funding for the states.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: We definitely all have plenty of questions moving forward, but I'm glad you could be on the show to at least answer some-- a few of them.


SIBILE MARCELLUS: Dr. Suzanne Judd, thanks so much.

SUZANNE JUDD: Thank you.