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Doctor: You should take 'any vaccine that is authorized and available'

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Dr. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, joins Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous to break down the latest coronavirus developments, as European regulators approve the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for use.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Now to the latest on the coronavirus, there is some encouraging news to report. New cases in the US have fallen 35% from their peak earlier this month. And hospitalizations are also down from their high three weeks ago. On the vaccine front, Johnson & Johnson said today its one shot COVID-19 vaccine is 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe illness. And that it completely prevents against death and hospitalizations.

J&J is going to seek US authorization in early February. Joining us now to talk about that is Dr. Howard Koh. He is Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Koh, it's always good to see you. Let's get right to that J&J vaccine. It doesn't need to be kept frozen, as the other two do that are right now on the market.

And it's also a single dose versus being two doses, which is the case with the current vaccines on the market. Is that a game changer?

HOWARD KOH: Yes, you're right, Alexis. There's so much interest in J&J for exactly the reasons you just described. We have two vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna authorized by FDA. But we have such a supply shortage right now, as we all know. And so we desperately need more vaccines for the country and indeed for the world. These results are very good. They are not overall as impressive as the Pfizer and Moderna rates of some 95% effectiveness.

But they're still very good for a novel vaccine. This is a vaccine, by the way, that's not mRNA-based like Pfizer and Moderna but it uses a so-called viral vector approach. And then, as you mentioned, Alexis, it's only one dose and does not require ultra cold freezer storage efforts. So that can help with logistics and distributing to remote sites and even to remote countries around the world if necessary.

There is a cautionary tale, though, in that the effectiveness in South Africa was somewhat lower than seen in the US, for example. We're all concerned about the variance being described around the world, in the UK and South Africa and Brazil and elsewhere. And then very importantly, we have to stress that these are preliminary results. They haven't been analyzed yet by the FDA or their expert advisory groups. So we'll have to follow this very, very carefully.

I understand that these results are being presented to the FDA very soon, perhaps as soon as next week. So we got to watch with great interest.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And doctor, another player in all this is Novavax, which is trying to get its vaccine to market. They came out and said today there's only 49% effectiveness against that strain that you mentioned that's in South Africa, which we know has now shown up here in the US. It's starting to get a little complicated for folks. How do you know which vaccine is right for you, if you're lucky enough to be able to get one right now?

HOWARD KOH: You're right, Alexis. So Novavax is yet another vaccine that is being studied with these results from the UK being put forward yesterday. And the same trend we are witnessing, that is very good outcomes in the UK but much less so in South Africa where this so-called B.1351 variant exists. Again, the Novavax results are very preliminary.

And so we have to wait until the official results are put forward, published in peer-reviewed journals, and looked at by the FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world. So right now, we should wait to see what FDA does. And then also, once authorization occurs, any vaccine that is authorized and available to you you should take. Because we need to accelerate vaccination right now.

This pandemic continues to be such a catastrophe for our country and the world. And we need to get vaccination accelerated and, meanwhile, continue to promote prevention at the highest level.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I'd like to get your take on what we heard today coming from New York Governor Cuomo saying that he will reopen indoor dining in New York City on Valentine's Day at 25% capacity. Do you think that that is a-- they say they're being guided by science, but is that a smart decision?

HOWARD KOH: Well, every governor is making his or her decision based on the science. If I can say, Governor Cuomo has followed the data in science very carefully. So I respect his decision. And there's no doubt that the cases and hospitalizations have dropped in the last number of days around the country now that the holiday surge is over. So he's trying to be cautious, trying to be careful.

So we have to follow those trends very, very carefully. We should emphasize, though, that deaths continue to rise. We're going to pass the half a million mark sooner rather than later, which is something unfathomable a year ago. And understand that we still have a very, very difficult crisis to address going forward.

Fortunately, the Biden administration has now put forward a united plan for the United States, a national strategy that incorporates vaccine and equity and testing and tracing, masks and many other things. So I'm hoping that, if you put this all together, we can finally address this pandemic as one united nation.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, would you feel comfortable eating in a restaurant in New York City at 25% capacity later in February?

HOWARD KOH: Alexis, I'm a very cautious guy. I haven't eaten inside a restaurant since last March. And I don't think I'll be doing that until it's all safe to go forward. So everybody's got to make their own decision. But I appreciate these guidelines being put forward with great care by the governor in New York and elsewhere.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Before we let you go, can you just clarify a couple of things for me? You know, people keep asking me, if I get the vaccine, does it mean that I can't get the virus? Or is it more like the flu vaccine, where if you get it, you just won't get it as badly as you might have if you didn't have the vaccine? And can you still be a carrier and pass the virus on to others if you've been vaccinated?

HOWARD KOH: Those are really important questions, Alexis. So what the virus does, what the vaccine does, if successful, is it prevents symptomatic infection. But you could still have low level infection that's asymptomatic. You can still potentially transmit to others. So that's why it's really important that, after you're vaccinated, that you still wear a mask. You still practice social distancing. You try to be really careful as you contribute to herd immunity and wait for a larger percentage of the population, hopefully 85% or more even, to take effect, so that we can hopefully get back to some sense of normality in the summer, perhaps, and move on as a nation.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Dr. Howard Koh of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, always great to get your insights. Thank you.

HOWARD KOH: Thanks, Alexis.