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Dr. Alice Chen on what the next steps are for Pfizer after company finds COVID-19 vaccine to be 90% effective

Dr. Alice Chen, General Internist in Washington, DC & Former Executive Director with Doctors for America, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Pfizer saying its COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective and what that means for the vaccine timeline.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: We want to bring in Dr. Alice Chen. She's a General Internist in Washington DC and also the former Executive Director with Doctors for America. And Dr. Chen, it's great to have you back on the program. Let's start with the efficacy rate, and really the news that we got out today, more than 90%. Just overall, how meaningful is this result because the fact that it did exceed expectations by such a wide margin? And also just the fact that now there seems to be some light, I think you can say, at the end of the tunnel?

ALICE CHEN: Absolutely. I mean, when I heard 90%, I went like this, ah! It is so exciting to see that number. We know it is early data. We know that it still needs to be peer reviewed, it's not final. But it is very exciting that we have this possibility. I mean, the difference between 90% and, say, 50% is-- is that sense of-- it's a sense of confidence that when you get the vaccine you'll be protected. Not 100%, but you'll be more productive than if it was 50%. And it's also, of course, that-- that herd immunity. That once we get that vaccine out to-- to the population that we can really bring that virus down so we can all get along and get on with our lives.

I mean, I think there's-- there's-- there's one piece, though, that is really important for us to keep in mind, which is that one of the reason the vaccine trials are moving along rapidly is because there is so much coronavirus out there. It is because the spikes the numbers are going up like this. More people are getting infected, which means there are more people in that trial who are getting infected so they can get to those numbers.

So I think it is super, super important. I know people are excited. I know-- I got, kind of, the heebie jeebies when-- when I heard about-- about American Airlines wanting to add all of these flights for Thanksgiving--


ALICE CHEN: --we are not out of the woods. My friends all over the country are telling me, we just added another COVID unit, we just added another ICU--



ADAM SHAPIRO: Let-- let me ask you something. Because I want to understand what that 10% of the people who got the vaccine truly means. Because when I hear that, I mean, if the people with the placebo, what percent contracted the disease? And it's not that I don't trust Pfizer at face value, but I don't trust anybody at face value. So help us understand why that is something we should believe. Because did they tell us what number of infection, what the rate was, for those who got the placebo?

ALICE CHEN: Well, gosh. Now you're asking me to do math in my head. [LAUGHS] So 94--

ADAM SHAPIRO: But 10% is higher-- it's higher than the infection rates we're seeing in parts of the country. So-- so explain to me what this truly means.

ALICE CHEN: So-- so what they do is, they-- they try to pick places to do the trials where-- where infection rates are high. Right? They're not doing-- they're not doing the trial in countries that have really brought it-- like New Zealand is not doing the trial because they don't have infections. And so-- and so part of what they're doing is trying to enrich for places where-- where people are getting infected. And so, you know, out of those 94 people who got infected, the vast, vast majority were the ones who got the-- the placebo. So that's what they're telling us. And that is certainly very encouraging.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Chen, just going off of what Emily mentioned before, just some of those logistical challenges, and I think there's a couple of different ways to tackle this. So first, let's just talk about supply and distribution, because that, I think, will be the first thing that we are going to need to tackle at this point. How confident are you, just in terms of what we heard from the US government as to their plan to successfully distribute a vaccine?

ALICE CHEN: So distributing a vaccine is an extraordinarily complex process. I think that, you know, there are so many components. And it's not-- it's not only manufacturing millions of millions of millions of doses. And it's not only having to have these doses at negative 80 degrees, which is not what-- not the freezer that most of us have in our homes or in our doctor's offices. It is a big logistical challenge.

There's also the challenge of-- of people accepting the vaccine and people having trust that this vaccine is what people say it is, that the government is approving it appropriately. So there is a big uphill battle in terms of-- in terms of getting the vaccines, getting it distributed, and then getting people to say, yes, I will take that vaccine. And so, you know, there's a plan in place, but I think there is-- you know, the devil is in the details of implementing it and-- and getting into those communities and having a face from that community say, yes, like, I am from this community. I'm a-- I'm a scientist or a doctor and-- and I think this is-- this is going to help us. It's a-- it's a-- it's a big, big job ahead.

SEANA SMITH: It certainly is. All right. Well Dr. Alex Chen, great to have you back on the program. A General Internist in Washington DC. We look forward to talking to you soon.

ALICE CHEN: Thanks so much for having me.