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Efficient vaccine rollout is ‘going to depend on individual states and their mandates’: Doctor

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Dr. Heather Yeo, SurvivorNet Medical Advisor & Associate Professor of Surgery and Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments, as the U.S. reaches a grim new milestone for single-day deaths.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: But I want to take a look right now at the coronavirus pandemic. There are nearly 22.9 million cases of coronavirus in the United States. And yesterday the daily death count set records yet again, leaping above 4,000 people in just one day. And alarmingly, doctors are saying that there are now two more strains of the coronavirus here in the United States.

We're joined now by Dr. Heather Yeo, SurvivorNet medical advisor and associate professor of surgery and health care policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College. So Doctor, researchers in Ohio saying that there are now two new strains are originating here in the United States, and that these two new strains, just like we've heard from the other mutations, spread more quickly. How difficult is it getting, in your estimation, to fight this pandemic with now four that we know of very contagious mutations and strains, and with the vaccinations, at least here in the United States, under where we want it to be?

HEATHER YEO: Yeah, I mean, I think as physicians, we're very worried. In New York, we haven't quite reached the levels where we were in March. But as you've seen around the country, the numbers are going up. And I think that we're really hoping that people are able to get the vaccines rolled out as soon as possible, and for those that can't that they continue to try and keep up with public health measures that we know actually help. I think a lot of people have had pandemic fatigue and over the holidays let things slide a little bit. And we're seeing the results of that now.

KRISTIN MYERS: So on that point of fatigue, especially with all the political news that we have going on, it almost feels as if people have forgotten that there is even a pandemic still ongoing. So I'm hoping-- I said some of the numbers, 22.8 million cases of coronavirus in the United States. I'm hoping you can kind of give us a flavor of where we stand right now, what's happening on the ground in hospitals, and what you're anticipating over the next two months of winter.

HEATHER YEO: Yeah, from what we're seeing in hospitals-- and I'm in New York. We aren't being hit quite as bad as California and LA have been. I have colleagues that are out there and they are starting-- their ICU capacities are starting to peak. They're really starting to struggle, canceling any sort of elective procedures.

Here in New York, our numbers are rising. But we still have bed capacity. We are starting to slow down a little bit, just in anticipation that the numbers are going to go up.

I think that in terms of what we're seeing in the hospital, we are seeing patients that are in ICUs. We are seeing slightly less severe disease. I do think we've made some progress over the past nine months in managing the disease. And there are some options out there in terms of management that we're able to kind of interact a little bit easier with patients and get them better quicker.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, besides just vaccinating more people, what do states and health officials really need to do in order to increase those vaccination numbers and get that vaccine in the arms of as many people as want it, especially as we hear news that, frankly, some of the vaccines are actually expiring before they even get injected into any arms?

HEATHER YEO: Yeah, I think you're right, exactly as you said it. We want to get as many vaccines into as many arms as we can. And, as you may know or have heard over the past 24 hours, the administration has finally recommended that we start injecting anyone 65 years and older.

In New York state, that was just announced in the past 24 hours. And we are ready and rolling and ramping out. At our institution, we are establishing a number of off-site areas, just because, as you know, buildings are small in New York. Trying to find large areas and large venues where we can vaccinate patients is important.

These vaccines are, as you know, some are expiring. And some are-- the question is how we manage them, because these vaccines have to be used within a certain amount of time after they thaw out. And so you're right, by letting the vaccines roll out, getting them into as many arms as possible, that's what we want to try and do. And hospitals are-- our institution has had, over the course of the last few weeks, has vaccinated over 35,000 staff with first vaccines and an additional 5,000 have had their second vaccine. I got mine this morning.

KRISTIN MYERS: Was that your first or your second dose, Doctor?

HEATHER YEO: Second dose.

KRISTIN MYERS: Second, OK. Well, you look like you're doing well, because we have heard news of some nasty side effects. But it doesn't seem like it's impacting you yet, which is very good news. Wondering how long in your estimation, do you think, until we've reached some measure of herd immunity here in the country?

HEATHER YEO: I mean, a lot of it's going to depend on how the vaccines roll out. We're very encouraged by the increasing number of vaccine that's been available and by lowering some of the limitations with how we distribute that we'll get more vaccines in more arms. But, as I'm sure you know, there have been delays in delivery and in other states.

I've talked to a number of colleagues in other states who are physicians who haven't even had their first vaccine and who've signed up for it. So I think a lot of it's going to depend on individual states and their mandates and rolling out vaccine. I know that the mayor of New York has recommended or has set a goal of 175,000 vaccines weekly, increasing as we get additional doses.

KRISTIN MYERS: Absolutely, we have heard many people attempting to sign up to get the vaccine and the website's just crashing or are completely booked up until April. Dr. Heather Yeo from Weill Cornell Medical College, thanks so much for joining us today.