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Emergency medicine physician: Delta has 'changed the game' for COVID-19

Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Hiral Tipirneni joins Yahoo Finance to discuss

Video Transcript

- We want to bring in Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency medicine physician based in Arizona. And Dr. Tipirneni, it's great to have you back on the program. I guess, first, just getting your thoughts on this shorter timeline, the booster shots now potentially being administered six months after that second dose instead of the initial thinking there, which was eight months. Does this make sense to you?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Well, thank you for having me. It does make sense because we're following the data. And I like what Anjalee said, is that we have to let the data guide us. And the data shows us that if we have waning immunity at six months, then that is the appropriate time for a booster. Especially with what the Delta variant has brought to us, we have to be incredibly mindful of trying to protect those folks that are already vaccinated as well as increasing the number of folks who receive their primary vaccinations.

This is really a bit of a race against the clock, and there's a lot of balls in the air. We have to address those that are unvaccinated, those that are waning off on their antibody levels. And then you know we have to be mindful of global vaccination rates as well, because as long as the Delta variant is out there and replicating, and we still have so many cases, not just globally, but in our country, we have potential for more variants to develop. And obviously, the greatest fear would be if there was a variant that was resistant to our current vaccines.

ADAM SHAPIRO: If you are fully vaccinated now, and at six months, it's not waning, and you're not immunocompromised, what does a booster shot do?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Well, it basically is a reminder to your immune system. It's basically a check-in and to say, hey, remember this antigen we need to be sensitive to. We've got to keep an eye out. It really just boosts up your immune system. And think about it. You get tetanus boosters right every 5 to 10 years, depending on your exposure. It's the same kind of concept. And it's basically because at some point, if you've used up your antibody potential, you need to revamp or boost your immune system to be on the high alert. Because as we know, with the Delta variant, it's still very much out there, and we are not out of the woods. So it makes sense to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect all of those various demographics that I mentioned.

- And Doctor, I was reading in your state of Arizona, the number of hospitalizations, they've tripled in just the last two months from June to August. I'm curious if you give us a sense of what you're seeing on the ground there and whether or not some of the hospitals that you're involved with are at risk of running out of ICU beds.

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Well, that's a really important point that you raised. And just a few days ago, the Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association put out a statement basically alerting the public and the media that we are nearing capacity, that we are seeing an incredible surge of cases, and to let people know that what they're hearing, what they're seeing is real. The data does not lie. We are seeing an astronomical surge in COVID cases because of this Delta variant, because of the number of people that are still unvaccinated.

And remember, schools have now opened up again. And as we all know, this is the big debate that's out there. Unfortunately, our governor has done everything he can to prohibit any kind of vaccine or mask mandates. We have vulnerable children in every single school district. Everybody less than 12 is not eligible for a vaccine. We know that. And yet we're putting them in situations where there are potentially people who are spreading the virus, they're unmasked, they're unvaccinated.

And it's no surprise that now our pediatric cases are almost 25% of our total COVID cases in Arizona. In fact, we're expected that that group under 15 will now surge up to be the largest percentage or the largest demographic of COVID cases, which is obviously a big change from what we've ever seen before during this pandemic.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor, I want to follow up on that. Because when all of this first started, I remember stories about a year ago that perhaps children had some kind of stronger immunity to the original COVID-19 virus because they're, for lack of-- I'm not a scientist-- their immune systems had not been through different experiences. And the adult immune system, for some reason, made us more susceptible. Does that hold water? Why are we seeing this surge among the youngsters?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Well, it was definitely clear that with the initial COVID virus that we saw, that the elderly population was definitely the most vulnerable. And we were seeing that the cases were less frequent and certainly less severe in children. But what we also have learned now is with this variant, this Delta variant, it is much more aggressive. It's much more virulent. The viral loads are larger. It replicates much faster.

So the game has changed. We are not dealing with that same version of the virus. And we have to change our guidelines and our behaviors with that. And that's why the CDC has made specific recommendations for schools. That's why all public health officials are recommending masks, encouraging staff to be vaccinated. Now we have full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, which hopefully will encourage more people to go out and get that vaccine. Because we are dealing with a different beast, and we are seeing the numbers. They are not lying. We are seeing incredible numbers of ICUs that are overflowing, people that are getting sick at younger age groups. And we have to be more vigilant. And that means masking and getting vaccinated.

- Dr. Tipirneni, one of the big news events of this week when it comes to COVID is the FDA fully approving Pfizer's vaccine and Moderna, of course, officially filing the paperwork for full approval of theirs. I guess from your perspective, because you talk to a number of patients, how significantly do you think this could potentially help raising the number of people who are willing to get vaccinated here in the US?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Look, I think there are a lot of different reasons why people have unfortunately chosen not to get vaccinated. And some of those are based in an absolute misinformation, and some of them are based in fear. But still, those folks remain open-minded to say, we want to know that this is fully approved, and then we'll feel safer giving it to our family. So it's a matter of figuring out where people are and having that conversation, but making sure that they know the facts, that they have accurate information, because there's so much misinformation out there.

And it is terrifying to think of leaders, like our governors, who are letting that information propagate when we know the data is clear. Vaccines work. They are safe. They are effective. And they're free. I mean, there's no reason. And now with this full approval, there's no reason for every American who is eligible for a vaccine to not be vaccinated. And so I think it's just important to make sure people know the facts, that they don't get sidelined by misinformation, because the risk is real. And remember, when you get vaccinated, it doesn't just protect you. It protects everybody around you.

- Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, emergency medicine physician based in Arizona, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.