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‘Fair to say’ new coronavirus strain is in the U.S.: Doctor

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Dr Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Advisor for the Bipartisan Policy Center, discuss the latest strain of COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: The country's top doctor, Anthony Fauci, gave two thumbs up after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine today. He also encouraged others to go out and do the same. Dr. Fauci also said he thought the new coronavirus strain circulating in England might already be here in the US.

Joining me now is Dr. Anand Parekh. He is Chief Medical Advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary. Doctor, always good to see you. Would you agree with Dr. Fauci that the new strain of the virus is probably already here in the US?

ANAND PAREKH: I would, Alexis. You know, what we know about viruses is they know no boundaries. They know no borders, and so things like travel bans don't really work. This is likely a strain. We know that it's already circulating in Europe, as far as Australia. I think it's fair to say it's likely here in the United States.

So it's important that we stay vigilant. I think important research does need to be done over the coming days and weeks to analyze this new strain with regards to transmissibility, how lethal the strain is, as well as to see what effect it has on vaccine effectiveness. But I think all preliminary reports are that perhaps it may be more transmissible but no more lethal, and hopefully it won't affect the vaccine.

So again, I think the key message here is we all need to do what we've been talking about-- hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, mask wearing, physical distancing, limiting gatherings. Even if this is a more transmissible strain, all of those things would be even more important.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You mentioned travel bans. A lot of countries have already instituted a travel ban, a UK travel ban. We have not here in the US. Do you think that we should?

ANAND PAREKH: I don't think so. I think, if anything, perhaps heightened scrutiny, perhaps testing and quarantining. But again, I think travel bans have never shown to be effective. Again, viruses know no borders and boundaries, as I said. And so I think the thing that we can do is be vigilant, extra vigilant perhaps in terms of travel as well as screening. But I think other than that, all of the public-health recommendations that we've been asked to follow.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So, Doctor, the CEO of BioNTech-- that's the company that worked with Pfizer to produce the COVID-19-- vaccine says that he is fairly confident the vaccine will be able to take on this new strain. If it's not, how quickly might these companies be able to adapt the vaccine to this new strain or to other strains that might pop up in the coming weeks?

ANAND PAREKH: Well, the technology is there now, and the companies indicated that they can pretty quickly turn around a vaccine in a matter of a few months. Of course, the regulatory process and the approval process may take a little bit longer, but certainly the technology is there.

Again, I think the coming days will be important as these manufacturers and researchers all over the world take a look to see and make sure that the current vaccines are effective, and preliminary reports or experts say that the vaccine will still work and be effective. But I think there are plan Bs being developed.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I'm sure you're aware the US said today it's looking at why a handful of people have suffered, in some cases, severe allergic reactions after being given the Pfizer vaccine. Do you have any idea what they're going to be looking at and looking for over the coming weeks?

ANAND PAREKH: Well, I think it's prudent that the NIH has said that they are going to study this. The manufacturers are saying it as well. It's also important to put this into context for the American public. Already, hundreds of thousands of Americans have received the vaccine, perhaps close to a million by the end of the day or tomorrow. So in six cases there have been instances of severe allergic reactions that have required an EpiPen. All the individuals are fine.

We know that some vaccines can cause allergic reactions. So I think it's also prudent that the CDC has come out with guidance, Alexis, saying that if you ever had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, first consult your health-care professional. You may not be eligible to get a vaccine. If you have a severe allergic reaction to anything else, you can probably still get the vaccine. You'll just be monitored longer, instead of 15 minutes, 30 minutes.

So I think government authorities are taking the right steps, and I think more research is needed. But the American public should continue to be assured, and there are contingencies for individuals who may have a history of these allergic reactions or who may, God forbid, have one of these allergic reactions. So I think health-care professionals know what to do.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, do we have any more data yet on whether or not being vaccinated means that you will not also be able to continue to spread the virus?

ANAND PAREKH: That's a great question, Alexis, and unfortunately we don't have definitive data. Most of the data that was turned in to the FDA from both Pfizer as well as Moderna-- you know, you hear this 90% to 95% efficacy rate. That is really a reduction in symptomatic or severe illness. We just don't know enough in terms of prevention, whether you can actually prevent individuals from getting it or transmitting it. And hopefully over the coming weeks and months we're going to be able to compile that data.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And do we know yet if this is going to have to be an annual inoculation the way we get vaccinated for the flu every year?

ANAND PAREKH: Yeah, another great question where there's already research underway. I think the question here is how durable is the antibody response and the immune response to the vaccine? And I think you're going to see an increasing role of antibody testing over the coming months to try to gauge the longer-term effectiveness of the vaccine. And so I think at some point in 2021 we're going to be able to answer that question. Unfortunately, we don't have the answer to that question right now.

We also don't know, back to the question about mutation, you know, how quickly this virus may mutate and whether, like the flu, the virus mutates enough that you need a different type of-- a different vaccine every year or you need a booster shot. So these are the types of questions that scientists all over the world are going to be looking at in 2021.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, thanks for your insights today. Always good to hear from you.

ANAND PAREKH: Thank you, Alexis. Great to see you. Stay safe.