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The fight against COVID-19 is not over ‘once the first person gets vaccinated’: Doctor

Dr. Cedric Dark, Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine & Board Member with Doctors for America joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments as the U.K. authorizes emergency use of the Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: But continuing this conversation, now we're joined by Dr. Cedric Dark, Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Board Member of Doctors for America. So, Doctor, we have the recommendations from the CDC on who should be getting this vaccine first, essentially health-care workers and folks in nursing homes. Nursing homes, of course, have been heavily impacted by deaths throughout this pandemic. I'm wondering from you, how should this rollout really be managed going forward?

CEDRIC DARK: Well, the rollout should be managed essentially by focusing in on where people need the help the most. The priorities obviously are going towards folks that are older than the age of 65, health-care workers. But also we need to think about minority communities as well. Black, Latinx communities, Native American communities which are hit hardest by the virus are among the first that really are going to need access to this vaccine.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering, you know, if there's a concern that you're seeing that people might refuse to take the vaccine, right? We do have this antivax movement here in the United States. I am wondering if you have concerns over that, especially because this virus was so heavily politicized.

CEDRIC DARK: Well, I think that what we've seen is, you know, what can happen when the entire globe works together on a common good, and coming up with a vaccine in under a year is quite an amazing feat to begin with. And, quite honestly, if this gets approved by the FDA on December 10 and rollout starts on December 11, this could be the Christmas miracle that the entire world has been waiting for. And so I hope that people would trust that the FDA and that the regulatory agencies in the UK and Europe have looked at the data and find that it is both safe and effective.

You did mention that it is 98% effective in terms of preventing coronavirus cases. We still don't, as physicians and health-care providers, have access to that data for us to look at, but we can do some basic math behind the scenes and figure out what it actually means. When someone gets this vaccine, we probably need to give 140 people the vaccine to prevent one case of disease, which is not bad when we're talking about using something to prevent a dangerous and deadly pathogen. What that means, though-- imagine if we could go back in time to the beginning of this pandemic and we could give vaccine to all 13 million Americans that got it. We would probably have 100,000 fewer cases. We might even have maybe a thousand people that are still alive today because they were protected from it as opposed to where we are now.

So those are the things that the vaccine can do, and I hope that people take the time to look at it for themselves and opt to take it because it really is going to change the course of this pandemic.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering from you if you think folks might really start to declare victory before this war is really won, so to speak, in this pandemic. The US hasn't yet authorized this vaccine. Largely expected that it will and will start rolling this out. But, of course, everyone can't get it all at once. It has to be given to some folks first, and then everyone is going to have to really kind of wait their turn. Do you think that some folks are really going to, as soon as they hear, oh, great, some people are getting this vaccine, I'm now safe. I can go out. I can resume my life as normal, go hang out with my friends, go see family members, and that could really create possibly problems going forward?

CEDRIC DARK: Yeah, I agree with you on that. We really need to make sure that this is not a mission-accomplished moment where people think that the fight against coronavirus is over once the first person gets vaccinated. This is still something that we're going to be involved in for a long time.

You know, Pfizer says that they have maybe 1.3 million doses expected in the year 2021. On other places on their website, they say that they maybe only have 500 million doses that they're able to produce. I think reporters like yourselves need to inquire with the company to figure out how much can they really do and how many doses can they produce, not only for the United States but, again, we have to think about this worldwide. This is a pandemic, after all.

And the other thing too is when we look at this-- right now because of Operation Warp Speed, we've essentially prepaid for several of these doses, maybe the first 100 million at a little bit under $20 per vaccine. But what happens after that? You know, we have over 300 million Americans here. There are contingencies to have another 500 million doses available. So that might be enough for our entire population, but what happens if this vaccine-- or if this virus continues to live in the background of human society? What if our kids as they're getting born need to be vaccinated as we go further and further down? Will we see price gouging from Pfizer?

And I think people need to really think about that because there are going to come health-equity issues if we just say, OK, the war's over and let the pharmaceutical industry start price gouging when it comes to year two and three later on.

KRISTIN MYERS: So I'm really glad that you mentioned that because that was actually going to be what I wanted to ask you next, what the worry or the concern could be here in the long term, right? So everyone that's around right now is probably going to be getting this vaccine. As you mentioned, it's around about $20 has been the agreement for one of those doses. And I believe I've been reading a lot of reports that folks are probably going to be able to get this for free.

But going forward, I'm wondering if you think that it's going to be something that is going to be required the same way that we kind of include a lot of the other vaccines on slate for everyone to take as a part of their routine visits to the doctor and if there's a chance that this vaccine could be almost a luxury item if you really start to think of it in terms of price?

CEDRIC DARK: That is something that we do have to be very careful of. You know, when you go to school, you have to have your measles, your mumps, rubella shots. You have to have your tetanus vaccines. As a health-care worker, I have to have vaccines against hepatitis. There are a lot of things that need to be done.

And as we move forward in time beyond 2020 into 2021, 2030, 2040, you know, this virus may still exist, and it may be something that people are required to still have vaccinations.

You know, think about a simple drug like insulin that was invented nearly a hundred years ago. Pretty cheap to produce and distribute at this point in time. However, because of the way that our pharmaceutical industry is designed, if one company buys this drug and they want to jack the price up, they can. And so a lifesaving medication like insulin has skyrocketed in terms of how much it costs patients, and people have died from this. Do we want the same exact thing to happen for something like this vaccine?

And I think that's where, you know, we do need to consider how we approach it. And I applaud Pfizer and all the pharmaceutical companies that have invested so heavily in this. We need private industry to do that. But at the same time, a lot of the federal government and the taxpayers' money has gone to paying for these developments. We need to make sure that the taxpayer and the American public doesn't regret investing heavily on the front end but then getting ripped off on the back end.

KRISTIN MYERS: Doctor, you know, you and I have been doing a lot of forward looking here in this conversation, and obviously there's a lot of room for optimism and enthusiasm going forward with this vaccine coming out, but I want to kind of remind everyone where we are right now. You know, as I mentioned at the top of this show, we're looking almost at nearly 14 million positive cases here in the United States. Hospitalizations are on the rise. The death toll continues to leap. I feel like I'm reading this out every single day, and these numbers continue to increase day after day.

I'm wondering what the worries are for you in terms of what we're going to be seeing in the hospitals, in terms of what we're going to be seeing with the deaths just over the next month or so, especially as we just had Thanksgiving. We've got Christmas coming up.

CEDRIC DARK: Yeah, exactly. We saw a lot of people get together over the Thanksgiving holidays. Two weeks from now, we expect cases to be up. A month, you know, from Thanksgiving, Christmas time, we would expect that at that point, that's when we're going to start seeing the death rates rise.

And we've already seen how this has impacted especially smaller communities like the Dakotas. Places like Georgia, places like Arizona are having some of the worst cases right now of this. And here in Texas, El Paso is still going through a pretty terrible time with this.

Our doctors, nurses, health-care providers, respiratory therapists, they're seeing people die all the time. They're going to wind up having psychological trauma from this as they live the rest of their lives dealing with what it's like taking care of patients who are dying alone because it's not safe to have their family members at their bedside with this disease around. And so those are things that we really need to keep in our minds when it comes down to what do we do moving forward?

And as you were saying before, even though there is a vaccine on the horizon, this is not something where we can immediately go back to life as normal. We need to take our time. We need to continue our social distancing, continue wearing our masks, and continue doing everything we can that's an effective countermeasure against this pandemic.

KRISTIN MYERS: A really sobering reminder of what the reality actually is there right now. Dr. Cedric Dark, assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and board member of Doctors for America. Thank you so much for chatting with us today, doctor.

CEDRIC DARK: Thanks, Kristin.