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India's COVID-19 cases soar with over 412,000 confirmed

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Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice Founder & Executive Director, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on covid-19.

Video Transcript

- Well, there is encouraging news in the United States about the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is still tragic news in places like India as the pandemic still takes too many lives. Let's bring into the stream Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice founder and executive director.

We appreciate your joining us today. And wanted to start with the optimistic news, especially when it comes to this Moderna vaccine, that their booster shot actually protects against the variants. And there's been an article, actually, that just being vaccinated probably protects against the variants as well. So what do you think this is going to do for people who are vaccine-hesitant?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Well, I think it's very encouraging news. So Pfizer released information on two potential boosting strategies, one where they gave participants about 1/2 the dose of the usual vaccine. And they found that participants had a robust immune response not just to the original virus, but to the variants that were first detected in Brazil as well as the one detected in South Africa.

They also tested another strategy that was very specific. So it focused on the variant detected first in South Africa. And that one produced an even greater immune response. So I think that this data, again, is very promising. It's very encouraging.

We don't know, as you suggested, whether we'll need these boosters and how soon we'll need them. Because it looks like the original vaccines also are protecting very well against many of these variants of concern. And hopefully it will be additional good news for folks who have been wavering or hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

- Dr. Blackstock, Adam mentioned it there. But what's going on over in India? 412,0000 more than 412,0000 new cases in the past 24 hours. I guess, one, is that an accurate number? Or I guess how bad could potentially the situation be over there? And then going off of that, how much worse do you think it will likely get before those numbers start to improve?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: So the situation in India is definitely at crisis proportions. And there's data suggesting that cases in India account for 50% of global cases. And so this is likely probably an underestimate. I think many of the estimates that we have about cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are likely underestimates.

Many public health experts, including those in India, are calling for a national lockdown and saying this is the only way for the country really to get out of the situation that they're in. But Modi has been very hesitant to do so because of the potential economic impact of that. However, several states have put down, have imposed, lockdown measures, which should help.

But we know that that country also needs vaccine and that, because of all of this, vaccine manufacturing has declined. And we've only seen about 2% to 3% of the Indian population being vaccinated. We know that the US government has sent some medical supplies, testing, raw materials for vaccines. All of that will be helpful. But it may not be enough. I think the Indian government may we really need to really impose more mitigation measures than it did during the first wave.

- Doctor, what do you think, very quickly, about the potential to waive the intellectual property protections, the patent protections, on vaccines? Wouldn't it make more sense just to ramp up production in countries that have the technology in place and then flood the world with vaccine?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, well, we know India is one of those countries. And they have the manufacturing capacity. And they're currently, unfortunately, in crisis. So we have not seen sort of the current setup where there are existing voluntary licensing agreements with other manufacturers. And also the existing vaccine makers, they have not been able to meet the demand that currently exists.

And so I think the support of the Biden administration for this temporary emergency waiver that would allow vaccine makers to have access to the recipes, to the vaccine know-how to help ramp up its manufacture, I think that is incredibly important. And that's an important first step in ensuring that we have equitable access to the vaccine. We know that there are countries that still have not even received a single dose and that this virus knows no boundaries. And so there's widespread transmission in other countries. Variants can emerge, and that can affect the situation in places like the United States.

- We appreciate your insight. Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice founder and executive director, all the best to you.