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'The key game changer in all of this is getting people vaccinated': Doctor

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Raj and Indra Nooyi Professor of Public Health at Yale School of Public Health Dr. Albert Ko joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest coronavirus developments.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: And I want to just ask you very quickly the news about booster shots. It's almost as if those of us who are not scientists, are not doctors get inundated with too much information so we don't know how to value what we're being told. Can you boil this down to what we absolutely need to know? Should we get a booster or not?

ALBERT KO: Well, first of all, thank you very much, Adam, for the invitation to come on your show and give this interview. So I think it really goes back to the evidence. And Anjalee cited several references. So what do we know right now?

So first of all, we know that the vaccines, and these are several vaccines, including those not licensed here in the United States, give continued or extended protection against the severe outcomes of COVID. And those are hospitalizations and deaths. We are seeing data, data from Israel, from UK, and here in the United States of decreased effectiveness or the vaccine to protect us against getting ill from COVID, a mild illness from COVID or an infection.

So bottom line, I think we have to ask ourselves, what do we want to achieve not only with vaccinations, but with booster shots? And there's a compelling argument made, and arguments made by colleagues who gave-- who wrote that article that was published in "The Lancet" yesterday, that we could do a much better job for the world if we're immunizing people with primary vaccination, getting the first doses in them and saving their lives, then giving boosters.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, what about where we are here in the US, because we have infections down about 10% from the recent peak? So as we talk about what needs to be done in order to keep progressing in that right-- in that same direction, I guess, what's going to make the biggest difference over the next several months?

ALBERT KO: Yeah, so the key lever to pull on all of this is vaccinations. And we can just see this within the United States. I live in Connecticut, where vaccination rates are approaching 80% people who are fully vaccinated. And we're having cases, but we're having very few deaths and hospitalizations.

You compare that with other states, Mississippi is a good example. In Mississippi, where vaccination rates are less than 50% of people fully vaccinated, they're having 50 deaths, you know, a day compared to here in Connecticut, which has a larger population, of three to five deaths a day due to COVID. So the key change in-- the key game changer in all of this is getting people vaccinated.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When we talk about getting people vaccinated, there are children who cannot get vaccinated. And then many of us get very frightened by headlines that say, for instance, COVID-19 deaths are surging among younger unvaccinated people. Can you put that into perspective for us?

ALBERT KO: Yeah, I think, Adam, that's an important question, because it also goes to really the key objective and goal for us this year is to keep our schools open so kids don't have to suffer as they did in the past year during the pandemic being out of school and out of in-person teaching. So again, the key driver in protecting our children from COVID and keeping our schools open is going to be vaccinating adults and keeping community transmission of COVID low. And so right now we're on the top of the curve.

I think there is promising data that-- or evidence or trends right now that we're not suffering the exponential growth that we experienced several weeks ago in COVID rates because of the Delta surge. But now the key issue is how do we make sure that those rates go down quickly and keep them down? And again, the bottom line there is vaccination. We've seen it work in states, we've seen it work in countries where high rates of vaccination have been able to not only save lives, but allow businesses and schools to keep open.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, you mentioned the school year. New York City, where we're based right now, the school year starts today, thousands of students heading back to school right here in the city. I guess from your perspective from the largest public schools from the plans that they have put forward, do they have what's necessary, do they have the steps in place in order, do you think, to have a successful school year?

ALBERT KO: Yeah, so I think, you know, my own personal opinion is mixed on that. So certainly school systems that are in states that have high vaccination rates, New York being one, are going to benefit, because the pressure, the introductions of COVID in these schools and the risk of outbreaks are lower. Certainly, I think New York also benefits from having a face mask mandate in school. We know face masks work. And so that's the second part.

I think where we probably are slow to take advantage is really the advances that we know in testing and how we can implement testing not only to identify quickly introductions in cases, and clusters, and outbreaks in schools and stop them, but also testing so we can keep kids in school, you know, kids who test negative so they're not missing in-person teaching. I think that's the one-- that's the part where many parts of the country, and perhaps including New York, are a little bit slow in implementing for the school year.