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Coronavirus: Vaccinate those who are unvaccinated, because those are the ones who are dying, physician says

Dr. Nada Fadul, Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, joined Yahoo Finance's Adam Shapiro and Seana Smith to discuss Moderna's coronavirus booster vaccine and why vaccinations are key to stopping the spread of coronavirus and saving lives.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Some encouraging news out of Moderna today, the company saying that its vaccine is 93% effective six months from full vaccination. Also some comments from executives here on a booster shot. They're saying that a booster shot will likely be necessary this fall.

So we want to talk a little bit more about this with Dr. Nada Fadul, associate professor of infectious disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. And Dr. Fadul, it's great to see you again. The issue of booster shots, we see some countries like Germany, France, Israel are starting to administer booster shots to those-- to the population that is still vulnerable. I guess, do you think now is the time or should we be doing this in the US at this point?

NADA FADUL: Well, thank you again for having me. I think this is great news, and it's very encouraging. There is definitely a priority population that we should definitely consider the booster shot for. And there are efforts right now to get that approved. And that's mainly people with weakened immune system, such as people with HIV and those with cancer and organ transplant. And that's a population that the booster is probably going to be necessary for.

But what's really a priority for us as a nation is to vaccinate those who are unvaccinated. And that's really where the attention should be shifted, because those are the ones who are now dying from COVID-19, and those are the ones who are getting severe disease, and those are the ones who are getting hospitalized.

And unless we do that, we're going to continue to see emergence of new variants after variants, and we're not going to be able to stop this pandemic. So while the booster is really good news, but the other unfortunate news is that at this point only 70% of US adults have received at least one shot of the COVID vaccine. And we have still a lot of work to do while facing this big beast of the Delta variant, which is extremely contagious.

ADAM SHAPIRO: You know, there are some adults who use the fact that these vaccines only have emergency use authorization as their excuse not to be vaccinated. I want you to hold on a second, because Anjalee Khemlani, our health correspondent who covers COVID, actually spoke with the CEO from Moderna, Stephane Bancel, about FDA approval. Here's what he said.

STEPHANE BANCEL: So it's a big question on how long it will take the FDA to approve a vaccine. And I think the Pfizer approval is going to be a good indication for us. My understanding is Pfizer finished to file its BLA in July. We are waiting in the media that it could be late August, September approval. I just told you we're going to finish our filing in August.

So if it takes one month or a month and a half to Pfizer to get approved, I think a similar magnitude for Moderna is possible. Again, it is not enough causes for the FDA and the team to do their review. And this is very important it's done thoroughly. It's the credibility of the agency that's on the line. It's the credibility of our vaccine, and so we really want this to be done as proficient as possible, and I trust the FDA to make sure this is done in such a manner.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor, in normal times normal people would look at FDA approval as a green light to get a vaccine. But these are not normal times. Do you think FDA approval would convince those who are perhaps on pause or even the red light to change their minds?

NADA FADUL: I really hope so, but I'm not really sure at all, Adam, because we've seen a barrage of misinformation. And those who are spreading this misinformation keep using one excuse after the other to deter people from getting vaccinated. So I think now that FDA approval is on the horizon, they're going to start finding other reasons to discourage people from vaccination.

But what's really important for us to know is that even the EUA was not granted without a lot of scientific data showing that these vaccines are safe and effective. And between the time the EUA was granted until the BLA, the FDA was still receiving constant data from these phase III trials that still continue to encourage the initial scientific method we've seen from these studies.

In addition, millions of Americans and hundreds of millions worldwide have been vaccinated. And we're now very assured that the side effects of these vaccines are minimal compared to the benefits. So at this point, the BLA is going to be a stamp of approval, which is great news. But I'm not sure if it's going to encourage those who are standing on the sideline. I really hope it does.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, you mentioned the vaccination rates earlier, 70% of US adults are now vaccinated or now have at least one shot. But with the threat of the Delta variant, there's the talk out there that 70%, what we are initially aiming for, that it's not going to be enough, that herd immunity threshold will now be higher. I'm curious just how you're looking at this and what level you think we need to get to in order to protect us from something like the Delta variant?

NADA FADUL: Yeah, I think at this point, we don't really know. All of these estimates were initially based on the wild variants that we had initially and some of the other variants which were much less contagious than the Delta variant. I think we really need to aim for the highest level that we can get in terms of herd immunity. And when we say that, we're not only talking about the US, we're talking about global herd immunity. Because as we see, these variants can emerge anywhere in the world, and they'll make their way to other parts of the world if we're not addressing the global inequities in vaccine distribution as well.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When we look at the hot spots in the United States, do you think we would ever go back to the lockdown situation we emerged from last year?

NADA FADUL: I don't really think so. I think right now we have a lot of tools in our toolbox to be able to combat the pandemic. At the time when we went into lockbox, we didn't really have a lot of these tools. We do have much more effective treatment options that we did then. We also have extremely effective vaccines, which are extremely effective in preventing the disease.

If nothing else, we know masks work. Social distancing, hand washing, all of these techniques still work. So I think we are now getting smarter about how we can go back to a semi-normal life in spite of all the issues that we're having. But we really need to use these tools, and we need to use them effectively and in a smart way to be able to combat this pandemic.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Nada Fadul, associate professor of infectious disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, always great to speak with you. Thanks so much for taking the time.