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Pfizer begins testing booster shot on fully vaccinated adults

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Dr. Manish Garg, Emergency Medicine Physician & Co-Founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let's turn now to the coronavirus pandemic. In good news, daily case counts have fallen to their lowest levels in nearly a year while Pfizer is studying the safety of combining the coronavirus vaccine with other vaccines. So let's chat all about this and more with Dr. Manish Garg, emergency medicine physician and co-founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Garg, always great to have you here with us. So I'm curious to know, especially as we see these daily case counts dropping to lows that we haven't seen in 11 months, when do you think the United States really comes out of this pandemic? Is it sometime soon?

MANISH GARG: Yeah, thank you, Kristin. It's wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me. The views expressed are my own. So this is a wonderful development. I hope that we are going to be at a really good place by the end of the summer or early this fall. We still have to get our children vaccinated.

But the combination of nearly 50% of the population having one shot and 40% fully vaccinated with our public health measures of masking, hand washing, distancing, and now the warmer weather, that's really improved the safety for us all. I think what families are really struggling with right now is kind of figuring out their variable risk. And the way that I think about that and try to explain it to people is that you need to know what's going on in your micro community, as well as your macro community.

So you know the situation of your vaccine status amongst your immediate family members. You probably know the people that are at work that you're very close to. It's that additional macro community that you don't really know what's going on. And so I think trying to understand the vaccine status of the population, any risk for vulnerability of an individual, and what the community spread is, I think that's going to really inform how we're going to manage this and how families can take care of their loved ones.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, you mentioned children. They're a big part of our world and of the population that still needs to get vaccinated, those who are under 12. We heard today from New York City that New York City schools will not offer remote learning in the fall, which means they're expecting students at all grade levels to be back in the classroom. What do you think about that, given the fact that by September we might not be able to vaccinate those kids under 12?

MANISH GARG: Right. Well, I mean, hopefully we're looking at September as the date where kids 2 to 12 will also be able to be eligible for the vaccine. There's been some interesting data out there, Alexis. Recently, they had an article that just came out as a preprint three days ago looking at what happened in Georgia when they studied students that were in schools.

Now mind you, this was with not a ton of people vaccinated. But they found that if teachers were wearing masks and there were good ventilation strategies that that actually decreased any types of COVID transmission by about 35% to 37%. If there were filtration units, it was all the way up to 40-plus percent.

I think it's certainly giving a lot of us, you know, a little consternation about what's going to happen in the summertime. I know the pediatric folks believe that we're going to be OK. I think one of the things that'll be really important to know is what is going on in the community prevalence rate.

If you have-- if you have-- here will be some criteria for you, like, if you're going to plan a trip for Memorial Day. You know, if the new cases were below 5 per 1,000, if your test positivity rate is less than 1%, if your fully vaccinated group is around greater than 50%, that could probably help to inform families in terms of what to do.

And I think that all in all with kids right now, we know that the level of sickness is small. There's been a level of deaths that's really, really low. But you know, if it's your child, it still makes a difference. So there's a number of us that are still remaining cautious, because we have different varying levels of risk.

KRISTIN MYERS: Doctor, of course, Pfizer right now is looking at the safety of combining that coronavirus vaccine with other vaccines, especially as we have a lot of conversation around booster shots that might be needed going forward. Curious to know if you think that that-- this might help that vaccine hesitancy, especially as folks are not going to have to go to the doctor and get 15 shots when they go and that we can actually start combining some of those vaccines with each other?

MANISH GARG: I think this will be a very effective strategy. Right now Pfizer is looking at their pneumococcal or their strep pneumonia vaccine. So just as a-- to break this down, strep pneumoniae is the most common bacteria that we find in pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent pneumonia in vulnerable patients, and so we typically give those annually to patients who are over 65 years old.

So what they're doing is they're looking to combine this vaccine with a third booster dose in patients who have been six months plus from the second Pfizer shot. The CDC has come out and said that combining these vaccines and other types of vaccines is OK. And if you remember, Novavax combined its investigational flu vaccine with their Covo shot. And they've tested that in animals and ferrets and hamsters.

So that produced antibodies against both viruses that were at levels comparable to what's been seen in either vaccine alone. So that's really promising news. I think it's important, though, that viewers should know that our current vaccines have really good protection against the virus, and for now, even international variants. NYU just published a study in preprint that showed that it had really good protection against some of these international variants. And so I think it's important to prepare some of the booster push that's coming from the pharmaceutical companies.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, I want to ask you something that's very disturbing that we're seeing happening in India right now, something called black fungus being seen in people who have the virus. Can you explain what that is? And how much of a threat is that for us here in the US?

MANISH GARG: Yeah, that's a really great question, Alexis. Let me just take one step back and talk about international COVID. So internationally, COVID-19 continues to rage on. It's claiming countless lives and creating disability and death for so many. The last I checked, less than a 1-- less than 1% of the global vaccine doses have been administered to the 29 poorest countries which have about 9% of the world's population.

The situation in India with the fungal infections, it's very rare, and it's a really sad development. I'm sure you've seen these images of crematoriums being overwhelmed and just the heartbreaking scenes of fire and ash. One of the saddest quotes that I heard from an Indian reporter was that the people of India have had to suffer the indignity of inhaling their dead, which is just a horrible, horrible image and is something that was very lasting to me.

I was born here in the United States, and I have family in India. And I've had multiple family members die. And many of us who are Indian Americans have tried our best to help family members navigate this wave. With regards to the fungal infections, mucormycosis, which is what this black fungus is, it's a fungal infection that we see in immunocompromised patients.

I've taken care of patients who have had this fungal infection, but they've usually been severely immunocompromised and often require intensive care management. The mortality is very high. What's happening in India is pretty fascinating. It's likely due to a combination of steroid use, either through personal means, people are able to get and acquire steroids and they're taking it, or being prescribed by physicians.

And then if you have a person who has diabetes or HIV or organ transplant or chemotherapy and then if you use antibiotics and you're ridding the body of other competing organisms like the bacteria, then it potentially allows for the fungal-- fungus to grow. But what I think is really happening, and we just had a big meeting this weekend with members from all around the country, one of our researchers suggested that it may be coming from industrial instead of medical oxygen, and potentially also the contaminated water that's used to humidify ventilators.

What's important for us to know in this country, though, is this is not communicable. This is not part of a virus strain. So we are going to be safe from this black fungus, or this mucormycosis psychosis, as we-- and we've had lots of infections, and we haven't been seeing that in the hospitals.

KRISTIN MYERS: Absolutely a very important reminder as we see other countries right now struggling to fight against this pandemic. Dr. Manish Garg, emergency medicine physician, co-founder of the World Economic Council of Emergency Medicine. Thanks so much for joining us.