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“The same precautions we’ve been taking … will still largely be extremely effective” : ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance

Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel with the latest COVID-10 vaccine update.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: The average number of daily COVID-19 cases have dropped nearly 40% over the last two weeks. But a new study points to seven new variants that have emerged in the US, signaling some alarming mutations in the virus as we approach one year into this pandemic. Let's bring in Dr. Lakshmi Swamy-- or Lakshman Swamy. He's an ICU physician at Cambridge Health Alliance.

And doctor, it's good to talk to you today. We should point out when we're talking about these new variants, this came from a study that was published by LSU, specifically alluding to homegrown variants that were separate from the South African and UK variants we've been talking so much about. What more do we know about this? And how big of a concern or how concerned should we be?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Well, thanks so much for having me. You know, when it comes to variants, it's no surprise. You know, we're not different than other countries that we're getting our own variants as well. And we're only going to see more and more variants as time goes on.

But the important thing to keep in mind here is that a variant isn't some entirely new organism that can somehow, you know, defy our masks or distancing better. So the first thing I would say is that the same precautions we've been taking with COVID in, whether it's in community settings or in the hospital, those same precautions will still largely be extremely effective.

ZACK GUZMAN: Dr. Swamy, the other thing, too, that, you know, doctors on our show have stressed is that, you know, these variants can't arise if we see cases continue to drop. That's the main thing. And it's been that way over the last 31 days. We've seen consecutive-- 31 consecutive days of falling cases here in the US. So talk to me about maybe what's driving that if it's not just more people wearing masks. Are we starting to approach maybe where vaccines are either taking effect or herd immunity might be also coming into play?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah, I'd love to say that, you know, we think it's herd immunity or the vaccine effect. But unfortunately-- pardon me-- I just don't think we're quite there yet. This is similar, actually, I think-- and certainly, it feels like that in the hospital-- to what we saw in the spring, where, almost suddenly, the cases just began to drop precipitously.

And I think it's a confluence of all of those things you've mentioned-- people starting to, you know, respond when the cases get really high and people start to get sick. I think behavior changes across the board. That coupled with, yes, vaccinations, and more people having gotten sick, all of that I think is contributing to drop in the cases, which is an incredible thing to see. It's great.

AKIKO FUJITA: How should we be looking at the rate of vaccinations right now versus some of these studies that have come out pointing to new variants? I mean, it seems like what we keep hearing from health experts like yourself is that there is a race to try and get ahead of the mutations, vaccinate as many people as possible. What kind of timeline do you think is most ideal when you consider the mutations that are happening, but the vaccine supply being limited?

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: Yeah, and I think it is useful to think of it in that framework, that if we can radically suppress the virus in the community, that gives it much less chances to develop new mutations and replicate and spread a new variant. So it's critically important.

And the challenge, of course, is the supply and the rollout of vaccine logistics. It's really painful to see elderly people of color coming into the ICU still who are critically ill, on the edge of life and death, and looking at them and thinking that this could have been prevented with vaccination. So we really need to get there. We need the supply, and we need the logistics.

ZACK GUZMAN: And that's kind of why I think, you know, these storms are even more important now, as we're seeing cities kind of have to push back their vaccination programs due to the storms. We saw that in Texas and some other states as well. How important does that become, though? Because, obviously, there is a time limit between that first dose and second dose that you would want to stay as close as possible to those guidelines. So how important, how crucial is that, as we've seen quite a few people get their first dose, but that second dose still proving elusive for many Americans out there.

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: You know, as we've learned with everything that has to do with COVID, there's a spectrum of risk. There's a spectrum of benefit. We'd like to see everyone get Pfizer or Moderna within the time frame, two doses. Of course, that's not possible due to the supply, the logistics. And these storms as you-- I have family in Texas hit by these storms. And it's brutal. It's certainly just more evidence that the real world makes delivering these vaccines incredibly complicated and difficult. But getting more vaccines into arms is the key. And even outside of those guidelines, it's still a huge benefit, I think.

AKIKO FUJITA: Dr. Lakshman Swamy, ICU physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, it's good to talk to you today. Appreciate your time.