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‘Shortcuts right now’ with COVID-19 could lead to ‘far worse problems’ in the future: Doctor

University of Kansas Health System Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control & a doctor of infectious diseases Dr. Dana Hawkinson joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest with COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: I want to shift our focus back over to the coronavirus front here too. As I mentioned off the top of the show, we're watching that third national lockdown take effect in the UK. Of course, infections there have been surging to a rate of almost 60,000 new cases a day.

That's double the rate that we saw over there across the pond a few weeks ago, a lot tied back to that new coronavirus strain that we're now seeing spread here in the US as well, multiple cases stemming from people who had not previously traveled giving into fears here that a lot of that has already spread throughout the country.

So joining us now for more on all of that is Dr. Dana Hawkinson, University of Kansas Health System Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control and a doctor of infectious diseases as well. I appreciate you here taking the time. When we talk about this, it seems to be one of those issues that is a little bit worrisome if you think about a strain that can spread much more than what we were talking about in the past coming at a time when hospitals are already stretched. Talk to me about what that might say about the next few weeks here in the US as we all try and battle the spread.

DANA HAWKINSON: You know, I think even before this variant was identified in the UK, or even here in the United States, there was just that concern that overall since the weather has turned colder, since we've gotten into our holiday times, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, people are moving inside wanting to gather. And that's really what this is about. This new variant, or the UK variant, or the South African variant with the multiple mutations, they're considering that it is probably more transmissible.

We are still waiting for the full science and data on that. But that really should not change what we do. A lot of this is behavioral. And the behaviors that we need to continue to do is masking, not meeting in large groups, not increasing our bubble, continue to distance.

Because even if this is more transmissible, they suspect you're-- you're having more replication and more high titers of the virus in your respiratory tract, even if that's true, that is why we need to continue the non-pharmaceutical interventions of masking, distancing, not meeting in large groups, things of that nature. That is the way that we can stop the spread of this disease.

Now, we do have the vaccines coming down-- down the pike and available. They aren't fully available to the public yet. But once those come, those will help. But that changes nothing about continuing to mask, distance, not meet in those large gatherings.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Doctor, there's been concern about the spread right now, largely because the rate of vaccinations have not been as quick as it initially had been anticipated. We saw the UK government take this stand on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, saying essentially that they believe that they can delay the second dose to make sure that more people are inoculated through the first dose. You've heard the FDA already come out and criticize that move, saying this creates a significant risk. Where do you stand on that debate? And is this ultimately the right decision?

DANA HAWKINSON: You know, I stand on the side of our scientists, of our FDA, of our CDC, looking at all the data, looking at all the guidance, understanding what are the facts that we have. This is not the only time-- I know, as our other guest said, this is a pandemic. Things are new. I understand that.

But making shortcuts right now could really lead to far worse problems in the future. We know what the data from the-- the initial published briefs for Moderna and Pfizer say. We understand that better than we understand any of the other data presented. So I would stand by what our FDA, what our scientists, our CDC, our NIH says when they are combing through every detail of that data.

ZACK GUZMAN: And Doctor, I wonder how much of that might be swung, or at least factored in here, when we think about the new strains coming through and some reports that medical experts are concerned that the vaccines might not be effective in working against some of those strains. Obviously, there's still a lot to be learned there. But as an expert in infectious disease, talk to me about how real those concerns are that you could have this vaccine that took, you know, quite some time to develop here, even though it was the fastest we ever got to one, that could maybe not be effective against new strains.

DANA HAWKINSON: Yeah, I think we have to understand that the vaccines will produce polyclonal immunity, meaning there are antibodies that will be made to different parts of the spike protein. And again, here we're specifically talking about Pfizer and Moderna because those are which we have the emergency use authorization for. Right now there is no evidence that the vaccines, the immunity garnered by the vaccines, will not work, because especially for that receptor binding domain, really the part that binds to our human receptors, doesn't seem to be changed that much where it would affect the antibody production or the ability for those neutra antibody-- neutralizing antibodies to work.

Certainly that is something-- there are clinical trials or there are studies right now looking at those variants and looking at the immunity induced by the current vaccines to see if they will still have activity. So right now there is no evidence that the vaccines will not produce an immunity to those variants, but we are still looking at it. It always has to be considered. But right now I don't think that's a problem. It doesn't seem to be a problem. We'll certainly wait for the studies.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Doctor, we've seen a number of state leaders really adjust their approach to the vaccine rollout here, largely because of the slow rollout, at least in the initial weeks of this. Some states calling for hospitals that are already really well ahead on the vaccines to get more of the dosage so they can continue to vaccinate. We've seen a lot of resistance in nursing homes, largely because of skepticism around the vaccine. And I'm wondering if you think there should be a reassessment of who actually gets the vaccine at this point? Or should there be more efforts here put towards convincing those, for example, nursing homes, to actually get inoculated?

DANA HAWKINSON: Yeah, that's a real good question. I think it's a combination of all of them. I think vaccine hesitancy is OK if you are doing your due diligence and understanding the science, talking to people who have gotten it, really trying to look into why are you hesitant. Is it because of safety reasons? Because we know that they're safe from the published studies.

The efficacy, we understand what the efficacy is right now. Certainly, more information will be garnered as we get further into this. I think it is very important to really try to protect our most vulnerable populations, those populations that are probably at risk of more severe disease and death. That is the nursing home populations.

But it's also important to continue to maintain our health care workers and their health so that they can treat you when you, or your loved ones, or your friends come into the hospital, because that is a big issue for capacity right now as well. Certainly in our health system and in our region, it's not so much PPE as it was early in the pandemic. It is our health care workers and our essential workers being out on quarantine or being out because they have the disease.

It's important to have those workers there so that they can treat you or your loved ones when you are ill and do come into the hospital and for whatever reason, whether that's COVID, or a heart attack, or a stroke, or another infection. So I think it's important to continue to evaluate who should get the vaccine, who initially should get it and prioritize.

We have had some people who declined the vaccine, and that's OK. But we've also had people who decline and then later on say, well, I'm ready for it now. So as long as you're doing the due diligence and understanding the safety and efficacy and the real information, the truth, I think that's-- that's an OK thing to be doing.