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It’s been a terrible year for pandemics but a great year for vaccine science: Emergency Medicine Physician

Dr. Jeremy Faust, Emergency Medicine Physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest rise in COVID cases around the country.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: --on the coronavirus. Pfizer now saying its COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective with no serious side effects. That news comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to tick up in all 50 states in the US.

Let's kick things off there with our very first guest for the hour. We've got Dr. Jeremy Faust. He is an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. And Dr. Faust, it's good to talk to you.

Let's start with that vaccine news. We've certainly been talking a lot about the efficacy rate here. Two vaccines now on the market. How big of a success is this, and how are you looking at in the context of this surge that we are seeing in COVID cases right now?

JEREMY FAUST: Yeah, I see bad news about cases. It's nice to have something positive to talk about. These data from Moderna last week and Pfizer the week before, now updated information from Pfizer, really a bright spot.

We have to contextualize it, right? Whether this means that people can't actually spread the infection is really unknown. What we are seeing, though, is it's preventing severe symptoms and severe illness in the people who get it. So it's a big-- it's a big bright spot.

Look, it's been a terrible year for pandemics. It's been a great year for vaccine science. We had a sequence of this virus in early January. Two months later, people were getting injected with these vaccines, and now in the same calendar year, efficacy numbers like this.

I think it's positive. It's a reason to celebrate. But, of course, the problem is with delays we don't want to sort of dance before we get to the goal line because we have to save lives so that people can be alive to get the vaccines, assuming that everything plays out.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and that's obviously top of mind right now in terms of where we go in the next couple of months. Obviously Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching here. You're going to have a bunch of gatherings.

On that front, earlier today we did chat with one of the doctors named to President-elect Biden's coronavirus task force, and she was talking about how he's not necessarily on board with some of the other views shared by that same task force potentially about locking down for another four to six weeks here. Here's what Dr. Céline Gounder had to say on that topic.

CÉLINE GOUNDER: A national lockdown or shutdown is simply not on the table. The president-elect has no intention of implementing a national lockdown. There may be some differences of opinion on the advisory board, but the consensus on the advisory board is also that we do not need-- a national lockdown is not indicated here.

ZACK GUZMAN: So Dr. Faust, I mean, we've seen governors take some action here. New Mexico instituted their own lockdown for two weeks here. What do you make of the discussions on lockdown right now? What do you think needs to be done in that interim before we get the vaccine?

JEREMY FAUST: Yeah, I mean, I'm a friend of Dr. Gounder. I know Dr. Gounder. I know what she's saying. She's saying that in the room there's a debate about theory versus reality.

It kind of reminds me of HIV. Yes, abstinence is perfect if it's done, but it's actually not achievable on a population level, so you don't just teach abstinence. Same thing here. It's like if you really could just lock down and everyone stay put for a little while, you could squash the virus.

But what I think the task force, the advisory board is saying is they realize that it's just not really possible politically, and so let's choose the things that we think people will do and have the maximum benefit with the least likelihood of leading to sort of mass rebellion against whatever is suggested. So I actually really appreciate that they're in that room being more than just academic. They're saying, look, the rubber hits the road. Let's see what's practical, what's possible.

And I think that therefore it'll kind of change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, like you said. Some areas are going to have no choice, and there will be the political will to say, you know what? We're willing to take some pretty extreme measures. And other places where it's not the case, then you really home in on the things that we know matter the most and try to mitigate while we wait for that vaccine to come out.

AKIKO FUJITA: One of the other concerns the doctor raised in that interview was just the transition process as a whole, saying we're not being allowed to have access to data that the current administration has, so we can't really assess how things are working. I know you're on the outside looking in, but what are the key concerns that you have with this transition process, especially given that you've got an administration in office right now that is not willing to concede yet?

JEREMY FAUST: It's really unfortunate that this is being politicized and that we're not having the usual transition. I remember reading about George W. Bush transitioning to Barack Obama and how outgoing President Bush was actually doing things that he may not necessarily agree with because he felt that for continuity, President-elect Obama needed some things done. I'd like to see the same thing happen here.

We can respond federally if we have the right information. Let's imagine that we knew a little bit more about capacity in real time. Well, FEMA could react to that. Or the Army National Guard who can pop up a field hospital in a matter of, you know, very quickly, they could really respond.

So it's not necessarily the case that the current administration would do anything, but it would be nice to know that on January 21 or 20 at noon that we know what's possible. We know where the needs are. And then a new administration could immediately activate without any sort of lag between what they perceive as the need and what they know is a possible response. So yeah, we need that transparency so that the second it's possible to change course, we can do so.

ZACK GUZMAN: Dr. Faust, you talk about politics playing a role here. We've talked about how that impacts Americans' ability or willingness, I should say, to get a vaccine when that comes through. The latest poll from Gallup shows that things are improving on that front. 58% of Americans saying they'd be willing to take that vaccine. That's up from about half in September.

Yesterday we were asking one of the doctors who treated President Trump when he came down with COVID-19 about that and what percentages are going to be needed in vaccinating Americans to hit herd immunity. He was saying about 65% to 70% of the population is going to need to get it if you're talking about a vaccine that's about 90% effective. What does that look like to you in rolling this out effectively to reach that ultimate goal of getting back to normalcy relatively soon?

JEREMY FAUST: Well, one thing that I will say is the fact that we have multiple vaccines competing is actually a good thing in a sense that we have-- there are going to be slightly different supply-line issues and so other issues that I think it actually makes it good that we're going to have more than one. So Pfizer can get this many doses in this situation. Moderna can do the other. So rollout is going to be a little bit shaky, but at least it's not going to be all eggs in one basket. So I think that's one good thing.

Unfortunately, the spread is so rabid right now that about 10% of the population is probably going to be infected by this thing before a vaccine is really available. So again, I agree with the statistics that you cited that we have to-- not everyone has to do it but over half have to do it. And then on top of that, unfortunately some will have some degree of natural immunity from having recovered among those who do.

So I think that those numbers are going to go up. I think that we're going to get above 58% with that number, and I'm not surprised because when there's a perceived need and when there's trust in the scientific community or even just trust with you and your health-care provider, your physician or whoever you're working with say, look, I got the vaccine. What are your concerns? Let's talk about it. We find that we-- we can't get everyone to do it, but we can actually get a lot of hesitant people and a lot of maybes to yeses just by having a really open, honest conversation about everyone's concern.

So I think we'll get there, and I hope it's 95%-- 100% adherence. But I think we're going to get to a high-enough number where we'll have success.

AKIKO FUJITA: Dr. Jeremy Faust, emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, it's good to talk to you. Thanks so much for your time.