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There's been a 'sigh of relief': Doctor on Biden's executive orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic

Stamford Health's Dr. Asha Shah joined Yahoo FInance Live to break down her thoughts on Biden's executive orders pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic response as cases continue to climb.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: And Dr. Asha, great to have you on the program. I'm curious just first to get your reaction to what we just heard from President Biden, clearly stating and laying out the Biden administration's focus here, as we do work to combat the spread of the virus. Do you think it's going to be effective at this point?

ASHA SHAH: Hi, thank you for having me back on the show. Yes, it's just a sigh of relief, and we're very happy and relieved that these new plans are being put into place. And it's hope. And I do think that it's possible if we have the resources in place and the supplies in place to get vaccines in people's arms as quickly as possible to beat this virus. So, very happy on our end.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When we hear the president say that we're going to have more than 500,000 dead in a month, and it'll take several months to turn this around, aren't those vaccines, which are already approved, aren't they already at max capacity of production? What are we missing here?

ASHA SHAH: Well, I think the main two issues, at least that we're experiencing here locally, is our vaccine supply, as well as staffing. But it's really about that supply chain and increasing the production of the vaccines. If we can get the supply and get the materials that we need, we've experienced here locally that the community is ready to help. And we have recruited a fair number of individuals for our vaccine clinics and our vaccine hubs. But we need the vaccine. And so, I think that's the key.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Dr. Shah, Anjalee here. Looking at what we know about the variants both from the UK and South Africa, it seems like the South Africa one is specifically a concern when it comes to the vaccines. We seem to be in this race against time. So with the sort of elongated timeline, not knowing whether or not we're going to get broad vaccinations by February, are you concerned at all with what the impact is going to be, then, for hospitals and health systems?

ASHA SHAH: It's something that we're watching very closely. At this point in time, we don't believe that the variants that are being seen have any effect on the vaccine efficacy. But the viruses can continue to mutate and change. And so, it's kind of, we're racing against this. And I think that's what makes it even more important to vaccinate as many people as fast as we can.

What we do know about the mutants is that it can make the virus more transmissible, which makes it even more important for everyone to mask up and socially distance and continue to practice those infection prevention measures, until we can get enough vaccines into arms.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Shah, I'm curious just if you could give us a better picture on what the situation is currently like in your hospital and whether or not you have had access to all the supplies and everything that you need at this point in the pandemic.

ASHA SHAH: Sure, so we started our vaccination campaign back in the beginning of-- the middle of December. And we were initially administering about 1,500 vaccines a week. Now we have ramped that up and expanded to giving about 1,000 vaccines per day, starting this week, in line with the rollout of Phase 1B in Connecticut. So we are receiving vaccine supply. We are keeping a close eye on our supplies, including syringes, gloves, and all of the things that we need to run a vaccine clinic safely.

However, we have been working very closely with the state, as well as our hospital association. And the allocation may change in the weeks to come. And that's what's really going to affect how many people we can vaccinate. It's how many vaccines that we can get in the state and that supply chain.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Looking at where we are right now, some states are trying to reach out to the companies to get the vaccines. We also know that President Joe Biden just talked about standing up vaccination centers with FEMA. All of that put together, where do you see sort of the most potential right now, and what can help move that forward?

ASHA SHAH: I think that we've had great success here in our state and with our collaboration. So I think working very closely with our State Department of Health and other hospitals in the region has really proven to be successful. So I think that collaboration statewide is very-- in a very effective strategy to move this forward so that we're all on the same page, and we all have the same priorities. And we're vaccinating the same groups of people at the same time in an organized fashion. I think that's the key.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So when we hear the president talk about creating a task force to allocate resources to the communities that have been hardest and using outcomes by race, ethnicity, geography to do that-- for instance, we know Staten Island, the Bronx in this part of the country have been hit very hard. How would that get us closer to this herd immunity goal if we do the vaccination programs that way?

ASHA SHAH: I think we've recognized that here as well, those at risk groups. So not only individuals that are in the elderly population, but it's individuals that are in minority groups, underserved populations. And so, I do think that getting the vaccine physically to those communities and making it easy for them to line up and get a vaccine I think is key because those are the individuals a lot of the times that we see in our hospital that are sick and in our ICUs. And so, those are key populations that we need to reach, and we also need to address the vaccine hesitancy amongst those groups and answer any questions or concerns they may have about the vaccine safety.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, we got news today in a study of one of Eli Lilly's antibody drugs really showing that it reduced the risk of COVID-19 in nursing homes. I guess, my question to you is, how do you see this fitting into the prevention efforts that could be enacted here in this country, and then, when do you think it would make sense to potentially use a drug like this going forward?

ASHA SHAH: So we've been using monoclonal antibody therapy here at our hospital for about two months now, both therapies put forward by Lilly and by Regeneron. And we are using these infusions on COVID positive patients who do not require hospitalization. It's an outpatient infusion, and it has been shown to decrease the risk of hospitalization and decrease the risk of adverse outcomes from COVID. We've set up a very successful program here.

And I think that it's another tool in our toolkit that we did not have back in the spring to help tackle this infection. And it's almost like a bridge to a vaccine. It's really giving folks with COVID that extra kind of immune response to fight the COVID that's in their system to prevent them from ending up in the hospital. So I do think it's a nice strategy and the one that we have used here pretty regularly.