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I think ‘we’re at the beginning of a third surge’ of coronavirus: Advancing Health Equity CEO

Dr. Uché Blackstock, Advancing Health Equity CEO, joins The Final Round to discuss her thoughts on the latest developments with the coronavirus and the vaccine race as new cases continue to spike across the globe.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Because we want to continue this conversation. And for that, we want to bring in Dr. Uché Blackstock, CEO of Advancing Health Equity and also a Yahoo News medical contributor. And Dr. Blackstock, great to have you back on the program.

Let's just start with what we've heard from Pfizer. Because Pfizer's CEO has been very communicative about where their vaccine stands. I mean, historically speaking, drug makers don't typically detail the research and the regulatory timelines in such detail.

So I'm just curious just how encouraged you are about this update that we got today, and then also whether or not you think it's going to help the public be a little bit more confident in a potential vaccine.

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, so those are all really important questions. You know, I was one of 60 physicians and public health experts that signed onto a letter a few weeks ago to Albert Bourla, specifically asking him, you know, to wait and to make sure that we have the safety and efficacy data before applying for the EUA.

And it seems like he's actually-- he's listening to our concerns. You know, it's important that we respect the process. And, you know, it usually takes about 10 years to develop a vaccine. We're doing it in record time. And yes, he has been really communicating a lot with the public, but also with his employees.

You know, you had that letter a few weeks ago, where he promised that he wouldn't succumb to political interference. And I think that was very important. And then this news today I think is incredibly reassuring for us and, hopefully, will reassure the public as well.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Dr. Blackstock, Anjalee here. One of the other things that I've got my eyes on is the Remdesivir trial, or rather, Remdesivir plus others from the World Health Organization that came out saying that it's not very effective, which is something that I think health experts have seen and have said. You know, the reduction in timeline of the hospital is not that significant. It doesn't prevent mortality, et cetera.

So I'm curious. It currently remains the only EUA authorized, FDA authorized drug treatment for COVID and has given a lot of hospitals confidence. Does that stand to change right now because of this WHO trial data, or will it remain authorized for use, do you think?

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: I think it'll remain authorized for use. I also-- I don't think it's the nail in the coffin, so to speak. You know, it still may be helpful given early in the course of COVID-19. And again, as you mentioned, it's the only medication and therapeutic that's currently approved. So I have a feeling that physicians and intensivists will continue using Remdesivir until we have something better.

INES FERRE: Doctor, Ines here. The confidence in a vaccine from the public is something that is questionable, depending on who you talk to. Do you think that the fact that with Pfizer, the chairman and CEO, came out with a letter, basically explaining what was happening, do you think that that was productive towards a little bit more transparency to get that confidence up for when the vaccine is ready?

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: You know, I think it actually remains to be seen how much the public is paying attention to this and how much they value the CEO's words. I know, for us in the medical and public health community, it means a lot.

I think that if we, you know, the public health community, can communicate that to the public and to our patients, that actually may have a little bit more significance than Mr. Bourla's comments about this.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Blackstock, I mean, going off of that, there's just still so much-- so many unanswered questions, I guess I should say, at this point. And of course, right now, we see these alarming numbers coming out, not only overseas in Europe, but also here in the US, when you see what's happening, particularly in the Midwest and out further into the West, and even in North Carolina, one of the states here, reporting a record number of new daily cases.

When you take a look at what's happening over in Europe at this point, we had the World Health Organization saying that it was concerned about Europe's coronavirus outbreak, as some of their ICU beds are nearing capacity or are getting at least to the point where they're getting a little bit concerned.

How much better prepared do you think we are for a second outbreak here in the United States? And is this a potential concern for the US here in a month or two from now?

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: You know, so I'm definitely concerned. Make no mistake. I think we're actually in the beginning of a third surge. You know, we had the one in the spring. We had the one over the summer.

And the problem is, we never got down. Our plateau was really quite high. And we're starting to go up again. And so I'm worried that the hospitalizations and deaths that we're going to see this time around are probably going to supersede that from the last wave that we had.

And unfortunately, right now, what we're seeing is that there are a lot of rural towns that are being affected, small hospitals that definitely do not have the resources in terms of staffing, PPE, and medications, like larger city hospitals have. And so we are definitely going to see, hopefully, you know, some consequences of that.

And so, again, I can't advocate strongly enough that we really need to have a national strategy, not just around testing and contact tracing, but even around PPE production as well.

DAN ROBERTS: Dr. Blackstock, Dan Roberts here. Speaking of having a national strategy and speaking of your prediction that we might see a third surge, while we have you, I hope this doesn't feel trivial, but I'd love to get your take on what's going on in the sports world.

Because we've been following closely as various leagues, or really, all of them, are continuing to play. And they've done a varying degree of effective precautions. In the NFL, there are a number of cases. Everyone's kind of trying their best.

But what's your kind of stance on whether they should be playing at all, which sports are doing it right, and what the dangers are there in continuing to have games, and in some cases, with college football, having fans in the stands?

UCHE BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, well, I mean, obviously, the NBA did it really great. The bubble seemed pretty successful. Obviously, you know, I would say, probably, you shouldn't be playing. You know, this is definitely a too high risk, especially as we're heading into this potential third surge.

And so, you know, I would say if they're going to continue to play, then the testing is going to be incredibly important, testing daily and making sure you're using high sensitivity testing. You want to make sure that you're going to do this without a significant number of cases.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Uché Blackstock, CEO of Advancing Health Equity, and also a Yahoo News medical contributor. Great to have you back on the program. We'll talk to you soon.

UCHI BLACKSTOCK: Thanks for having me.