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'Travel bans don't work,' doctor explains amid reports of newly discovered variant

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Dr. Amesh A. Adalja MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the newly discovered COVID-19 variant and the potential implications based on what is currently known.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: Welcome back. We want to get a check of the markets here, as we are seeing stocks under quite a bit of pressure ahead of the market. We got the Dow down almost 800 points, that's where it had been at the lows. The S&P 500, those futures down about 1.5% in the NASDAQ. That is down the least up-- excuse me, down about 8/10 of a percent. And you can also see on your screen, the Russell 2000 down 3%.

But we want to talk all about this new COVID variant that is catching the attention of the World Health Organization. For that, we're going to bring in Amesh Adalja. And he is the senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security. Thank you for being with us this very busy morning. Can you tell us about this new variant, this new mutation, which may be named later today?

AMESH ADALJA: So what we know right now is a little bit limited because this is a new variant that was discovered in parts of Africa, and it spreads to some other countries. And what it has is a cluster of several mutations, more mutations than we've seen in that spike protein part of the coronavirus. And that spike protein is important because that's what our vaccines target, that's how the virus enters our cells.

So when we see mutations there, and there are some that are concerning, we worry, is this more transmissible? Is this something that might be able to escape some of our vaccine protection? Is this something that might escape monoclonal antibody protection? So all of these questions are going to be answered in the next couple of days to weeks. And that will allow us to fully characterize how much we should worry about this if we need to modify things.

SEANA SMITH: Talking about modifying things, we got the news out that UK has already decided to suspend travel from six African countries. Dr. Adalja, is this something that you think the US government should be considering or should potentially consider as we do get more information out about this variant?

AMESH ADALJA: I do not think that this is something the US, or the UK, or any country should consider. Travel bans don't work. They end up stigmatizing a country. So the countries that isolated this virus and reported it are now going to get penalized for being transparent. What is the implication there for future variants if people get punished this way with travel restrictions? And we have tests, we have tools. So it's not as if we are helpless the way we were back in January of 2020.

So I don't think travel bans should be initiated or even beyond the table, but unfortunately, it's easy for politicians to put those into place, because the general public will clamor for them. And it makes the politician look like they're doing something when they actually make things worse.

JARED BLIKRE: And I want to shift gears a little bit, take your attention of the current situation, which is the uptick in COVID cases that we know throughout the world. And also we have a lot of gatherings this holiday weekend. Particularly in Michigan, there's a big game last night there. I think there is a big college football game tonight. And the point is we have hundreds of thousands of people potentially meeting in these enclosed spaces as we enter another wave. I'm just wondering what the implications are for spreading?

AMESH ADALJA: We know that there's going to be increased spread of this virus when people gather indoors in high risk situations, especially if they're unvaccinated. The virus isn't going anywhere. It's going to continue to kind of ebb and flow and have these surges when people interact. The goal is to minimize the impact by making sure that our high risk people, the ones that are most likely to get hospitalized are vaccinated. And if they do get infected, that they quickly get linked to treatments like monoclonal antibody, so we don't run into a situation where hospitals get into crisis.

So the goal is really to make this virus something that's more tame, something like other viruses we deal with year in and year out. And the best way to do that is by getting vaccine into people. But we're always going to see cases go up when people gather, that's just the nature of this virus.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, do you think we have the potential for a winter wave being as deadly or as serious as last winter's, if in fact, this variant proves to be as transmissible or more transmissible than the Delta variant?

AMESH ADALJA: So I do think we're going to have a winter wave no matter what. I don't think it will be as deadly as last year because we've got so many more tools. We've got monoclonal antibodies. We've got antivirals on the cusp. We've got a lot more knowledge about this virus. We've got rapid diagnostic tests that people can do in their home.

And when it comes to this variant, it's important to remember that even if it might be able to evade some of our immunity in terms of our antibodies, it's unlikely to still be able to cause breakthrough infections that cause severe disease, hospitalization, and death. So it might-- the vaccine does a lot of things, it's not just antibodies, and it's not just preventing mild illness. The goal is really to prevent severe illness. So it's a very high bar for any variant to be able to cause severe disease in a vaccinated person.

So I don't think that we're going to see a season as bad as last year because we really had nothing, except for basically supportive care, and remdesivir, and dexamethasone. We've got so many more tools, so I think that really protects us from having as bad of a winter. But it doesn't mean that it won't be rough and that it won't be hard, that hospitals may feel pressure. That's, I think, probably inevitable.

JARED BLIKRE: Well, Doctor, we have to leave it there. But we really appreciate you being with us here today. Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.