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Trump administration will 'likely bungle' COVID-19 vaccine distribution: Doctor

Dr. Rishi Desai, Chief Medical Officer at Osmosis & Former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments as Pfizer and BioNTech submit their vaccine for emergency authorization.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Markets are also digesting the news that Pfizer is actually going to be asking for emergency use authorization for their vaccine candidate. As we all remember, that was the vaccine candidate that originally had a 90% efficacy rate. That efficacy rate has now been bumped to 95%, besting Moderna's vaccine candidate. That stock right now is doing well, up 1.3% right now.

I want to take a look over at some of the stay-at-home plays because we've seen them do very well as of the coronavirus continues to surge. So let's take a look over at Zoom, up over 6.5% right now. We see Peloton, another stay-at-home play, up over 5% as well. Amazon also in the green today.

And on the coronavirus front, currently there are more than 11.7 million positive cases of coronavirus in the country, nearly 11.8, and the death count currently sits at nearly 253,000. This is all according to Johns Hopkins. So let's start the show there with the pandemic and digging into the latest.

We're joined now by Dr. Rishi Desai. He's the chief medical officer at Osmosis and a former Center for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence officer. Doctor, thank you so much for coming back and joining us, always great to chat with you.

I want to start with this news from Pfizer that we have this request for emergency authorization. They have not yet, however, released any data in a peer-reviewed journal. I'm wondering if this move should be applauded, or should we be meeting it with a little bit of skepticism?

RISHI DESAI: Well, there are two vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine that have been widely announced, both efficacious around 95%. So on the face of that, that's awesome. You know, we've been looking for good news for a long time. This is, by definition, good news.

And in terms of skepticism, what we need to think about next is, so we have a vaccine. We think it works in a lab setting. How is it going to work in the real-world setting? That's where we have to think about cold chain. You know, the vaccine has to be kept cool, so you need freezers for that.

Do those freezers exist in the offices of doctors and nurses around the country? Well, for Pfizer, you need a really deep deep freezer. Most folks don't have that. For Moderna, you have a freezer that's actually much more widely available. So that's actually good news on the Moderna side.

The other thing is, how long does it stay kind of cool for, and can it be used for a while? The Pfizer vaccine seems like it's roughly five days. Moderna is roughly 30 days.

So these are logistic issues that we're going to have to figure out in the coming months. So should we be happy? Yeah, absolutely. Should we be skeptical? Yeah, definitely. Because we have to now do the hard work of getting this vaccine out from just sitting in a laboratory into people's bodies.

KRISTIN MYERS: OK, so I want to pick up on that because you have been pretty critical of the federal government and the leadership underneath President Trump throughout this pandemic. As you were just mentioning, there are some hurdles, essentially, to this vaccine distribution, not just for how many people need to get it, but just the basic logistics of freezing it, if you can keep it out, et cetera, et cetera. I'm wondering if you have any confidence.

Because I was reading that this emergency use authorization means that Pfizer could start really rolling out this vaccine as early as next month. So we would still have the current administration essentially in charge of that rollout. Given your criticism, do you have any concerns, any worries about relying on the current federal government, the current administration to roll out this vaccine, given all of those hurdles?

RISHI DESAI: Well, let me put it to you this way. The Trump administration was responsible for getting PPE out. Well, what is PPE? It's a mask. It doesn't need to be kept cold. You can stack it in boxes, in cardboard boxes, and ship it wherever it needs to go.

How effective were we at getting the PPE out? All those masks, did they get out everywhere? Nope. Did they get out in time? Nope. Do we still have areas in the country where it's hard to get good PPE? Yup. And this is months now, right?

So now think about one month from now trying to get a vaccine that's never been really-- gotten out there before. And now you have to keep a cool. And if it can only stay there for a few days before kind of going bad, how is that going to go? I'm not confident that this administration can do it, just because we know that history is a good predictor of the future.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, I'm going to just, I guess, ask you pretty bluntly, do you think that the Trump administration will bungle any vaccine distribution over the next month or two?

RISHI DESAI: And I'll answer equally bluntly, yes, I do. I think that the fact is that we haven't seen anything that's been very complicated that's been effectively done by the Trump administration thus far. If they turn it around, that would be awesome. And do they have the resources? Absolutely, they do.

Everyone's motivated to get this vaccine out there. And so the business community, the FDA, everyone's motivated to do this. So there's no reason they couldn't do it. But do I think that they will likely bungle it? Absolutely.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to move now to the surge that we are currently seeing because it is getting worse and worse and worse. 11.7-- actually, it is almost 11.8 million, I should say, to everyone at home. I believe just yesterday it was 11.4-- I think was what I told everyone yesterday. So huge spikes, huge surges that we are seeing here-- 170,000 new cases on Wednesday. Where do you think we are going to be by Jan. 1 when it comes to this virus, especially because we don't yet have the vaccine being rolled out.

RISHI DESAI: Yeah, you know, the data that I have in my mind is January 20. That's when there's a new administration that's going to come in. So between now and then is about two months, right? So the next 60 days are going to be rough, really rough. I mean, we've already seen, the last 60 days have been brutal, so the next 60 are going to be equally brutal. And I don't expect that things are going to get better tomorrow. I think that things are going to continue to get worse tomorrow, the next day, the next day after that.

And the next 60 days, hopefully, we'll start seeing some positive signs because then we'll have a better sense of how to get the vaccine out there. But it's winter. Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas is a month after that. So you've got lots of families coming together.

Even where the families aren't getting together, people are spending time indoors. Why? Because it's freezing cold in most parts of the country. So people are indoors much more, and that's what the virus likes to do is in fact people inside of households because that's easier than when you have, you know, folks kind of outdoors, and so that's why the summertimes are usually better.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Doctor, you're picking up on the holiday, and I do want to ask you about that. We've already heard doctors and Dr. Fauci even saying, listen, this year is not the year to gather together with your friends and family for Thanksgiving. It just isn't. It's an unfortunate reality that we're currently facing. However, if-- to your point, as you were saying a little bit earlier, history is a pretty good indicator of the future.

And frankly, we saw folks getting together for July 4. We saw them getting together from Memorial Day. We have seen bars crowded. I've seen on Instagram people going to clubs, apparently, partying. So let's just assume that people are going to probably do similar things this holiday. What do you think is going to be happening by the time mid-December rolls around, by the time Christmas rolls around, at least in terms of the cases but also maybe the deaths and the hospitalizations?

RISHI DESAI: Yeah, both deaths and hospitalizations are creeping up, and our health system is, right now in some places, teetering on the brink where you might have to start shutting down hospitals because they simply don't have enough beds or start kind of thinking back to getting parking lots and things like that opened up again so that you have enough bed space. So we're starting to see that in some areas, and it's really scary because I know it's going to get worse as people get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They're going to do it because they're fatigued, and I get that fatigue. What I would say to folks listening is that we have some good news on the horizon. Come Easter of next year, things should be looking much better than right now, and we didn't know that a month ago. So that's good news.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, I want to lastly ask you before we wrap here about the school closures and also some lockdowns and restrictions that we are seeing around the country. I'm wondering from you if school closures is a good idea. But even more broadly, given the reality of where we are and where you say we probably will be after the holiday, given this coronavirus fatigue that we have from so many people, do you think that lockdowns might be something that is definitely coming down the pike if we continue on the path that we are on?

RISHI DESAI: I think a mask mandate and lockdowns are both going to be on the docket for things that we need to do and need to look at as this gets worse.