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We have two weapons to fight COVID, 'One is masks, the other is vaccines': One Medical Regional Medical Director

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, One Medical Regional Medical Director joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down what's next for the U.S. as U.S. COVID-19 cases rise as the delta variant spreads.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Well, with the rise of the delta variant, we are seeing cases and hospitalizations continue to climb. Taking a look at cases, new cases are up nearly 400% since the beginning of July. We just got some breaking news at the top of the hour, Senator Lindsey Graham, he was tweeting out that he has now tested positive for COVID-19 even after being vaccinated.

So we want to talk a little bit more about where things stand with Dr. Natasha Bhuyan. She's a regional medical director and One Medical. Dr. Bhuyan, And it's great to see you again. We're seeing more and more people test positive-- of course, those that are unvaccinated, as well as those that are fully vaccinated. I guess, what's your assessment just of where things stand today?

NATASHA BHUYAN: Yeah, you know, we are seeing cases are rising across the US. So we know that cases are up 150% in the past two weeks, and we are mostly seeing cases in people that are unvaccinated. You know, it's important to remember that with this pandemic, we are mostly right now seeing cases in people that are unvaccinated. So 99.9% of people who are fully vaccinated have not had a breakthrough case that has resulted in a severe hospitalization or death. I think what that tells us is that what public health experts have been saying is accurate. The vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they are our best weapon to get us through this pandemic.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Hey, Doctor. I'm looking at Lindsey Graham's tweet on another computer, and he goes on to say that I'm glad I was vaccinated because without the vaccination, I'm certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse. So what would you say to politicians like the governor in Texas or the governor in Florida or even Senator Graham who say, but we shouldn't have a vaccine mandate, or we shouldn't have a mask mandate, which I-- two different issues, but the word mandate is the part of it that's really crucial, right?

NATASHA BHUYAN: Right. You know, and I've heard a lot of talk about are we going to have lockdowns, are we going to have mandates. And the reality is, right now, we don't actually need to have lockdowns, and the reason why is because we have two key weapons in fighting this virus. One is masks. The other is vaccines. If we can get our vaccination rates up, we will be able to slow down the spread of the virus.

But until then, in areas where there are high viral rates, it's important that even people who are fully vaccinated continue to wear a mask when they are in indoor public settings. We know that masks themselves are 50% to upwards of 70% effective in curbing the spread of the virus. And so what I tell people is it's important to note that these vaccines are safe, they are effective, they prevent people from getting hospitalized, and they prevent death. And that is really what's critical in all of this.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, we also got the headline out that Germany is planning to offer vaccine booster shots starting next month in September. I guess, when can we expect something similar to that here?

NATASHA BHUYAN: Well, there's a lot of recent studies out showing the effectiveness of the virus. You know, a recent study-- it's not peer reviewed, but it does show that even the Pfizer vaccine, after six months, it's still 84% effective in preventing symptomatic illness, and it's 97% effective in preventing any sort of severe illness from the COVID infection. And so what that tells us is even through six months, these vaccines are highly effective, and so we might not need a booster dose right now. That being said, some of these studies are from March, and so we don't know exactly how the vaccines will react to the delta variant. But from what we've seen, the vaccines still continue to be highly effective against the delta variant. A booster might not be needed right now. It could happen in the future.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor, a lot of us just want to get past these variant spikes so that we can get this economy truly back on track and get back to what we used to do. How do you feel when you encounter, as I'm sure you do, the people who still won't get the vaccine? Share that with us.

NATASHA BHUYAN: Yeah, you know, that does happen. What I'm seeing right now, though, the positive news is that we are seeing an increase in vaccination rates in the US. It's up 26% in the last three weeks. And that's mostly driven by people who are hearing about how serious the delta variant is, and they're motivated to act. They're also hearing the public health messaging that the vaccines are safe and effective.

You know, among my patients, I really see two groups of people who don't want to get vaccinated. There's people who are apathetic, they're on the fence, and then there's people who heard misinformation about the vaccines and they hear that the vaccines might not be safe. For both of those groups of people, I just have a candid conversation about what we know with the vaccines. And so if there are people who are on the fence, they don't know if they want to get vaccinated, I encourage them, talk to your primary care physician because we're here to answer questions honestly and tailor it to your own health.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, more and more workers, I think, over the past few days have been a little bit more anxious, just about returning to the office, whether or not that is safe right now. I guess, should employers be bringing employees back to the office, and what type of protocols should be in place if that, in fact, is the case?

[AUDIO OUT]

NATASHA BHUYAN: --before. And we're seeing increases in hospitalizations in that demographic as well, and that makes sense because that demographic has the lowest vaccination rates. I'm seeing it among my patients where some people are motivated to get vaccinated because they're supposed to return to work and their employers are mandating the vaccine. Other people have actually asked me for letters of exemption because they're supposed to return to work in person and they don't feel safe or comfortable. And it's kind of across the range.

What I tell employers is that if you're going to have people returning back in person, that's fine, but we need to make sure that we have safety protocols in place-- you know, the physical distancing, the cleaning, and the masks-- in order to keep our employees safe.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, regional medical director at One Medical, always great to speak with you. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.