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U.S. closes in on 200K COVID-19 death milestone

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Alexis Christoforous discuss the latest coronavirus news with Dr. Dara Kass, Yahoo Medical Contributor and Columbia University Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: As the US approaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths, the world worries about the efficacy of a vaccine that has been rushed to market and if we will ever get herd immunity. Joining us now is Dr. Dara Kass, Yahoo Finance medical contributor and Columbia University associate professor of emergency medicine. Dr. Kass, always good to see you. Are you getting concerned that this vaccine will get rushed to market?

DR. DARA KASS: So I'll be clear, Brian. We need to remember there actually is no vaccine yet. And I think we're getting ahead of ourselves even in this conversation.

There are three vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials, one of which is on pause still. The AstraZeneca vaccine is on pause in America. It is going forward in Britain.

But we need to remember that there-- even with all this talk of having 100 million doses by the end of the year, vaccines for everyone in America by April of 2021, we still don't even know which candidate they're talking about. And so I'm not concerned about it getting rushed to market because right now, there is nothing to rush to market. I am worried about the process, not the actual vaccine just yet.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, is there one candidate that sticks out to you in that case that has a better chance of becoming a vaccine than another?

DR. DARA KASS: Well, the two candidates that are still going forward are both these mRNA vaccines. And remember that both of these vaccines have to be stored at very, very cold temperatures. So even if they become the candidate we choose to move forward with, even if we went through with both of them, distribution and storage could become an issue when it comes to processing in the pipeline.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is an adenovirus vaccine. That's the one that had the complication people were talking about. So I think that we still need to wait and see.

And this is really why the data is so important. And we cannot really rush the science and the research. Instead, we need to continue to mask up and do all the other things we're seeing working here in New York and around the country.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Dr. Kass, we've seen this focus now swing back to mask wearing even versus a vaccine. President Trump, we know, back to holding indoor rallies. A lot of the people in attendance not wearing masks. Then you had last week, the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, saying that wearing a mask could actually be more effective than a vaccine. What do you make of that?

DR. DARA KASS: Honestly, I think that Dr. Redfield is accurate in his statement. It was given under oath in front of Congress. And he was-- what he was saying is that the bar for the FDA clearance for the vaccine has always been about 50%, maybe even 70% of efficacy.

We're seeing that masks work really, really well in decreasing biotransmission in addition to the fact that with so much vaccine hesitancy, it's a lot easier-- or certainly, it should be easier to get people to wear a mask, which is noninvasive, rapidly reversible, and can be done at any given time without an appointment or even the concern over the process. So I think that the vaccine is moving forward, and we need to continue to watch the process, trust the scientists, and wait for the data. But wearing a mask is something you can do right now, which can get you back to school, and back to work, and potentially even back to sitting in a movie theater.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, Goldman Sachs out with a note this morning. And they-- they see 25 million Americans getting vaccinated for COVID-19 the first quarter of 2021. How optimistic is that?

DR. DARA KASS: Again, I think that a lot of this will come down to when a vaccine candidate is selected, which one it is, and how easy it is to distribute. Whether 25 million Americans choose to get vaccinated is the next step, remembering that when they sell you this process, when they confuse us with where they are or why they're doing what they're doing, when they put their finger on the scale of other FDA clearances and executive-- and the emergency-use authorizations, they really do create a landscape by which it's gonna get harder and harder for us to get even those 25 million Americans to be the first group of people who take the vaccine. And so I think that we can look towards any group taking the vaccine early in the-- in the first quarter if we have a candidate, but I am still concerned that we're gonna get even any Americans to be part of that first group at all.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Dr. Kass, what about talk of a herd immunity? Does that look possible with this virus? And if so, might it happen even before a vaccine comes to market?

DR. DARA KASS: No. Herd immunity will not occur at any scale, certainly nationally, before there's a vaccine, mostly because we don't even know if the natural immunity people get after being infected is sustainable. We don't know a lot about the natural-sustained immunity for this virus. So I think that the idea of herd immunity, which would then allow us to go back to normal, not wear masks, not social distance, go back to the regular workplaces and somehow have this be a thing of the past is just not an appropriate pathway. And anybody that's advocating for that pathway is looking towards much death, and destruction, and really, an irresponsible message.

BRIAN SOZZI: Doctor, the CDC has released new guidelines for schools. What do you make of them?

DR. DARA KASS: You know, I make that they're interesting. I think that the CDC guidelines for schools went back and gave at least a framework of what is considered a low-risk versus a high-risk environment. And in fact, they're a lot of the same guidelines we're using here in New York City and other school districts to say, what is your local infection rate? How has the community spread in your community?

One of the things that the CDC guidelines does not do is consistent with what the CDC guidelines has not done all the time, is say to communities when they really should not be open. There are just jurisdictions and communities in America that have a positive test rate of 10% or 20% with a case count, per 100,000 cases, of 50 or higher that are still keeping schools open. Those would be in the very deep orange and red zone on these CDC guidelines.

There should've been additional guidance to say if you're in this zone, you should not be open safely. It's just not safe for your community. And that's missing from those guidances.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, we're seeing global cases on the rise again, especially in areas where there is cold weather. What do you make of sort of the confluence of flu season and COVID-19 right around the corner, Dr. Kass?

DR. DARA KASS: So we're seeing that actually in the southern hemisphere, there was a decrease in the number of flu cases. Their flu season was more mild. And we know that that's probably because of the mask wearing and social distancing.

As people go inside, it's gonna get more complicated, mostly around this idea that the virus is now being reported to be confirmed by the CDC to be airborne. And what that really just means is that the ventilation systems in indoor spaces as we stay in indoor spaces without masks is gonna become much more important. What I think is that we're gonna have to hopefully start getting some consistent guidance from the federal government that allows us to understand how to manage indoor space as well, how to test and track people, how to understood if somebody has the flu, or coronavirus, or just one of the other myriad of other viruses they can have.

And I think we're in for a rough few months with an increase of cases here in America as well across the board. And we need to buckle up. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.