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U.S. COVID-19 cases climbing to new peak amid fall surge

Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia; Co-Founder and Medical Director of GOODSTOCK Consulting LLC, joins Yahoo Finance's Akiko Fujita to discuss COVID-19 latest.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Shares of Moderna are seeing a big pop in this session, the stock up about 2.5% there on news of its coronavirus vaccine candidate. CEO Stephane Bancel saying he expects to get government approval for its emergency use as early as December. That's contingent, though, on positive results from its clinical trial, which could potentially-- we could get the results from that next month.

We should point out, Bancel also said if he doesn't reach that deadline, that could push approval into 2021. Let's bring in Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton, she's an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia. And Dr. Hilton, it's good to have you on today. I'd love to just get your thoughts on this news out of Moderna in terms of the timeline.

It is pretty much in line with what we've heard from Pfizer and BioNTech as well. How are you seeing the vaccine race shape up right now as we get closer to the end of the year?

EBONY JADE HILTON: Right, you know, thank you for having me. I think we're all hopeful that we can have a vaccine. What we know is that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of many Americans, and anything we can do to try to control this spread would be fantastic. But even if we have clearance, what we know is that as far as mass production and mobilization of this vaccine, we're looking at really into midway of 2021.

And so I think we have to keep that in perspective whenever we're talking about clinical trials and vaccinations at large.

AKIKO FUJITA: There is also the concern about just how many people will actually line up to get the vaccine whenever it is available. There's been a lot of concern about the politicization of the process. We heard from California Governor Gavin Newsom talking about setting up an independent review for a vaccine that is eventually approved by the FDA.

I'm just curious, in your conversations with your patients, with fellow doctors, what are you hearing about the concerns around the way the vaccine has been developed so far and whether you think that people actually are going to trust that vaccine enough to get it?

EBONY JADE HILTON: Right, you know, you bring up some interesting points. For one, the trust of vaccines and medicine in general has always been a area of contention, particular amongst certain groups and populations. If you look at African Americans, we can go back to Tuskegee trial, right, and that breach of trust between the Black community and medicine.

And then we had anti-vaxxers that have been really vocal within this last, you know, few decades or so. And then you add on top of that the politicization of COVID-19 and whether or not from the high up leadership of our country of saying it's a hoax, it's not a hoax, we should wear a mask, we should not wear a mask. All that mixed messaging will make it a uphill battle for us in the health care system to say, you know, how do we make sure that our community can trust our word?

And I think the vaccine-- you know, the companies are doing a great job in saying that, we are holding ourselves to these stringent rules, that we are pausing our trials if there's any consideration for their being compromised of patient health. And we've seen that a number of different times from multiple companies with these vaccines. So I hope that kind of breeds this idea of trust in the community.

They can trust our word. If we say that this is something that you can use for you and your family, then we can go into 2021 with a plan of how to tackle this.

AKIKO FUJITA: I mean, having said that there's no question that a vaccine is necessary to get this virus under control, given that we're now looking at yet another wave across the country uptick in coronavirus infections. Nationally, we've seen the positivity rate at 5.3% now on average. It was an increase from 4.7% a week ago.

Is this going to be par for the course until we get the vaccine? It seems like we're now in what is probably characterized as the third wave. But it feels like just when things start to improve, things tick back up again, and now we're looking at not just small hotspots but something that is a lot more widespread.

EBONY JADE HILTON: Right, and quite honestly, I'm not sure if we can call it a third wave or if it's three peaks of the same first wave. In the United States, we haven't slowed the spread of COVID-19. This has been, again, because of politics that have-- that taking the front in a public health issue. And so how do we make sure that we're getting a hold on this is through information.

And we're looking at who is actually being impacted by this, it's not being shared equally. Or in fact, if you look at racial health disparities, right now, for every 900 African Americans who were alive in January 1 has died. If we died at the same rate as Caucasian Americans, we would have 20,800 African Americans still alive today, 11,000 Hispanic Americans would still be alive today.

And so when we're saying, who is going to take the brunt of this force? Unfortunately, it's going to be the most vulnerable populations of being those of our elderly population, our racial minority populations, and those who, you know, have pre-existing conditions. So something has to happen, and we need to look at it with an equity lens.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, important to note, of course, what you said, that communities of color have been hardest hit as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn. I want to ask you, though, when you look at how things have played out across the world, there seems to be a real divide between what's been playing out in Asian countries and then Western countries. And we're not just talking about China, we're talking about Japan, South Korea, Singapore.

Why have some of those countries been able to contain the virus in the way they've had without the most stringent restrictions in place? What are they doing right that you think the US or some European countries can learn from?

EBONY JADE HILTON: Right, and you can even go to the entire continent of Africa, right? The works that people have banded together to say, this is not a me versus you, a Republican versus Democrat or Independent, this is really for the totality of us to be able to stay alive. And I think what you see in those other countries is they don't need a law in order to say, you know, protect your neighbor and you will protect yourself.

But unfortunately, in the United States, again, because from the very beginning, starting as far back as, you know, March, February, this has been a political move. And it's caused this divide that if you do things that would be very simple for you to do, as far as wearing a mask or even saying, I'm not going to go into highly populated areas like a bar or a sporting event, it's become this you versus us. And when you have that struggle, unfortunately, it's going to lead to higher cases.

And unfortunately, the cost of that is someone's life. And so I think that's a difference between the United States and the rest of the world is that we're not treating it as a one community. We're looking at it as a way to divide us, and that's unfortunate.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, an important reminder of the restrictions in place and just the need to follow them. Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton joining us from the University of Virginia, good to talk to you.

EBONY JADE HILTON: Thank you. Have a good one.