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'Vaccination rates are still a major challenge': Registered Nurse

Kristen Choi, PhD, MS, RN and an Assistant Professor at the UCLA School of Nursing joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest in COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We're going to keep talking about COVID-19 and different issues, especially the headlines that broke right before we came into the stream regarding Florida. Let's bring into the stream, Kristen Choi. She's a PhD as well as a registered nurse and assistant professor with the UCLA School of Nursing. It's good to have you back.

And the headline was that a judge in Florida allows the school districts there to proceed with their mask mandates, telling the governor he had overstepped his rules. Just out of curiosity in your neck of the woods in California, you see the same kind of resistance to mask mandates. Are the schools there requiring students-- young students-- wear masks?

KRISTEN CHOI: You know, our situation here in California is a bit different. LAUSD and other school districts in California have embraced masks and are requiring them for many teachers and students. Schools in California, including LAUSD, also have some of the most ambitious COVID testing programs in the country, requiring all students, faculty, staff to be tested every week for the coronavirus.

And these masks issues as they relate to school are really important. We know that kids under the age of 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated. And while we're still waiting for approval on those vaccines, masks are really important line of defense for kids to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

SEANA SMITH: Are they necessary in order for schools to have a successful school year? Because if you take a look at the data and taking a look at the numbers now, it seems like you need masks in order to keep kids in the classroom.

KRISTEN CHOI: Absolutely, yes. Again, in the absence of a vaccine that's approved for kids and widespread vaccination, it's important for us to use all other tools we have available to us to stop the spread, especially with the Delta variant, which we know is far more contagious and is potentially more dangerous to kids as well.

And so taking any steps we can-- that's masks, distancing, having things happen outside-- all things that we know can prevent the spread of the virus-- are important steps for us to take. And again, the vaccine is our most powerful tool. And we do hope to see approval of the vaccine for kids younger than age 12 later this fall or winter.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Does the government what appears to be different headline-- and I don't want to say going back and forth. But first, they told us booster shot, eight months-- then six months. Now, we're learning from President Biden it could be five months. Does that undermine the efforts of people like you and nurses and doctors to convince people who are not vaccinated, do this now?

KRISTEN CHOI: Yeah, the booster shot conversation is really challenging. And in some ways, I sympathize with our politicians trying to make these recommendations and decisions because we don't have a lot of data to go on yet to make decisions. The best data that we have, a lot of it comes from Israel where booster shots are already being given. And it's looking like about six months is the right range to give them there.

But in other studies of booster shots, especially in people who are immune-compromised, waiting longer can sometimes lead to a more effective immune response. And these decisions, again, are being recommended in the absence of a lot of data. I think that thinking about booster shots is really important as we do see some evidence that protection from the vaccines declines over time. And when we move forward with booster shots, it'll be important to make sure that there is consistent messaging about when and how people can get those booster shots.

SEANA SMITH: And as we take a look at the number of people who still have not been vaccinated, I think it's alarming for a lot of us who have been patiently waiting for that number to rise and would like it to rise a little bit more quickly. But my question to you, though, is what percentage of the population do you think needs to be vaccinated in order to get the virus under control?

KRISTEN CHOI: Yeah, that's a great question. Right now in the US, we're still hovering at around 50% of adults that are fully vaccinated. Most experts have estimated that we need to get closer to 70, 80. Some people have even said as high as 90% to really be able to effectively stop spread of the virus.

The vaccination rates are still a major challenge. And it's important that as we think about things like booster shots and such that we continue to reach out to those groups that are unvaccinated. We're also seeing a lot more movement on vaccine mandates from states, from hospitals, and from other private employers that are mandating the vaccine for their workers. And I think those kinds of things will help us get that vaccination rate up and make sure that people are protected.

ADAM SHAPIRO: When we talk about your neck of the woods, when we talk about California, but is there any kind of training that nurses and medical staff go through on how to deal with the unvaccinated population? Not the protective gear training, but I'm talking about how to interact with these individuals.

KRISTEN CHOI: Yeah, you know, that interpersonal conversation is extremely challenging. I've done some research with the doctors and nurses on the topic of talking to patients who might be vaccine hesitant. And they universally say that when people have a really deep-seeded personal belief or fear of vaccines, that those beliefs are very, very difficult to change.

And there's not really any one standardized way of talking to these people. Rather what I see most people recommend is that the conversation needs to be really individualized and tailored. It's important for doctors and nurses, pharmacists, anyone who might be having these conversations with patients and with the public to address people's specific concerns to address their specific fears and really talk to them about the [? risk/benefit ?] as it relates to them as an individual. And that tailored messaging can be really effective for people who might be on the fence.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right. We appreciate your giving us your insight. Kristen Choi, it's good to have you back by the way. Assistant professor at UCLA School of Nursing and PhD. We'll look forward to your coming back and continuing the discussion another day--