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The need for the vaccine currently outstrips the available number of doses: Associate Professor of Epidemiology

Danielle Ompad, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, NYU School of Global Public Health joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest COVID-19 vaccine news.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in Dr. Danielle Ompad. She's associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health. Doctor, it's good to talk to you. There does seem to be a real disconnect, to the point Anjalee just made, between what is being decided on the vaccine front on a national level and then what's actually happening at the local level. We heard from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today, saying the city is going to run out of vaccines by the end of next week. We heard from the chief medical officer in LA County yesterday, who said, it doesn't matter if the CDC says 65 and older patients can get the vaccine. We just don't have enough of it on the ground.

DANIELLE OMPAD: Yeah, so that's a challenge. Vaccine manufacturing is not easy. It doesn't happen instantly. And then, you have to get it from the manufacturers to the vaccination sites. And so as much as we're changing the groups that are eligible for the vaccine, the need for the vaccine currently outstrips the available number of doses.

ZACK GUZMAN: And not only does that fact remain true, but it seems like we're running into issues against distribution, but then also getting the vaccine into arms. And there seems to be a kink in the process there among the hospitals now having to work with this, kind of this back and forth. How much of that maybe stems from the idea that not enough effort or time was put into place here when you think about establishing maybe, you know, a more streamlined process to get those vaccines out the door?

DANIELLE OMPAD: So the US has historically underinvested in public health. We tend to focus more on medical care than we do on public health. And so the public health infrastructure has really been challenged by this pandemic. And in fact, that has also been an issue with vaccine distribution. There was a huge focus on manufacturing and developing the vaccine, less so on how we were actually going to get it into people. And so that's kind of where we are now, and we're paying a little bit of catch up trying to make sure that the distribution infrastructure is there.

So I'm hopeful that what Biden proposed this morning will really provide the resources needed to scale up that vaccine distribution.

AKIKO FUJITA: How quickly are we likely to see the impacts from that shift once the Biden administration takes office?

DANIELLE OMPAD: I think it's going to take a time. It's a combination of the manufacturers being able to make the vaccine and then also getting those resources, and then the people needed to actually distribute those vaccines. We know that health care providers are basically overwhelmed, especially as hospitalizations go up. So hospitalization rates will have an impact on available personnel for vaccine distribution.

ZACK GUZMAN: And there's just one more I have here in terms of maybe the idea of vaccines getting out to people aged 65 and above first. It's interesting to see Indonesia moving in the opposite direction, kind of looking to vaccinate those younger citizens first, the ones that might be more prone to spreading it around, who might be out of the home, rather than the elders who can stay home. What do you make of that and maybe the different experiments being played out on a global stage here to get this pandemic under control?

DANIELLE OMPAD: So I think it's really a challenge to figure out who to prioritize. There's a lot of things in the balance here. Like I mentioned before, hospitalization rates are really important in terms of our health care infrastructure. So one of the reasons to target adults age 65 and older is because those are the individuals who may be at increased risk for hospitalization. So we want to keep those hospitalization rates down.

On the other hand, we do know that younger people, while they may not be as likely to get sick, they are likely to be infected and potentially transmit to other people. So I think right now, there's probably no right answer. And to some extent, it may reflect the population pyramids in different countries. And so in countries with larger older adult populations, we might want to prioritize vaccinating older adults because those are the folks that will end up in the hospital. If there are fewer older adults proportionally in the population, you might want to prioritize the younger people because those are the people who are out and about and more likely to transmit.

ZACK GUZMAN: All right. Danielle Ompad, PhD associate professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Public Health. Appreciate you coming on here to chat today.