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The vaccine trial data is 'faster than we've seen for almost any vaccine in history': Doctor

Dr. Heather Yeo, SurvivorNet Medical Advisor & Associate Professor of Surgery and Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine and cases in the U.S. passing 11 million.

Video Transcript

- Anjalee, thank you very much. We're going to keep talking about what this potentially means going forward. We invite into the stream Dr. Heather Yeo. She is SurvivorNet Medical Advisor and Associate Professor of Surgery and Healthcare Policy and Research at the Weill Cornell Medical College here in Manhattan.

It's good to have you here, Dr. Yeo. Just in general, when you heard the Moderna news, what were your immediate thoughts?

HEATHER YEO: I mean, I think we're all kind of looking forward to having some sort of solution to what's been going on, and I think it's very exciting. Over the course of the last week, I've talked to a number of colleagues who've been involved in some of these vaccine trials, and the data are really exciting. They're better than we've seen, and faster than we've seen for almost any vaccine in history.

- Dr. Yeo, the efficacy rates are certainly really surpassing almost all expectations, like you were just saying. But I think the next challenge, or one of the big challenges going forward, is the distribution of this vaccine. We just heard Anjalee talking about that earlier. What's the best way, do you think, to go about distributing this vaccine? Because not only does Pfizer's, especially, have to be kept at a low temperature, then of course, it's just getting the vaccine to the people who need it the most.

HEATHER YEO: Yeah. I think-- I mean, that's going to be an important consideration, and I think this is part of what's been going on in terms of planning, and I think what the incoming administration is also planning. You know, we don't really expect that it's going to be before the end of December before we really see enough doses of these vaccines to start going out. And my guess is that they will start with those in greatest need, so probably healthcare professionals that are on the front lines and working with these patients.

As you know, the Pfizer vaccine, as we've mentioned earlier, really needs to be stored at very cold temperatures, as has been a problem with mRNA vaccines in the past is they're really quite labile, so they need special storage so that they can last. And so being able to get them out and make sure that they are stored at the proper temperatures is going be important. It's going to be in the academic centers primarily.

- And we should point out that on Anjalee actually has a story right now on the YahooFinance.com page, "Cold Storage Remains a Hurdle for Vaccine Distribution." You can read that.

But, doctor I wanted to ask you, and forgive me for putting you on the spot. If the science says yes, would you take this vaccine? Because I trust scientists, I think a lot of people who are watching are going to follow your lead.

HEATHER YEO: Yeah. I mean, I think like any vaccine if it's put through proper FDA trials and goes through it. And the process is there for a reason. It's to test safety and efficacy of these drugs. And if it goes through the standard process and is found to be safe and efficacious, I will be right there to sign up and get my vaccine. I've already had my flu one.

- At this point, with only 15,000 people taking part in the Moderna study, are you confident that if the FDA says go, is that enough for you to go?

HEATHER YEO: Well the FDA-- The Moderna studies actually had 30,000 people, but 15,000 got the drug, 15,000 got the placebo. I mean, these are preliminary data. They were because our virus slowed-- or the virus has been so prevalent, these are actually getting results faster than they expected to be able to get them, and they've been enrolling patients faster than they expected to be able to. So I do think we need to kind of see some further data and see how that rolls out.

As mentioned earlier, we don't know exactly how long this is going to last. Right now, it requires two shots of the vaccine. The Moderna trial, they're given about four weeks apart, and in the Pfizer trial they're given over the course of three weeks. So, you know, we don't know how long it's going to be efficacious for.

- Dr. Yeo, when you're seeing what's playing out across the country right now, more than a million cases added in the US in just the last week. We heard from the Philadelphia governor today announcing those new COVID restrictions, no indoor gatherings, no indoor dining. Is it time that other states follow suit and implement those types of restrictions at this point?

HEATHER YEO: I mean, I was here in March in New York City and, really, it was quite impressive to see our operating rooms closed down, are ICUs fill up, us overflowing. And I think there is no question that anything that we can do to kind of stave of the virus, to keep social distancing measures, to make sure that we are wearing masks, I think that it is important, yes.

- One of the things President-elect Biden's administration intends to do on day one-- I was listening to NPR this morning-- is an executive order, essentially using the Defense Authorization Act to produce more PPE. I thought we had crossed that hurdle. Do you, do hospitals not have sufficient numbers of masks to protect the medical workers?

HEATHER YEO: I will tell you at our institution, we do. I will tell you in March it was a little bit scary when we would try and, you know, we were really fighting over each individual mask and reusing PPE. This is the first-- actually, this weekend I was on call and working, and this was the first weekend back in the last several months where I've been wearing an N95, again, to see the high number of incoming patients.

But I've not-- I mean, there is much more PPE there and available, but as numbers go up-- and PPE is disposable, right? So as numbers come up and as we go through more and use more, we are gonna-- we're going to need to produce more and make sure that we have enough available for everyone that needs it.

- Dr. Yeo, as we're talking, we're just getting headlines now crossing that California's Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered much of the state into the most restrictive tier. When we talk about the problems that many of these states are facing at this point, I think the big question, and the question that's almost impossible to answer is when we should expect to see the worst of it. But from what you know about the virus, from your colleagues that you're talking to, from the health care professionals, when are you expecting to see that peak?

HEATHER YEO: I think I wish we knew. I think we're a little frustrated that it's been going up as rapidly as it has. I mean, you look across the globe and our numbers are increasing disproportionately to our population. But I think that until we actually are being proactive with some of the measures that we know are common sense healthcare measures, then we are going to see numbers continue to rise.

- Dr. Heather Yeo is the SurvivorNet Medical Advisor and Associate Professor of Surgery and Healthcare policy. And Research at the Weill Cornell Medical College here in Manhattan. We appreciate your being here with us on "Yahoo Finance Live."

HEATHER YEO: Thanks so much.