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'We're in a critical period right now': Infectious Disease Physician on current state of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, Infectious Disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the John Cochran VA Medical Center, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest developments regarding COVID-19 vaccines and the record number of cases in the U.S.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We have to talk about COVID-19. Despite the news yesterday from Pfizer, there's so much more going on, especially with Eli Lilly's announcement. So to do that, we invite into the stream Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis. She is the infectious disease physician at Washington University School of Medicine and the John Cochran VA Medical Center. It's good to have you here.

And I want to start with the news out of Eli Lilly, this multi-antibody treatment. I'm not a doctor so I don't know what it truly does. But what I did read was, if you're already in the hospital and ill, it won't do any good. So what is the good of this treatment?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: So I mean, we're still in the early stages of trying to figure out what therapies will be effective for coronavirus. We have two sets of patients that we deal with, people who have mild to moderate symptoms and those that are more severe.

So when we say that it won't be as much benefit, there hasn't been benefit shown in those that are very sick and need to be hospitalized, particularly those who are an ICUs or on ventilators. But we are trying to see that for those people that have a little bit more milder symptoms, is this something that could be of benefit?

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, we also got the news yesterday out of Pfizer, just in terms of how effective their vaccine looks like it likely will be. When you take that into account, how-- I guess, what does the supply picture look like then for these treatments? Are they not as important as maybe we thought they were a week or two ago?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: You know, these are different buckets, right? There's prevention, which I think is the most important part of this. As you know, we're in a critical period right now with record cases, and we're going into what I think is going to be probably the worst of what we've seen in this pandemic.

And so it's important that we cover all of our bins appropriately. And so for the prevention side of it, the vaccine news is important. It's critical. We need to be taking-- you know, taking heat and paying attention to that.

But there are people who are currently very ill. There are people that are dying. And we are seeing, again, record cases of people who are both sick and of deaths right now. So the therapy-- the research around therapy has to continue.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor, looking forward, the news from Pfizer, it's a double dose vaccine that has to be stored at incredibly low temperatures. I heard on one newscast that very few facilities in the country have the kind of refrigeration units that can take it down to almost minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

So is this realistic? Even though Pfizer is saying they're going to have a billion doses by the end of next year, could hospitals like yours administer that to us, given that kind of requirement?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: That's an excellent question. Because what we're seeing is numbers being put in the news, right? People getting really excited. And, again, guys, I'm as hopeful as the next person. We need these progressions in science and specifically in response to this pandemic.

But there's so much that has to happen before the regular person, you and I, can even get this vaccine. And one of those areas that you alluded to is the fact that this is not a vaccine that can just be stored anywhere. It has to be stored in very specific environments that require very specific resources, right, that not every hospital in the country comes to.

This is an area that I'm specifically passionate about because, as you know, coronavirus has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities, particularly. And those are the sort of communities that don't have access to the Washington University type of treatments all of the time, right?

And so that means that we need to think about who's going to get this up front. We've been told that, understandably, and very much so, the people that are higher risk are likely going to be prioritized. But the general public won't see this until next year for them most likely. And even then, have we done enough to prepare for the rollout?

That includes those exact issues around, is every facility going to be prepared and have the resources available to store this? So a lot of work still needs to be done.

SEANA SMITH: When you talk about a lot of work needs to be done, we heard from President-elect Joe Biden yesterday. He laid out his COVID plan. He called for increased testing, contact tracing, additional investment into vaccines and the treatments, the type that we're talking about right now. Were you satisfied with what you heard-- what the plan from President-elect Joe Biden? Or is there more you think that needs to be done, more details that you would like to see from that?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Listen, after the 10 months preceding this, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a leader actually come to us with a plan, actually lay out that plan, and have that plan backed by science, right? But there's still a lot that needs to be included here.

So while I was very happy to listen to the fact that there is a structure in place, there is a task force that's been assembled that comprises some of the best minds in the country around this, we need to see this actually enacted. You know, I think a lot of people, especially after the last four years, are very cautiously optimistic about most things, right? You can be told one thing, but it's about whether or not it's going to be done.

I have hope, so much hope, in this new administration, given the way that they are leading, the commitment, the commitment to science. So I am cautiously optimistic.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis is the infectious disease physician at Washington University's School of Medicine, as well as the John Cochrane VA Medical Center. Thank you so much for joining us during this hour.

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: Thank you for having me and for pronouncing my name so well.

ADAM SHAPIRO: [LAUGHS] I practiced. All the best to you.