Doctor on Covid: Another variant of concern is anticipated to come in the future

Dr. Manish Garg, Emergency Medicine Physician & Co-Founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back. President Biden received his COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at the White House on live TV less than an hour ago, after public health officials recommended boosters for many Americans, including those 65 and older, where Mr. Biden lies, being 78 years old. He got his third shot of the Pfizer vaccine. He also delivered some brief remarks before getting his jab. Not even a flinch-- pretty impressive there.

But changing recommendations for boosters are certainly leading to confusion for the vaccinated, as well as for their doctors. And here to help us sort it all out is Dr. Manish Garg, emergency medicine physician and co-founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Garg, always good to see you. Let's start with sort of that confusion and debunking what's out there right now. Who is eligible for a booster shot? And when can they start getting it?

MANISH GARG: OK, sure. Thanks, Alexis. It's wonderful to see you again. And just as to begin, I just wanted to let everybody know that my thoughts are my own. And I have no relationships with the vaccine companies or any conflicts of interest. So I think it's really important, Alexis, to identify, like, what do we consider to be fully vaccinated. And, you know, for a lot of people and in terms of the work that I do with the World Academic Council, we've been researching and asking folks from around the world. And basically, the recommendations by the CDC really do fit what it is that we're seeing.

So people 65 and older and residents in long-term care facilities should receive a booster of the Pfizer vaccine. So we are waiting to hear word on Moderna, and we're waiting to hear word on J&J. And so hopefully, that'll come up. But if you've had at least six months apart from the last Pfizer vaccine, then you are eligible if you're 65 and older.

Now, if you are between the ages of 50 and 64 with an underlying medical condition-- and this is something you should talk to your physician about. Make sure you know exactly who you are. And those would be the immunocompromised, some of those who are immune suppressed. Those folks also after six months should receive the Pfizer vaccine as a booster.

The other groups are, if you're aged 18 to 49 with these underlying medical conditions, you may receive a booster. And again, that would be a really good question to ask your doctor. And if you are 18 to 64 and because of your occupation, like what I do-- I work as an emergency medicine doctor in New York in three different hospitals. And essentially on the sharpest edge of that sword, we should also get that-- or we may also get that vaccine. But that's what's being the booster-- that's what's being recommended for us as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And you stress that it's the Pfizer vaccine we're talking about. So what if somebody got the Moderna? They're fully vaccinated with Moderna or J&J. Can they mix? Can they go out and get the Pfizer booster?

MANISH GARG: So that's the big talk, right, Alexis? You know, it's not advised to do so. But from data that we've seen where people have mixed, we are aware that it works just fine. And I think it's important, Alexis, in this conversation to, like, answer, like, what are we boosting against, right? For a lot of the country, we're boosting against delta.

And in many regions, we're basically anticipating a post-delta area. We've had five pandemic viruses, if you really think about it, in the last two years, right? We had the original COVID-19 and then we've had the alpha, beta, gamma, and delta variants. And, you know, we anticipate that there will be another variant of concern that will be coming in the future.

So it's important that you're getting this boost to protect you from that problem or that potentially new variant. Remember, when you get vaccinated, you get antibodies immediately. But then you're also getting these memory B-cells, which create antibodies, and fighter T-cells, which will also fight off them.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And doctor, I know that you're in New York. And I would love your take on this. I know today is the day that tens of thousands of New York state healthcare workers could lose their jobs if they refuse to get the COVID vaccine, which has now been mandated by our new governor. And the governor has said if there are disruptions at the hospitals, she is willing to bring in the National Guard or to bring in temporary workers from the Philippines or as far away as Ireland. What are you seeing amongst your colleagues?

MANISH GARG: So this is really difficult, Alexis, because essentially, this is a stress on a stressed system that we're seeing throughout New York City and we're seeing throughout the country. This is one of those necessary mandates that I think from a public health standpoint. I've been in discussion with colleagues in New York City, in different hospitals. And on one side, we have the moral and ethical obligation to protect our communities, to receive the vaccine.

And then on the other side, you've got folks who are opponents to this saying, well, you know, this is a challenge to autonomy and personal freedom. But, you know, this isn't new, Alexis. I mean, healthcare workers have had to get vaccines in order to work. You get flu shots, vaccines against hepatitis B, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, et cetera. You know, and if you aren't able to get these vaccines, you're not able to work. So it's not that this is new news.

As of last Wednesday, from the New York governor's office, 84% of hospital workers, 81% of adult care facility healthcare workers, and 77% of staff at nursing home facilities are fully vaccinated in the state of New York. Even though those numbers seem better than what we're seeing nationally, that's still about a fifth to a sixth of the people who aren't vaccinated. And if they choose to leave, you know, really, who picks up the slack? I mean, every person in the healthcare industry, everybody is important, right, from the nurses, the techs, the patient advocates, the physicians.

So I think this is going to create a lot of burden on the folks that are already working. And mind you, this is superimposed on the fatigue and the mental health drain of now an 18 plus month pandemic with really kind of, like, little end in sight. So I think this is going to be a challenge, but it's a necessary challenge. And it's going to be a real test for the government to enact public health policy. The country is watching. And the FDA approval-- after the FDA approval on these vaccines, then I expect other states and cities to follow suit with New York City.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, for sure. I'm thinking New York State could definitely be a blueprint here. Dr. Manish Garg, thanks, as always.

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