Doctor: ‘We may be reaching that critical point of herd immunity’

Dr. Marcos Sanchez-Gonzalez, Larkin Health System VP for Research & Academic Affairs, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss the latest coronavirus updates.

Video Transcript

- Now, I want to turn now to the coronavirus pandemic. We have seen cases dropping, but it does seem that the curve is flattening. So let's bring on Dr. Marco Sanchez-Gonzalez, Larkin Health System VP for Research and Academic Affairs. So doctor, we see, as I was just mentioning, the curve is dropping, but folks are saying that it is flattening. What are you anticipating next then in terms of the case counts?

MARCOS SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ: Now, in terms of the epidemiological behavioral of disease, especially respiratory viruses or diseases, they have the same behavior. They tend to have these peaks, and they come down. And they stay within the population, unless we eradicate them, which is very hard to do, if we don't have a well spread vaccination campaign.

Now, that decrease, you have to take into consideration that the cases that we have had, you have to multiply that roughly by five or six. So we're talking about, roughly, 150, 175 million people has been, at some point, exposed or has some kind of immunity. So the number one part here is that we may be reaching that critical point of herd immunity, and the number two point is counterintuitive.

It's that during the winter months, people stay home. They stay inside. They don't get as exposed. And this year has been in terms of staying home orders, well, now with the cold, and knowing about the virus that has helped to reduce that. But again, unless we eradicate a disorder or disease, a respiratory disease, we are not going to have a complete eradication of it.

- So doctor, I'm curious to know if you think that we facing, essentially, another pandemic wave, especially as we see states, like Texas and Mississippi, make the moves that they made to lift mask mandates. We have Connecticut easing restrictions. We have New York easing restrictions. We're just hearing state by state by state, easing up on some of the restrictions that they've had in place. Do you think we're setting ourselves up for another spike?

MARCOS SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ: I believe so, and especially, if we consider that some of the groups, they haven't had the opportunity to get the vaccine. So the vaccine, again, as we mentioned before, is one of those strategies that we have to minimize the disease severity. But we still don't know specifically if it actually stopped the spread of the disease. So in the next months, I might expect to have some increase in the cases in many of these states that have lifted these mandates.

Or they're easing their policies in terms of social distancing, and sanitation, and so on. But at the same time, I don't expect to be as bad as the prior cases or the prior waves thanks, in part, of the phenomena of her immunity plus the vaccination, unless we have a new variant or a mutation in the viruses that spreads faster and has more disease severity. But that, so far, has been kind of controlled.

- Is now the right time, doctor, to ease some of these restrictions? If you could go talk to some of these governors, would you say to them, hey, go ahead, lift the mask mandate, or allow folks to gather in some of these larger groups again? What should we be doing now?

MARCOS SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ: In this case, we need to pay attention to the numbers per group. For instance, if a group in any given state, basically, is responsible for over 50% of the cases, we need to prioritize that group for vaccinations. So if the state don't have this kind of strategy, I will not recommend to ease these measures, because, again, we may be able to worsen in those groups that are susceptible. So we have an issue here in disparity, also, that we are starting to understand. But I will expect that, unless we have a even or prioritized those group that correspond to the higher levels of infections with the vaccines, we might be running into a serious consequence or maybe a second crisis here.

- Really quickly, doctor, I have about 30 seconds. I'm wondering when you think we're going to be reaching that herd immunity then given the layout of the land, so to speak.

MARCOS SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ: So for the most part, we talk about up to 75%, 80% of the population. But we have to take into account that many of the children and people under 16 or so, they are not going to get the vaccine any time soon. We don't know how many of these that already have been, basically, infected without presenting symptoms.

Usually, this process may take one to two years to reach that real plateau. It might be faster with the addition of the vaccine and the development of new treatments and therapies that may help us in stopping the spread of the virus. That should be, now, our focus. We are very good with the vaccine, but we need to start looking to how we can stop the spread of the virus even further.

- All right, Dr. Marco Sanchez-Gonzalez, Larkin Health System VP for Research and Academic Affairs. Thanks so much for joining us today.