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Expert says 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots under Biden is "a great start"

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The U.S. was expected to reach 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots administered since President Biden took office. In advance of Friday's expected milestone, Mr. Biden appeared in a social media video urging Americans to get the vaccine. John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero to discuss the inoculation campaign.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: President Biden says we are expecting to hit 100 million shots administered under his administration at some point today. And that is well ahead of his goal to accomplish that in his first 100 days. So far, more than 115 million shots of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered. Overall, more than 12% of the US population is fully vaccinated. President Biden celebrated the 100-million milestone and encouraged people to get vaccinated in a Twitter post yesterday.

JOE BIDEN: Folks, tomorrow, we're getting to hit a very important milestone that I promised-- 100 million shots of vaccine in people's arms. So when you get your opportunity, get the vaccine. Get the shot. It's critically important.

TANYA RIVERO: I want to bring in John Moore now to discuss. He's a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Professor Moore, thanks for joining us. What's your reaction to this progress on vaccinating Americans now that we're hitting 100 million shots under the Biden administration?

JOHN MOORE: Well, it's clearly great progress. The administration has overcome the teething troubles and rollout, procedural starts and the problems that arose in December and early January. It's overcome it. They've got a better system in place.

There is more production, more vaccine doses to roll out. There's a more efficient process at the vaccine sites. Nothing is perfect, but I think they've done a pretty good job and getting 100 million doses out is a great start on what remains to be done.

TANYA RIVERO: But what remains to be done in sort of large metropolitan areas like New York City, where the rate can seem frustratingly low if you are under the age of 60 and don't have any of these, you know, these conditions that will allow you to now get vaccinated? I know that the president has said by May every adult should be able to sign up for a vaccination. But you still have to sign up, which means it could be-- you know, another few months before you actually get it. Do you think there should be more of an effort in large metropolitan areas like New York City?

JOHN MOORE: Well, the more effort that's put in, the more reward there will be. And again, a lot of that's down to funding, but it's also about finding and training available personnel to administer it, to get better online systems, et cetera. In New York, it's been expanded to people in the 60 to 65 age range recently, last week, I believe. It will be pushed down to then people in the 50s in the reasonably near future. So it is a gradual process.

And the administration's guidelines or timeline is to try to get everybody done by May, and there's still hundreds of millions of people to go. So we can't expect overnight everyone to be vaccinated. It is a process. And I think it will speed up more and more until that target is met, and essentially everyone will be able to get it by approximately May. We just have to wait, unfortunately.

TANYA RIVERO: And so do you think then by May at this rate of vaccination or, you know, a few months after May-- because, as we said, sometimes you sign up in May, but it may take a while to actually get your appointment if everyone's signing up at once. When do you think we could see life go back to some degree of normalcy?

JOHN MOORE: Well, it's going to be a gradual process. The pandemic is not over. Everyone wants it to be over. And the two factors that really limit how we proceed are will virus variants spread that are increasingly infectious and could be a problem for some of the vaccine, and that's in the hands of the scientific community to better understand what's going on. And the second is that there is still going to be a large number of people that are refusing to take the vaccines.

And surveys show that up to 35% of Republican voters will not take the vaccines, even when they're offered. So that's a large pool of people among whom the vaccine can-- the virus continues to spread. So they're going to be offered the vaccine, and they will decline it.

And we have to increase education, and awareness, and persuasion among this section of the population or we'll never get enough people immunized successfully to achieve what is often called herd immunity, or group protection. So on the vaccination, there's going to be a problem. There will be vaccines available, and people will refuse to take them.

TANYA RIVERO: So Professor Moore, there are many countries in Europe that are now resuming the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine today after pausing it over concerns about side effects. Dr. Fauci addressed those concerns earlier on "CBS This Morning." Let's listen to what he said.

ANTHONY FAUCI: There has been some concern in the European situation as to whether or not it was responsible for blood clots. The European Medicines Agency, the EMA, which is the equivalent of our FDA, feel there is no direct association, that it has occurred, these blood clots, but not to a degree that was significantly greater than what would occur anyway. That's their determination. I don't want to make a judgment on that. I'd like to see what our data show, and that will be imminent. I think we're going to be hearing about that in the next few days.

TANYA RIVERO: So Professor Moore, what is your take on whether people should be concerned about the AstraZeneca vaccine?

JOHN MOORE: Well, firstly, it's not available in the states. It's not approved yet. And as Dr. Fauci just said, we expect results from a phase III trial to be released in the coming days to weeks. And then the FDA will review it and determine whether or not it's safe and effective enough to be approved in the USA.

The Europeans have been using it for a number of weeks. They've had these scare stories. The EMA, the European FDA, has approved or reapproved it so it can be used again in Europe. But it's damaged in the eyes of the public.

There's been lots of reports from Europe that people don't know-- don't trust it. They're not going to take it. It's not going to be something they're comfortable with. And perception is reality in- in a large population of people.

So what will happen in the USA? Well, I think we have to wait and see. But this is a vaccine that we may not need. We have enough Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and another vaccine undergoing trials, Novavax, that we may not need the Johnson-- the AstraZeneca stock.

There were reports yesterday that the US is arranging to loan out its purchased stock of this vaccine to Canada and Mexico and perhaps other countries that have already approved it so that they can use it. And that would seem to be a very sensible strategy to adopt. If it's not necessary to use it here, and if the public don't trust it, then why keep a stock in a freezer that will eventually decay when other countries might be willing to use it in their populations?

So these are complicated decisions. But I think they need to be carefully discussed and-- and the right strategy adopted in the coming weeks. But the US data will be pivotal to what's done in the USA.

TANYA RIVERO: Well, we just have to wait and see what the FDA says. All right, well, Professor John Moore, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your time.

JOHN MOORE: Thank you.