Expert weighs in on double masks and the Johnson & Johnson shot

Some people are skeptical of getting the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot because of its efficacy rate or because of moral objections. Dr. Bob Lahita joined CBSN with what the science says about the vaccines, whether to wear two masks and more.

Video Transcript

- So the CDC says over 54 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This comes as more states are following Texas's lead in easing pandemic restrictions as caseloads drop. At least 16 are now without a statewide mask mandate, even though public health officials are urging caution, saying more contagious new variants could result in another surge.

So for more on this, let's bring in Dr. Bob Lahita. He's a professor of medicine at New York Medical College and the chairman of medicine at St. Joseph University Hospital. Thank you for joining us. So--

BOB LAHITA: Sure, Marie, good to see you.

- --Japanese computer simulations-- good to see you, too. Japanese computer simulations showed that wearing two masks gave limited benefit in blocking the spread of the virus, compared to wearing one properly fitted mask.

The findings, in part, contradict recent recommendations from the CDC that two masks were better than one in reducing exposure. Does this mean that we should stop wearing two masks, that we should go looking for those N95 masks because they're really the only ones that are really going to offer us the protection we need? How should we interpret this?

BOB LAHITA: Well, we should interpret this by saying, number one, I don't think two masks was a good idea to begin with. I have problems, as many others do, breathing through one mask.

Number two, the N95 mask is actually the perfect mask to wear, and we wear those in the hospital routinely when we're around patients. But not having an N95 mask, a regular surgical mask or a woven mask is sufficient to prevent about 80% to 85% of the droplets that you would produce if you sneezed or coughed, and you had the virus in your system.

So I don't think double masking is really necessary. And I don't really know how people tolerate it, and I'm sure many of them don't. And that's why they're not compliant.

- Yeah, it's tough. I mean, part of me, Dr. Bob and Anne-Marie, feels like, you know, like, we're short-timers. You know, like in Vietnam, they would say, like, I'm a short-timer. I've got only a couple of weeks to go before I get to go home. And I don't want anything to jinx it.

I sort of feel like because of these vaccines and the availability of these vaccines and the numbers that Anne-Marie just talked about, the number of Americans who have now been vaccinated, received their first dose of the vaccine, is such welcome news.

President saying we're going to hit the target of 100 million before July. So he moved up that date. And I'm just holding out until we can all get that vaccine. And so, anything that's going to prevent me from getting infected, I'm going to try. But I agree with you that it's hard to wear two masks, let alone one.

Let me ask you about this, Dr. Bob. Despite some skepticism, European regulators say Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine appears to be both safe and effective. A study published last month in "The Lancet" showed it has a 91% efficacy rate. So what's different about this vaccine compared to the ones that have been approved in the United States?

BOB LAHITA: OK, so this vaccine was slow to roll out. And actually, it didn't have the kind of rigorous testing that our vaccines have-- for example, phase three and 50,000 to 60,000 people per vaccine. In the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, they seemed to roll it out rather rapidly without the extensive clinical testing.

What is different is it's a two-shot viral vector vaccine, meaning it takes an adenovirus to deliver it to your cells. And they use a different adenovirus in the second shot. We know from our scientific data that one shot is probably fine to protect you against serious illness and hospitalization, but the second shot that the Sputnik V offers apparently gets the efficacy of the vaccine much like the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines, which is over 90%. So it's pretty impressive.

Now, judging from the fact that the Chinese and the Russians have access to the rest of the world-- and as I said last week, there are 130 countries without a vaccine-- this might be very, very important to deliver in these third world countries, where they're desperately in need of something.

- The new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is raising some moral questions for some in the Catholic community. This is because the recently approved vaccine was produced in part by using the cell lines derived from an aborted human fetus, OK? So the US Conference of Catholic Bishops suggested that Catholics may be up for the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine if that choice is available to them.

So I think this is really something that's important to talk about. I feel like this is the kind of fact that gets thrown into a blender with all sorts of other stuff mixed up, and out pops a meme that says they're making vaccines with aborted fetuses. And things can get really out of control. So I want people to sort of understand the context. What does this mean, when we talk about the cell line from a fetus? What does the science mean? And then, why-- and so that people understand whether-- so they can make an informed choice.

BOB LAHITA: So fetal cells have, for years, been used for the development of viral vectors in the laboratory. Now, for the adenovirus, which is part of the vector that carries the fragments of the COVID into your bloodstream with the J&J vaccine, they develop this adenovirus, which is a common cold, harmless virus, on this fetal cell line-- by the way, which comes from 1985 from an 18-week aborted fetus.

Now the church is saying-- at least I read the Vatican documents that say that, look, if you have nothing else, take the J&J vaccine. If you have nothing else, it's morally appropriate to save your life and save the lives of others, rather than die or get terribly sick or even spread the virus to other people. Take the J&J vaccine.

Now both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines also use fetal cells for testing, but not in the development of the actual vaccine. And God knows what these other countries like China, India, and Russia use for the development of their vaccines. But it is common to use immortalized fetal cells.

- So, Dr. Bob, we're seeing also many people saying that they don't want to get the vaccine, partly because it appears not to have as high of an efficacy rate as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We've talked about this. What do you tell people who are concerned that one vaccine may not be as good as the other? If somebody is presented with the opportunity to get that vaccine, what should they do?

BOB LAHITA: Well, I'll be very clear about this-- get it. Get it if it's available. The J&J vaccine is just as effective, even though the numbers suggest that it's 74% effective. But here's the important thing. You're not going to die when you get a vaccine, number one.

And secondly, you're probably not going to wind up in a hospital. At least there's been no proof that anybody who's been vaccinated with any of these three vaccines gets into a hospital and gets intubated. And this is very, very important. So I would, because of the onset of variants-- that's one of the problems J&J had. And the second, it's a one-shot deal.

And it's also you can use it at higher temperatures. You can store it. So it's readily available. And 75%, or whatever the number is in that range, is extremely efficacious, and they're being extraordinarily honest. And remember, you will not wind up in the hospital, and you will not die when you get this vaccine. So if you only have J&J, I'd get it right away. Don't wait two weeks or three weeks or three months to get the other vaccines. Get it while it's available.

- All right, Dr. Bob Lahita, thank you as always. We appreciate it.

BOB LAHITA: Thanks, Vlad. Thanks, Anne-Marie.