Dr. Bhavna Lall, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston College of Medicine, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.
- Let's bring in Dr. Bhavna Lall. She's clinical assistant professor, University of Houston College of Medicine. And Doctor, you've heard actually talking about the developments around Moderna's booster shot. Talk to me about how you're interpreting this information right now and what it ultimately means at a time when we've seen so many states try to get the Delta variant under control.
BHAVNA LALL: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. So I definitely think that there's still a lot to be discussed. The meeting at the end of September will give us some more information by the FDA on whether this is going to be approved as far as going forward with a third dose. But for now as far as the COVID surge that's happening throughout the country, we really need to try to understand what's going on from the overall perspective of the country. We have a decreased strategy on mitigation measures in many states, which have low vaccination coverage.
We also have people who are traveling more. We got schools opening without mask mandates. And we have all of this coming together with the possibility of waning immunity with these vaccines. So it's a conglomeration of different things going on. And I think it'll be interesting to see what happens going forward.
But that being said, it's really important that we continue to emphasize it's so important to get vaccinated, continue to wear masks indoors and also outdoors at large gatherings and really take precautions. Because we're really still facing a huge COVID surge right now. We have hospitals filled throughout the country.
In the South, where I am, in Texas, we have 14,000 people hospitalized here still. And hospitals are filled. ICU beds are filled. We have children getting infected with COVID as well. And there's a lot of concern from hospitals, doctors, health care workers in general that this is not ending anytime soon.
- What's driving the infections where you are right now? Is it really about what you pointed to-- the looser restrictions, the fragmented approach? Are you seeing more kids? Talk to me about what you're seeing?
BHAVNA LALL: So people are seeing children-- it's about 282 kids are currently hospitalized with COVID. And I think it's really important to understand that there is no mask mandates in Texas. There's no allowance of vaccine mandates as well. And recently, we've had two teachers die in a County here. And there's a lot of concern from a lot of people that children are bringing home the infection to their parents who are vaccinated, and their grandparents. And also, increasing the community infection rate.
Right now, although we have 19% to 20% in Harris County over the last two weeks a positive rate, we don't know if this is going to continue to increase. We don't know if it's going to decrease as well. So it's really given the things that are going on right now with the Labor Day weekend coming up, with these schools now open without masks mandates, we're going to likely continue to see infections. And people not being able to have their surgeries scheduled, not being able to get care for other things that they need, their heart disease, diabetes, other essential surgeries because the hospitals are filled, it is of concern to many people.
And we have doctors who are looking on social media for hospital beds, which is a huge problem.
- They're looking on social media for hospital beds?
BHAVNA LALL: Yeah.
- That doesn't sound good.
BHAVNA LALL: Yeah. There was actually-- there's a large Facebook group that last week-- a large Facebook group of physicians. And last week there was a doctor that was actually looking for a hospital bed for his patient. And the patient, unfortunately, did not make it to the ICU in time. He needed ICU. He needed that procedure done quickly. He was not able to make it to get the procedure done in time. And he unfortunately passed away.
So this is affecting everyone. It doesn't matter if you're vaccinated or not vaccinated. It's affecting everyone. If you have such a large prevalence rate of the virus, it's going to affect everyone.
- Specifically on schools, the restrictions have become highly political not just in Texas, but in places like Florida. When you look at the spread right now, how big of a spreader are these classrooms likely to be as more and more schools return to the classroom? And how long until we see the impact?
BHAVNA LALL: So I think that's something that everyone is still trying to figure out. I think that right now what we really need to recommend and make sure schools are doing is improving ventilation, continue to emphasize social distancing, and really make sure people are wearing masks in the classroom. And also emphasizing that people who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated. So ages 12 and up and teachers should be vaccinated by now.
We've had the vaccine around for many months now. And it's so important. I mean when you hear about teachers dying and students getting hospitalized, this is a tragedy given we have a vaccine that's been available for months.
- Yeah, a lot of parents really concerned about that one. Finally, Doctor, we saw the WHO this week put a new variant, the Mu variant, on what is essentially a watch list. They've described this as a variant that has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune scap. Put that in layman's speak for us.
What exactly does that mean? And how big of a threat is that variant here in the US?
BHAVNA LALL: So right now the Delta variant accounts for 99% of all cases in America. And the Mu variant is a variant of interest by the WHO now as well. So basically what it's saying is that people are looking at it very closely. It does not mean that it is currently here and surging. It just means that we're looking at it very closely in the country and in the world.
But it's something to be thinking of as we continue to have low vaccination rates, that if we do not vaccinate the country and the world, we'll continue to have more variants. It's really important that we continue to try to vaccinate not only the US, but also ensure that other countries are vaccinated so that we won't have these varieties of these variants coming from these other countries as well.
Right now, only 0.4% of low income countries have actually received the vaccination pool that we have. 81% is really going to middle and high income countries. So we really need to vaccinate the world with more vaccine equity and ensure that variants will not continue forward.
- It's a good reminder that even with some of the progress we've seen here in the US in terms of vaccinations, there's so many more people outside, especially in emerging countries, that still need to get the vaccine. Dr. Bhavna Lall, clinical assistant professor at University of Houston's College of Medicine. It's good to talk to you. Thanks so much for stopping by.