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Michigan will open up access to COVID vaccines to anyone over the age of 16 who wants one starting April 5. Dr. Soumi Eachempati, the co-founder and CEO of Cleared4, joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero with the latest on the fight against the pandemic.
TANYA RIVERO: In Michigan, anyone over the age of 16 will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting on April 5. That is nearly a month earlier than the May 1 date set by President Biden. The state health department says it may take several weeks beyond April 5 for anyone who wants an appointment to get one. Michigan has now become the second state, after Alaska, to set a date for opening up vaccinations.
Meanwhile, states are continuing to roll back coronavirus restrictions as vaccines increase and cases drop. One of the latest is Oklahoma, where the governor is lifting restrictions statewide. The limit on how many people can gather at events will be removed, along with a mask mandate inside state buildings. This comes despite warnings from health experts not to do so.
For more on this, I want to bring in Dr. Soumi Eachempati. He is the co-founder, CEO, and CMO of Cleared4. He's also a former professor of surgery and public health at Weill Cornell Medical College. Doctor, welcome. Great to have you with us. So Oklahoma is joining the list of states lifting COVID restrictions. What do you make of this? Is it too soon?
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: I think it's progress. And I think as long as people still understand the virus, understand we're not out of the woods yet, understand that the country is still basically about 20% vaccinated, and understand there are plenty of vulnerable people out there who still have not been vaccinated that as long as people are safe and understand the big picture, I think it is terrific to gather and reopen.
TANYA RIVERO: So Michigan is making all residents eligible to get the vaccine starting April 5. Is this going to make it harder for those people who are in the high-risk category who are already eligible, who have been eligible, but have been unable to get a vaccine appointment up till this point?
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: Well, I'm hoping they're taking that into account. And we know the government is getting lots of extra vaccines and rolling out more centers. And I'm hoping they take that into account, and they don't forget the vulnerable people and the elderly people who have still not been fully vaccinated in some areas, including Michigan, I'm sure. And as long as they keep that into account and they're doing the right thing, I'm very comfortable with that.
TANYA RIVERO: All right, now President Biden announced last night that by July 4 Americans could feasibly be able to gather in small groups. What do you think of that timeline? Obviously, this is a large country and the infection rates differ, but what do you think of that July, mid-July of a time to start returning to a degree of normalcy? And what's it going to take between now and then to get to that place?
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: Well, it's very interesting he picked July 4, because earlier they said they tried to get a lot of vaccines by May 1. So I was initially thinking maybe they're going to try Memorial Day to start the-- promoting public gatherings and private events for families and relatives. But I think July 4 is much more realistic, because then it'll be two weeks after most people will have had the opportunity to get both vaccines and a couple weeks afterwards. So I think that is very reasonable.
One of the things that they have to realize is that 50% of people or more, by a recent Kaiser survey, about 55%, in fact, are not-- are going to get the vaccine. But that means about 40% to 45% are not convinced at this time to get the vaccine. So availability might still be there, but the desire for everybody to get vaccinated may not be there. So that's another messaging thing I think they're going to have to be working on very strongly.
TANYA RIVERO: And there's also, I would imagine, going to be a backlog. I mean, I'm thinking of myself in New York City, right. I look at this May 1 date, I'm very highly anticipating it, but everyone's probably going to sign up and then it's going to be months before I can actually get an appointment, right?
So it's not as if suddenly in May everyone's going to be vaccinated, even everyone who wants to be vaccinated. There certainly are these metropolitan areas that are highly populated that are going to be lagging behind. And you could argue that those metropolitan areas are the ones in the most danger of some kind of a resurgence, correct?
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: Yeah, Tanya, that's such a great point. I just saw the segment where President Biden was saying you get in your car, and you wait for an hour, and you get it done. And you know, as a New Yorker like yourself, that doesn't apply to us and that community as well. So I think it's-- again, it's terrific to be this ambitious. I want people to realize that it will be easier to get vaccines going forward.
And I think that should be encouraging. It should be really helping people lift some of the darkness that's been over us the last year, to some extent. But honestly, at Cleared4, we're already trying to get people back, and trying to get people open, and trying to keep people vaccinated and monitoring that aspect. So I think that's what's going to be important too. You're going to be able to safely gather and monitor who you're around, and I think that'll be important.
TANYA RIVERO: Right. And of course, yesterday marked one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What do you think have been some of the game changers the medical community has encountered or learned about since-- since then about this virus?
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: Right. So there's so much they've learned. And so I was a COVID doctor last April at Weill Cornell. And back then we thought it was going to be all-- had a certain way of transmission. But as they've learned, a lot of asymptomatic people since then can transmit through aerosol.
And so the fomites, the contact-- touching a contact surface, which helps spread coughs and colds and other flus in the past, have not been as important. So I think that's one of the main things they've learned. And you can't underscore the tremendous advances in vaccine. The MRA community had no vaccines in-- that were approved, and now they have two. And they're-- they're basically-- those are the game changers to me.
TANYA RIVERO: Absolutely. The vaccines really-- they mean everything, right? All right, well, Dr. Soumi Eachempati, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.
SOUMI EACHEMPATI: Thanks, Tanya. Glad to be here.