‘The Michigan spike is something we should be nervous about’: Doctor

The Upper Midwest in the U.S. is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Vote Health Co-Founder & NYC-based HIV Primary Care Physician Dr. Stella Safo joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. Coronavirus cases are moving slightly higher at the national level. But right now, a worrying trend is unfolding in the Midwest. And some particularly states are getting hit harder than others. New cases and hospitalizations in the state of Michigan are worth pointing out right now, as those have doubled over the last two weeks. And adjusted for population, the state is home to currently the six worst metro areas in the country when it comes to spikes in new cases, causing the governor of Michigan to urge citizens there to avoid indoor dining for the next couple of weeks.

Senior health policy advisor to the president Andy Slavitt said earlier this week that the administration had not ruled out sending extra vaccines to Michigan to help battle that surge. Meantime, the European Medicines Agency is also now investigating Johnson & Johnson's vaccine for a potential link to a blood clot problem, similar to what they observed in rare cases with AstraZeneca's jab in certain patients.

So joining us now for both of those things, we want to bring into the conversation here our next guest, Dr. Stella Safo, who's Vote Health co-founder, an NYC-based HIV primary care physician as well. Dr. Safo, I mean, we've been talking a lot about the worries out there of a potential renewed spike, given the fact that it's going to take some time to get people vaccinated. I guess, we can start there, which would be, obviously, more troubling if, indeed, the blood clot issue that we saw with AstraZeneca also spilled over the J and J's vaccine. So talk to me about what you're hearing right now in relation to that Michigan spike, too.

STELLA SAFO: So I think the Michigan spike is something that we should be nervous about for many of the states in this country, which is that there's a little bit of an excitement for how many vaccinations we're getting out to individuals. We're millions of doses a day. And so there is some relaxing, unfortunately, of some unvaccinated people and also vaccinated people who are still waiting for their immunity to really catch up, taking on certain activities that we know will spread COVID. So indoor dining, that's close. Maskless, even outdoor, close quarters type of meetings, meeting indoors in private homes with individuals that aren't vaccinated.

And so, as we see this, we know that COVID will spread. And I think the message here is, we're not out of the woods yet. We are doing so well with getting our vaccinations into people's arms. But we're not at a place where we have herd immunity. And so the behaviors have to really focus on social distancing and masking.

AKIKO FUJITA: Doctor, how much of that spike that we have seen has come from people who have actually gotten the vaccine, but not waited those two weeks essentially that health experts have said is when the vaccine actually kicks in? I wonder if there's a number breakdown there.

STELLA SAFO: There isn't a really good breakdown that we know of at this point. So the two things that I think are worth knowing is that once you've been fully vaccinated, which means you've gotten both doses, you waited the 10 to 14 days afterwards, your immune system is totally inoculated against COVID, once that has happened, the chances of you getting COVID are very low. But we don't know if you can still spread COVID. In fact, we think you probably can.

And so, that means that if you've only gotten one dose and your immune system hasn't really been boosted against COVID, what's going to happen is, again, not only may you get COVID, although we don't think that you'd get severe COVID, but you're still able to spread. And that's really where we're having-- we're seeing the spike coming from. Individuals are carrying coronavirus. And they are spreading it to others who may be susceptible for getting more ill from it because they haven't been vaccinated or because they're older.

And so, it's really important for all of us, those that have been vaccinated, those that are young and may not get very sick from COVID, to just double down at this point. We're so close to the finish line. And all we have to do is continue to be really careful with each other until we can get to the summer, where we are hoping many individuals will be vaccinated, and we can start to see the community rates of COVID really start to go down.

ZACK GUZMAN: And doctor, I mean, obviously, the blood clot issue that we saw with AstraZeneca was worrying because we saw more and more countries pausing the rollout of that vaccine. And now to hear Europe's regulators looking at Johnson & Johnson for a similar issue, also not good because we're starting to see countries-- France being one example-- pairing vaccines, Pfizer's dose as a follow-up to AstraZeneca's dose. It sounds like things are getting increasingly complicated with the rollouts over there. How worried are you about-- if those issues do come to fruition with Johnson & Johnson and blood clots, how worried are you in terms of where we're at with the amount of vaccines we have when you look at the issue?

STELLA SAFO: So, you know, I think one of the things that we've tried to be very honest with the public about is that these vaccines were made as expertly as we'd make any other vaccines. We had all the way through phase III trials. And now we continue to study them when they're in the real world. So of course, we're going to get more information. The J&J vaccines have shown that there's-- I believe four individuals had these blood clots. One of them was fatal. And that is definitely concerning. But that's out of millions of doses that have been given. And so we definitely need more information to understand what the kind of statistical impact of that will be. And decisions will be made from there.

But you have to remember in this country, especially, we've really gone hard on Moderna and Pfizer. In fact, J&J's dose that will be delivered next week is really down because of their manufacturing issues. So even if we find that J&J ends up kind of going down the AstraZeneca line of maybe, you know, we have more concerns than not, we are not currently rolling out our vaccine program in this country heavily reliant on J&J vaccines. So I think the American public should feel good that you'll be able to get a vaccine that is going to be safe. We're going to keep an eye on making sure that safety is very, very prioritized. And we really do feel confident in the Moderna, Pfizer vaccines and also in the J&J vaccines. But let's get more information and make sure that that confidence remains.

AKIKO FUJITA: Doctor, I wonder if you can speak to what all these concerns around the AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as the J&J vaccine, means for developing countries. Because we've talked so much, to your point, that the US does, in fact, have the supply. The president has said everybody will have a vaccine by summer. But there's a lot of countries that have been left behind that have been relying on that one-shot vaccine. And that seems to be where the concerns are.

STELLA SAFO: Yes, and I think it's really important, too, that we understand that if there's a concern with the vaccine where we say this vaccine isn't good, that vaccine will be taken off market. No one in this world should get a vaccine that we really believe is not good. And so I think that there's a little bit of a fear that we're going to give bad vaccines to other countries. And I, just as a global citizen, would really argue against our country for doing that.

What I think we're seeing is that we've gone so intensely to purchase Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, to have that supply chain very, very full, that we can now have the conversation to say, OK, we have more of the AstraZeneca and we may have more of J&J than we would like. If other individuals want to think about having those vaccines, which we know at this point are still safe, they may have that kind of access.

And so, I think that we do have to have the conversation around, are we sending vaccines that we wouldn't use here to other countries? That's definitely not something ethically that I think anyone wants to be behind. But I think it's more framing that we're going to go ahead and use the stockpiles of Moderna and Pfizer that we have. And if we have extra, let's not hold up those extra doses for countries that have nothing at this point and are suffering from coronavirus kind of unstopped because they don't-- they're not able to start their vaccination rollout. So I think you're right. There's conversations that have to be had, but no vaccines that are bad will be allowed to remain on market.

AKIKO FUJITA: Certainly, a lot of people taking some comfort in your words there. Dr. Stella Safo, Vote Health co-founder, as well as HIV primary care physician based in New York City.