Omicron: Why a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccines may not be 'absolutely necessary,' doctor says

Saint Joseph Health Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease and "Immunity Strong" author Dr. Robert G. Lahita joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the outlook for an Omicron-specific vaccine, data on fourth COVID-19 vaccine shots, and the labor shortages hospitals are facing.

Video Transcript

- And welcome back to Yahoo Finance. Well, a new study finds one in five Americans have now been affected with COVID-19. That is a study out of Israel shows that a fourth vaccine dose doesn't do much to help protect against contracting Omicron. Here with more is the author of the just released book "Immunity Strong" Robert G. Lahita MD, Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St Joseph Health. Dr. Bob, thank you so much for coming on.

So if the fourth shot doesn't really protect against Omicron, and we know Omicron a milder sort of disease, if you will, does it make sense to pursue coming up with an Omicron-specific shot because won't there just be new variants that come along the way?

ROBERT LAHITA: Well, you're right. That is the worry that we have is that new variants are going to develop. But that's a possibility and not a probability at this point, largely because of the easy transmissibility of the Omicron variant having almost infected-- actually, about 98% of the current infections are Omicron. Delta is still out there, but we don't see very much Delta right now. And in counting the admissions into the hospital and the ICU census, it's all Omicron.

Immunodeficient people, people with immune problems should get the booster, the fourth booster or the second booster, actually the fourth injection. But that's really conjectural right now. I'm not so sure, neither is Dr. Fauci very sure, nor any of the other experts at the CDC, that this is absolutely necessary. So Israel is doing a mass experiment.

- Dr. Bob, I'm sure you saw the report that Moderna is now working on a vaccine that would combine COVID and the flu shot into one shot. They're saying it could happen as early as this fall. Your thoughts on that. And I'm wondering if that might actually move some of the anti-vaxxers to want to get vaxxes because they can also protect themselves against the flu. What are your thoughts on that?

ROBERT LAHITA: Well, hope springs eternal. Let's put it that way. I'm aware of this plan of Moderna's. And here's the interesting thing because of high technology with regard to the messenger RNA fragments in the virus that are specific for, say, the spike protein and a couple of other RNA fragments that are significant for, say, some of the protective structural code of the virus, doing that and having a messenger RNA for the COVID virus and for the influenza virus, which, by the way, is going to be a messenger RNA unlike previous flu shots. And Moderna is also saying respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, which is a very common cause of respiratory difficulty, particularly in children during the winter months. Combining all of these will provide an individual with robust immunity and an immune response against some of the most common infective agents that plague our society going forward, especially during the winter months.

- And Doctor, hospitals continue to lag case count. So even though we are seeing case counts drop in places like New York, hospitals are still inundated. So I'm wondering, what are you seeing on the ground as far as strain on the health care system? And do you think the government has done enough to help support hospitals across the country?

ROBERT LAHITA: The government, first of all, is trying to support hospitals across the country. Now, the Northeast is a little bit unfair because we are so populated and have so many hospitals concentrated in a small area. And so I would say that the big problem are in hospitals where there is hundred mile radius of no hospitals except for one in the middle. They have limited ICU staff, limited nursing staff, et cetera.

So here, in the Northeast, we're short on nurses. We have everyday calls for ICU nurses, ICU intensivist, doctors, and also ancillary help like cleaners and people handling sterile supply, the pharmacy, et cetera. There are shortages. And that's in the Northeast. But imagine, if you're a hospital in the middle of some place like Idaho or Iowa, where there's one hospital with a 100-mile radius and you have difficulty recruiting intensivists, intensive care nurses, and the real expertise that is needed. And so that's where the major shortages lie.

And right now, in those states, in those areas, the Midwest, for example, Omicron is exploding. So we are nowhere near the peak right now.

- And Dr. Fauci is saying we are nowhere near from this turning to a pandemic to an endemic. OK, we will leave it there. Robert G. Lahita, Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St. Joseph Health, thank you so much for stopping by today.

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