U.S. makes major strides in fight against COVID-19 as death toll nears 600,000

As CBS News' Nikki Battiste reports, the U.S. is well on its way to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the CDC and other health experts have new concerns for children. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, an emergency medicine physician, then joins CBSN's Lana Zak to discuss the day's other COVID headlines.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: The US coronavirus death toll is nearing 600,000. But the country is well on its way to recovery. Nearly 2/3 of all US adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and almost 43% of the entire population is now fully vaccinated. Nikki Battiste has the latest from New York City.

NIKKI BATTISTE: Tonight, the race to vaccinate. The FDA announcing it will extend the expiration date for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. By 6 weeks for parents nationwide, there's a mixture of worry and hope. A drop of more than 50% in new COVID cases among kids last week compared to the week before.

And today, Moderna applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in children as young as 12. But new data shows a possible link between a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and myocarditis and pericarditis, heart inflammation. The CDC says it was a higher number than expected, but the cases, mostly seen in males, are rare. And another CDC worry, missed routine vaccinations.

DR. PETER HOTEZ: So this is a big concern in the pediatric community, especially as kids go back to school. Could we start seeing, potentially, measles outbreaks and that sort of thing?

NIKKI BATTISTE: Dr. Peter Hotez says the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective against the strains originating in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa.

DR. PETER HOTEZ: The one exception that is concerning me is the Delta variant that came in from India. It looks like a single dose of the vaccine does not seem to offer much protection against that Delta variant.

NIKKI BATTISTE: That adds urgency to clinical trials underway now, on kids as young as six months. Nine-year-old [? Kidar ?] [? Althrea ?] is taking part in a Pfizer trial. Did you have any hesitation at all?

- So me and my husband did discuss about pros and cons of it. If this is a way to get back to normalcy, I think that's the way to go.

NIKKI BATTISTE: The CDC says most of the teens and young adults who had some heart inflammation after receiving a vaccine were between the ages of 16 and 24, and did recover. Lana.

LANA ZAK: Nikki, thank you. For more, let's bring in emergency medicine physician, Dr. Anand Swaminathan. Dr. Swaminathan, great to have you back on the show. President Biden announced plans Thursday to purchase and donate half a billion Pfizer vaccine doses to low income nations. I'm wondering what you make of this plan, and what more you think needs to be done.

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: This is a great first step to share vaccine. Sharing vaccine is important. We do need to vaccinate the world, if we're going to protect ourselves.

And it's not just about protecting ourselves, of course, it's protecting everybody, stopping more variants, stopping variants that are going to be resistant to our vaccinations. So this is a big step. Now, obviously, we would like to see a larger percentage of these vaccines rolled out earlier.

And that 500 million, we're talking about 3% of the world population that that gets to. So we need other countries to chip in. We need to do more in the United States, more vaccines. But there are other things that we can offer as well, in fact, that we are going to have to offer to deliver those vaccines.

So logistical support. How do you ramp up a mass vaccination site in these other countries? We're going to need to give a lot of support and know how from what has worked for us for the last six months and bring that abroad.

But we're also going to have to really encourage our partners to ramp up production to really get more vaccines donated. And then also, vaccines created in a lot of these countries, which is going to help with the logistical approach. So this is a good first step, but we still have a lot of work to do to get there.

LANA ZAK: I want to also ask you about the latest regarding children and vaccines. An FDA advisory panel met Thursday to discuss COVID vaccines in younger children. What did we learn about the kind of data that's needed for officials to consider authorizing and actual pediatric vaccine?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: I think it's the same data that we needed in order to get the EUA or the Emergency Use Approval for adults, and also for that 12 to 15 age group. We just need to get the data that is being collected now, get it analyzed. And I think it's going to be a couple more months before we really see that.

This is really important for us to do, because we know that kids are becoming a larger percentage of the total number of cases in the country. We have a recent CDC report that shows of those hospitalized, about a third of the kids that are hospitalized, end up in the ICU. 5% end up intubated. Those are numbers that are worrisome, if we see more spikes in that group. And the way to fight that off is to get vaccinated, and get those vaccines into kids arms as early as possible.

But we do need to have the data before we get there, and especially when we talk about this Delta variant and the fact that we need two vaccines means that you need a couple of weeks from when you first-- you get the first shot, before we're really at full protection against that variant. So you know, as much as we want to speed this up-- and I have a nine-year-old, I would love to get her vaccinated as soon as I can-- we really do need to wait for the data to be available. Pfizer is saying September, that they'll have the data available. They'll apply for emergency use authorization, if they have the results that they expect to have.

LANA ZAK: And following up on that, Dr. Swaminathan, the CDC is holding an emergency meeting next week to discuss reports of heart inflammation in people who have received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The agency identified more than 200 possible cases. How might vaccines and heart inflammation be related, and should we be concerned about this?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: We don't know yet. We don't know if we should be concerned. And we don't know exactly the mechanism here.

We know that rare side effects are going to be picked up, because we're doing a really robust job of trying to track any kind of side effects. So it's good that we're finding this, and it's good that we're meeting to figure out what exactly this means. And like you said, we've got a couple hundred cases, which sounds like a lot, until you think about the millions of doses that have been delivered overall, and even the millions of doses that been delivered in that specific age group.

This is a pretty rare side effect that we're seeing. And we don't even know that it truly is a side effect. We don't know if this is true causal relationship between the vaccine and myocarditis, or if this is just an association and not anything real, because we know there are lots of viruses that can cause this kind of inflammation.

We are seeing a higher rate than we typically see in the background at this time of year, so this is an important signal for us to follow up on. But again it's important to stress that the people who have this-- the teens and young adults that had this kind of inflammation, they recovered pretty quickly within a couple of days, with relatively standard medications for most of these kids, so a relatively benign course. And the risk of getting COVID far outweighs the risk of getting this myocarditis, this kind of inflammation.

And that's what we really need to continue to play up, is the fact that the vaccines protect us from COVID, and getting COVID is far worse. And we also have to remember that COVID can cause myocarditis and pericarditis itself. So protecting kids from COVID--

LANA ZAK: Right.

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: Is going to really provide the best protection for kids.

LANA ZAK: And absolutely, we know that COVID in children can have severe consequences. In a study published in JAMA Network Open, CDC researchers found multisystem inflammatory system-- syndrome, rather, affected Black and Latino children about nine times more than white children. Can you tell us why that might be?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: I wish we had the answer to that, too. But this is going to stir more research. We need to figure out why this is.

Are these certain social inequalities, or is there something else beyond that going on? We don't really know at this point. MIS-C, the MIS-C is relatively uncommon, and that's important. This article really points out how infrequent this particular complication is.

But that inequity between racial groups is really important for us to focus in on. It's just one more inequality that's being really heaped on racial minorities that we need to address. It's even more reason why we need to be pushing hard to get those communities vaccinated. Those marginalized communities need to have a bigger push to get them vaccinated. When this is approved, or hopefully it will be approved for younger kids, we need to push even harder to get those particular communities vaccinated quickly, to protect them from this complication.

LANA ZAK: Absolutely. You know, I should probably underscore, because sometimes I worry that we, who have been following this very closely, might be a little bit more in the weeds. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome is-- is something that occurs with-- in this population, children who have contracted COVID. It is not in relation to the vaccine. I Just want to make sure that-- that that is crystal clear for all of our viewers out there.

You had mentioned earlier, Dr. Swaminathan, the Delta variant. And there is some news on that that I want to ask you about, because the British Health Secretary says that the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up more than 90% of new cases in the UK. How much of a threat does that strain pose to folks here in the US?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN: Well, that threat is really going to vary based on what the community vaccination levels are. We know that if you're fully vaccinated, you're pretty well protected against this variant. But if you're either partially vaccinated or not vaccinated, you're not protected. And if you've had COVID before, you might not have as robust a protection than you would have if you were vaccinated.

So there are going to be areas of the country where this Delta variant isn't going to be a real problem, because the vaccination rates are so high, full vaccination rates are so high. But then in other parts, this could really create another spike of cases, and another reason why we really have to push to vaccinate and get more people vaccinated. Even in-- what we see in the UK is that their vaccine rates were pretty low when this variant started to uptick. We're starting to see more cases in the States, but hopefully we will vaccinate enough people so that we won't have huge spikes with this variant. But it is dangerous unless, again, we double down, push harder, and get those flagging vaccination rates much higher, especially in parts of the country where those vaccination rates are very low, under 30%, under 40%.

LANA ZAK: Really an important message, as we could be lulled into a false sense of complacency, with things starting to open back up and feeling like things have returned to normal. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, thank you again for joining. And thank you for all that you do.