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U.S. officials push for COVID vaccinations as experts warn of potential risk of new outbreaks

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U.S. officials are continuing to push for coronavirus vaccinations. As CBS News' Janet Shamlian reports, health experts are concerned that places with low vaccination rates could see new outbreaks. Then, Dr. Payal Patel, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Michigan Medical School, joins CBSN's Elaine Quijano to discuss the latest.

Video Transcript

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ELAINE QUIJANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quijano. It's good to be with you. Thanks for joining us. The US is on its way to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City, once the epicenter of the nation's outbreak, recorded no new coronavirus deaths Tuesday. It also hit a new record low positivity rate. Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a quote, "testament to the power of vaccination." This comes as states continue to offer incentives in an effort to boost vaccinations.

More than 40% of the population is fully vaccinated, and more than 50% is halfway there. Meanwhile, Moderna is now the second company to seek full FDA approval of its coronavirus vaccine. It's already been authorized for emergency use. Janet Shamlian reports from Houston.

JANET SHAMLIAN: Tonight, the unofficial start of summer and post-pandemic life.

- But we didn't realize it would be this crowded.

JANET SHAMLIAN: For many, Memorial Day was the first maskless holiday in more than a year.

- If you are vaccinated, it's largely over.

JANET SHAMLIAN: Moderna says its vaccine is 95% effective in preventing severe disease, and is filing for full FDA approval. It comes as more than half the population over 18 is fully vaccinated. But as the temperature rises, so does the risk for those who are not.

- See it starting to get hot, people are spending more time indoors. And this year, the problem is there's still a lot of people unvaccinated in many of the Southern states.

JANET SHAMLIAN: But time may be running out, say experts who study the airborne transmission of viruses.

- If we don't reach herd immunity soon, I think we're going to still see outbreaks in places where the vaccination rates are low.

JANET SHAMLIAN: Despite a dramatic decrease in the daily national average, new cases in Arizona and Missouri are on the rise. But there's encouraging news tonight for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Two new studies show the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to be completely safe. Researchers also found COVID antibodies in infant cord blood and the breast milk of vaccinated mothers.

And as people are lured by vacations more than vaccines, health officials see opportunity. Like this pop up bus in Chicago along the Lake Michigan shore on what was the busiest travel weekend since the pandemic start.

- And I'm like, why wait when I can just get it now? At the beach, instead of at the hospital.

JANET SHAMLIAN: Tonight, businesses like Jackson Street Barbecue here in Houston are optimistic. After losing more than a quarter million dollars in 2020, they are expecting a line out the door tonight, with a Major League Baseball game right across the street. Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO: Janet Shamlian, thank you. Dr. Payal Patel joins me now. She's an infectious diseases physician at the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Patel, welcome. It's good to see you again.

So Moderna is seeking full approval for use of its coronavirus vaccine in adults. How would this differ from Emergency Use Authorization?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah it's a great question. So, you know, Pfizer has already asked for approval. Moderna's the second vaccine going for full approval. They're going to be going through all the rigors that most vaccines go through.

So if you think of some of the folks out there who've been waiting. You know, they weren't sure about the millions of people who've already done well with the vaccine. We're going to have evidence to show that these vaccines are safe, extremely effective. Just like all the vaccines that we've been taking since our childhood. So I think that it's going to be a big step.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, research released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found full FDA approval may motivate some people who are hesitant to get vaccinated. Do you agree? And what are some other ways officials can reach these people?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, if you think about the people in your own family or in your own circle-- I know certainly some of my patients-- everyone has different reasons about why they might not be sure that they're ready for the vaccine. There's some early adopters who are ready from the get go. There's some people who are waiting for the evidence.

And so I think it does make sense that there's some people that might be waiting for FDA approval. But you know, one thing that we can do as a physician's community and as a public health community is listen and ask questions as to why people might be holding out if they're still holding out. And try to show the evidence and proof that continues to pile up in favor of the vaccines at this point.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, as we heard, experts are worried if the US doesn't reach herd immunity soon, we'll start to see some new outbreaks. How far are we from herd immunity? And what areas of the US are of most concern right now?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, you know, I think we've come a long way. If we think about where we were just a year ago, just a few months ago, so many states have more than 50% of people vaccinated. Some states have 70% of people vaccinated. That's amazing, especially when we're thinking about countries out there that are still lingering between 1% and 5% vaccinated.

The way that we think about it is the more people around us in our community that are vaccinated, it gives the virus less and less chance to evolve, make a variant, and make people sick. So the quicker that we can get more and more people vaccinated in our towns, cities, and states, it's going to be safer and safer as we continue on through the year. But we've made incredible progress already.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So Canadian officials, health officials, have greenlighted mixing and matching coronavirus vaccines. They say the first AstraZeneca shot can be followed by either Pfizer or Moderna. Doctor, what does the science tell us about how this impacts effectiveness? And what are the benefits, if any, to mixing shots?

PAYAL PATEL: Yeah, this is a common question that I was often getting texted or emailed about. And I would say, you know, in general, if you can still go ahead and get the same vaccine for the first and second dose, the most evidence is there for that, you know, sticking with the same vaccine. However, more research continues to show us that if you get a similar vaccine with similar technology, such as one mRNA vaccine followed by a second dose of another-- for some reason or the other, let's say that you were in a different state or it's harder to find the second dose of what you got before-- the technology and the research is showing us that these do seem to be effective.

So in Canada, where many people have gotten the AstraZeneca as their first dose might have been questioning whether they could get a second dose of something different, they have come out and said it's OK to go ahead and mix. I read some headlines that said that they actually recommended that, but that's not what they're saying. They're just saying that it's OK to go ahead and do that. But probably, the best thing is sticking to your own vaccine if you can for both shots.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Got it. Well, finally, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than seven million travelers this holiday weekend. Doctor, is it safe to say the worst of this fight is over?

PAYAL PATEL: You know, I like to really think about it comparing this year to last year. We saw lots of people kind of getting out and, you know, traveling last year. And that was when no one was vaccinated, right? Very risky.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Mm hmm.

PAYAL PATEL: This year if you're vaccinated, you know, you have much lower of a risk of getting COVID-19 traveling. It's really the kids that are still out there that are unvaccinated and may be harder for families. But I would say as we continue to creep towards a higher rate of vaccination, it's definitely going to continue to be safer. And if you are fully vaccinated, you really can feel comfortable about enjoying the holidays.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Some reassuring news. Dr. Payal Patel, great to have you. As always, thank you.

PAYAL PATEL: Thank you so much.