'If you are unvaccinated, this is probably the most dangerous point in time of the pandemic to date': Doctor

Dr. Sejal Hathi, Physician & Clinical Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital & host of “Civic Rx” podcast, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We want to continue this discussion. We're going to bring into the stream Dr. Sejal Hathi, faculty at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and host of "Civic RX," the podcast. It's good to have you here. I want to ask you first this concern, from the WHO-- I mean, they missed it originally, kowtowing to the Chinese authorities and not letting the world know we had a problem.

What should we take from their now trying to warn us? Are they behind the eight-ball? Are they playing catch up?

SEJAL HATHI: Well, firstly, I want to emphasize my profound respect for Dr. Tedros and all of the brilliant scientists and physician policymakers at the WHO and other international policymaking bodies across the globe who are urging caution, who are advocating vaccine equity. Look, this is an unprecedented global pandemic. None of us, even what many thought to be the most prepared country-- that is ours, the United States-- none of us was equipped. All of us made mistakes in the course of the last 18 months.

But what Dr. Tedros stated is that [AUDIO OUT] in vaccine distribution and allocation around the world. 75% of all vaccine doses-- that's more than 3.5 billion shots-- had been administered in just 10 countries. Only 1% of people in low-income countries around the world have received even just one shot. We have the magic bullet. Vaccines are safe, effective, they work.

And this pandemic will continue to rage unabated so long as we don't afford equal access to that magic bullet to everyone across the globe. So it's imperative that as infections rise everywhere, including here at home in the United States, that we do more to ensure that we get shots in arms.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Hathi, what are you personally seeing just as the number of cases continue to tick up? Because the last time that we spoke, we're in a bit of a different situation now as the Delta variant continues to spread-- and very rapidly throughout the country. So what are you seeing on the ground?

SEJAL HATHI: That's an excellent question. You know, we are in a different place now than we were even just a month ago. The number of cases have increased by about three times. The number of deaths have nearly doubled. But what's important to highlight here is that more than 99% of recent deaths have occurred among the unvaccinated.

The rates of COVID cases and poorly vaccinated counties are more than twice as high as those in robustly vaccinated counties-- those with at least 60% of their population fully vaccinated. So, look, if you are unvaccinated, this is probably the most dangerous point in time of the pandemic to date. It's incredibly important that if you're eligible, you get that vaccine. Otherwise, unfortunately, we're going to continue to see cases rise and with that, hospitalizations, and thereafter, deaths.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor, what should those of us who are fully vaccinated do to protect not only those who are not vaccinated who are adults, but children in particular? Should we voluntarily just mask up until further notice?

SEJAL HATHI: So a lot of this, I would say, depends on a few factors. We are approaching August. Many schools are going to, again, resume classes this fall. Whether or not to mask will depend on a few things. One, what are case rates in your local community?

Generally, communities should aim to have below four daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. If you belong in a neighborhood, in a community, in a city that has met that benchmark, and you were vaccinated, you probably don't need to mask. Unfortunately, in contrast, if you belong to a community where vaccine rates are very low, like many states in the South and the Southeast, you are probably-- and you're in an indoor setting where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are mixing, you probably should consider masking.

Likewise, if you are living with children who are unvaccinated, with immunocompromised folks-- that is people who are on immunosuppressive drugs for any autoimmune, or cancers diseases, or people who haven't been able to get the vaccine to date because of said diseases, and you are mixing with unvaccinated folks-- and in turn, too, you should probably mask. So it depends on a few factors. What I would strongly encourage the federal government to do is to roll out additional guidance about indoor settings where unvaccinated and vaccinated people are mixing, because right now, with the increasingly transmissible Delta variant, a lot of us are at risk.

SEANA SMITH: Doctor, real quick, we only have about a minute here-- but the Johnson & Johnson shot, the study that was out from NYU last night basically saying that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn't as effective against the Delta variant-- I guess, how should we be viewing booster shots?

And if you are one of those people-- one of the, I believe it's right around 9 million people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should you be thinking about getting a booster shot at this point?

SEJAL HATHI: So I think we're all going to need booster shots at some point. It's not really a matter of if, but of when. And I would not be at all surprised if those who've received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are earlier asked to get boosters instead. But there are a few qualifying caveats that we should consider when thinking about yesterday's study.

firstly that study has not yet been peer-reviewed. It's not been published in any scientific journal. It is a preprint. And so a lot of those results, we have to view, therefore, with a grain of salt. Secondly, that study was based on experiments conducted in a lab. It was not based on real world examples.

Thirdly, and critically, the study looks only at neutralizing antibody levels, not the full spate of our immune response-- not vaccine effectiveness. Therefore, extrapolating vaccine efficacy from that one study is a little suspect. And finally, what we do know from the real world data that we have is that there are not meaningfully more breakthrough disease cases, hospitalizations, or deaths with the J&J vaccine than with those who received either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.

So all of the vaccines that we have right now are safe and are effective. We'll see what the CDC says in its meeting tomorrow to discuss boosters. But as of now, I think that we should all, those who received the J&J or the mRNA vaccines, rest easy that the vaccine that we got was safe and effective.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Doctor Sejal Hathi, thank you so much for joining us.

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