Emergency physician Dr Jeremy Faust, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic.
JARED BLIKRE: COVID statistics around the world and particularly in the United States are heading in the right direction. We have new cases falling, hospitalization rates falling in the United States as well. But we did not get out of the woods. And we want to talk about all things COVID here with Dr. Jeremy Faust. He is an emergency physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. We also have Anjalee Khemlani from Yahoo Finance joining us.
Doctor, I want to suggest something to you. Not out of the woods yet. I note that in a few states, eight states, they still have less than 15% of critical care beds available. But what is the current state of COVID infections in the United States?
JÉRÉMY FAUST: Thank you for. The current status is that we continue to have a highly contagious variant of the delta variant that tears communities apart, especially where vaccination rates are low. When you look here in Massachusetts at the counties with higher vaccination rates, the number of deaths from COVID and just the number of all deaths is very low. And when you have areas – we look at areas with low vaccination rates, this is where COVID deaths are significant, even today.
So, yeah, we’re not in that place where we had 3,000 deaths a day in January, and we came out of a peak, looks like, nationwide. But given the fact that we have a vaccine at our disposal that can virtually eliminate all deaths associated with this disease, we are still far from done.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, we know that in terms of boosters, the Pfizer booster is the only one currently authorized for use. Moderna and J&J, we hope to get the pike down very soon. But we’ve also heard from Dr. Fauci that mix and match boosters, which means you’ve got your two shots of Pfizer, you’re going to go get a Moderna booster, you know when the time comes. What does the evidence tell us about this? What is the conclusion of the FDA?
JÉRÉMY FAUST: Well, we’re going to learn a lot about that in the next few days when there will be a meeting of the various safety panels at the FDA and, again, the CDC. I think mixing and pairing could really be a great opportunity as it could actually have increased protection. And, hopefully, it could even lead to a decrease in rare side effects depending on the doses and how the data is disseminated. This is an area that I think we are watching very closely, as boosting with a third dose of Pfizer, which is available to some Americans, will certainly help some people in the short term.
But what we want to know is that, as we do for a long period of time, can we optimize the results so that the most benefit and the least suffer? So I think mixing and matching is a really big opportunity. And I can’t wait to see what the data shows.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: On this thread, Doctor, I know we heard from the Swedish Health Agency this morning, suspend use of Moderna’s vaccine for anyone 30 years of age and under because of these myocarditis concerns. I wonder how much of that plays into the conversation about recalls and the ability of those who might not be comfortable using a vaccine after knowing the risk of being able to switch to another.
JÉRÉMY FAUST: Yes, that’s a great question. And we have to be very clear about the difference between the initial round of mRNA vaccines, which is two doses, and the booster, which is the third dose. For every age group for which we have data on two doses, it’s not close. Even for young people who have a much better result rate with COVID than older people, even in this group, adolescents, young men, we know that the vaccine offers much more protection than any risk associated with the vaccine.
And it is even a real one-on-one myocarditis. COVID causes more myocarditis, which is an inflammatory disease of the heart, than vaccines. So, yes, there was an increase in the myocarditis signal after vaccination of young men in particular, but in fact, it’s just eclipsed by the rates of myocarditis by letting these same people catch COVID.
So it’s really a non-problem on the first two doses. And I’m a little confused and stunned by the decision made – I guess it was Denmark and Sweden you said – and I’ve seen these stories – because it doesn’t really make sense. If someone told me that a third dose in these groups maybe didn’t have a really perfect risk benefit assessment and these people maybe don’t need a third dose, or that’s a harder call, that would be possible because we don’t know how much a third dose adds for young men in particular. But we haven’t seen it.
So for all that I have seen, we are getting more and more data on the rates of myocarditis in young people. And it’s real but rare. So you have to compare that to COVID, however. COVID is much worse. Delta is going to affect everyone. The question is, at the third dose, is there a risk? I think for most people no, but for some we still have to find out if there is this risk.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Definitely something to watch out for. I also wonder what you think of the White House announcement to invest more in rapid tests and make them available. We know there have been more FDA cleared players.
Meanwhile, we know the biggest players like Abbott, for example, we just spoke to the CEO yesterday, and he said there would be more tests available by the end of the month. And the White House has said it is trying to quadruple the number of tests available by the end of the year. How do you see it going and what is the need compared to the timetable and what will be the compromise to be made until then?
JÉRÉMY FAUST: I’m really happy to see an increased interest in rapid testing and increased supplies. Me and many of us have been drumming this drum for over a year now, that rapid tests have been misunderstood as not being sensitive enough when in fact they are very, very good at what they are at. are designed, namely choose up to contagious disease. Are you contagious? And this, more than anything else, can stop the spread of this disease.
The increase in supplies is really important. And this must be accompanied by a price reduction. Because every time you launch an intervention that can help people, there is an immediate concern that you are helping certain people and also widening the inequalities. So part of the plan, going forward for rapid testing or any intervention we do, is to address this head-on. How do we help everyone roll out a new product, whether it’s a new drug, a vaccine, or a rapid test? Because these are the tools at our disposal to limit the effects of this horrible disease.
ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I want to tell you about the price of this, however. This has been a very big problem. I know when we compare to, say, Europe, it’s a lot cheaper and a lot more available. We don’t seem to be able to do that here in the United States. It seems like $ 25 or so is the price we’re going to get these quick tests at, except when you’re talking about government buying and testing sites. Do you see the need for maybe lower retail prices?
JÉRÉMY FAUST: Yeah, I think it’s really important. Tests that people can’t afford might as well not exist, right? They don’t help people who can’t use them. And I don’t see the argument that we shouldn’t be doing all we can to subsidize the cost and reduce the cost because every time you stop the spread of this virus, you’re not just doing the thing that matters most. , which is to help people stay healthy, but you also help local economies.
Economies that are closed because of epidemics are not doing well. And so, they’re spending a few bucks to lower the price of testing for people who are likely to be in high volume interactions. Think of teachers, people who work in restaurants or on public transport, people who may not be able to afford the tests. These people often need to be tested to protect themselves, their families, and their entire community.
And really, all boats go up with the tide. It is therefore a very smart idea to subsidize these as Europe has done. This is an area where they have led, and we are just starting to catch up. But as you point out, if we can’t afford it, then it’s really the same as not having it.
JARED BLIKRE: And we’ll leave it at that, doctor. Thanks for joining us. Dr Jeremy Faust, emergency physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Plus, Anjalee Khemlani from Yahoo Finance, of course.