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Doctor on J&J vaccine: It comes down to 'the benefit-risk ratio'

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The U.S. has hit a daily COVID-19 vaccination record. Osmosis Chief Medical Officer & Former Center for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemic Intelligence Officer Dr. Rishi Desai joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

- Let's turn our attention to our first guest for the hour. We've got Dr. Rishi Desai, Osmosis Chief Medical Officer, as well as former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Officer. Dr., It's good to talk to you today.

- Let's start with that investigation into Johnson & Johnson, because there are a lot of people who are watching who just aren't feeling comfortable with how safe the vaccine is. Still hasn't resumed, but what specifically do you think medical officers are looking for right now to be able to give that green light and say, things can return to vaccinating J&J again.

DR. RISHI DESAI: Well I mean, what it comes down to is the benefit risk ratio. What is the benefit of giving a green light to J&J, what is the risk? And the risk is not just this vaccine, it's general confidence in vaccines. And so I think what happened over the last week or two with this investigation, it's going to go to Friday, is people see that the CDC and the FDA are taking this seriously, that they're investigating this and really looking into these cases.

- And that they're not just kind of flippantly saying, yeah, let's just continue vaccinating without investigating. I think when you conclude the investigation, what you realize is that the risk of a blood clot with the vaccine is actually lower than the risk without the vaccine. The general risk in the population of blood clots is higher than when you get vaccinated.

- So if anything, this is actually a good thing that it lowers the risk of a blood clot. But when people hear about blood clots they kind of panic and freak out and think, oh my gosh, is getting the vaccine going to cause a blood clot. And the answer is obviously exceedingly, vanishingly rare, on the order of getting struck by lightning.

- And so if that's what's going to stop you, that vanishingly rare side effect, what I would remind you is that the chance of that is actually higher if you're just walking on the street without a vaccine. So putting all this in context, these are really small, small chances, and the vaccine's benefit is massive. You're preventing COVID-19. COVID-19 causes blood clots. I mean, let's not forget that the actual disease is way worse than this risk of the vaccine.

- Yeah, it's important context for everybody out there to remember. The other big thing though is, now you've got every state, essentially was kind of walking through there, eligible for adults there, meeting the deadline that President Biden put in progress. I mean, when you step back and look at everything, It's kind of amazing to think about where we've come in this. Right?

- And how much we didn't know at the beginning of this, and now the advancements, for us to be there at this point, with all adults now eligible across the US to get the vaccine. I mean, what do you maybe make of the way that the progress got us to this point?

DR. RISHI DESAI: It's remarkable. And I mean, 50% of adults having at least one vaccine means that that percentage will have roughly two vaccines, let's say in a month from now, around Mother's Day maybe around that time. So that's a pretty amazing thing that we were able to do in the course of, roughly, a year and a half.

- Not just that, it was also timed out. Folks were saying, the administrations were saying, Q2 of this year is when we'll have this done. Here we are in Q2, and here it's getting done. I mean, how often does that happen where, if you're told something and happens on that schedule, that's very rare. And so I think, you know, kudos to the folks that got this done, as well as the administration for kind of calling this shot pretty effectively in advance.

- And Doctor, if we're talking about timelines and markers being met, another one we're looking for is potentially reaching herd immunity by the end of May, maybe June. What does that timeline hold right now, and what does that mean for summer activities and how it's likely to look?

DR. RISHI DESAI: It's a great question, and one thing I just want to point out is that it really comes down to your community. So if you live in a community where, actually everyone is on board with science, and getting vaccinated, and that effort is real, then good on you. Good on you for being in that community and being part of that community. You're going to stand to benefit.

- If you're part of a community where the science is kind of not trusted, people are not getting vaccinated because they just think, oh, I don't want to do that, someone else can do that, then that average herd immunity kind of threshold is not going to apply to your community.

- So your community is going to continue to suffer. And so this is not going to be distributed equally, and some areas are going to continue to see cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, until those spots are kind of essentially getting the vaccine at the same rate. And that might take a while. So this is inequal distribution means that some areas are going to open up and enjoy the benefit of having herd immunity, whereas others may not, and may see their hospitals continue to overflow.

- Yeah, that seems kind of being-- That, to me, would be one of the biggest issues when we talk about a global reopening. Right? Some of those restrictions are still in place. And right now the US is doing a great job, and we can celebrate that here. But around the globe, very different stories playing out.

- So when you think about that the variant risks out there, what we're seeing even play out in Michigan, I mean you can go local, current states too. So I mean, how much longer do you think we have to go before we return to kind of that free to travel about the globe as you would expect? I mean, how much longer are all these other countries going to have to play to catch up to us?

DR. RISHI DESAI: That is the million question, the question we should all be asking. Because think about it, if you live in a low income country, what is your vaccine program look like right now. It's nonexistent. No one's gotten vaccinated in particular low income countries.

- That means, in those countries, there is a chance for mutants. There's a chance for strains to kind of escape. And if that happens, then you know that those strains are going to make their way to the US. And so then, all this kind of patting ourselves on the back we're doing right now is going to feel kind of silly if there's a mutant come in and that protection is just not at the same levels.

- Now I will say that the evidence right now is that the vaccine is protective against most mutants. Right? So that's good news. Now is it completely protective? It is at the same high level that we're seeing against the wild type? No. It's lower. And so now we're going to be caught in this kind of in between state. And to your point, how long will it be until things essentially feel normal. I don't think they're going to feel completely normal for years.

- And at that point, we're going to be talking about all sorts of new things, like do you need a booster shot and things like that. So I think it's going to be a long while before we really can kind of collectively feel like everything is back to normal. But most things are going to feel a lot better, I think, in a few months.

- And it just raises all the questions about the emotional impacts, the years to follow, and what's going to happen here. But Dr. Rishi Desai, I appreciate you coming on here to chat. The Here and Now with US Osmosis Chief Medical Officer. Thanks again for taking the time.

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