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Merck’s COVID-19 pill is a 'huge game changer': Doctor

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Dr. Anthony Harris, WorkCare chief innovation officer and associate medical director, joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest coronavirus developments.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: We want to bring in Dr. Anthony Harris, WorkCare chief innovation officer and associate medical director. Dr. Harris, it's good to see you. Let's start with the Merck news that they're planning to seek emergency use authorization for the treatment. How big of a game changer is this potentially just in terms of getting the pandemic under control?

ANTHONY HARRIS: Thank you, Seana. A huge game changer, right? In terms of being able to prevent what we all know is the major risk factor, which is mortality-- death from the virus itself and hospitalization. And so, what we see with Merck is very compelling data, so much so that they stopped recruitment of the study in the phase two, phase three clinical trials because we were seeing such a dramatic effect at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

And so this is going to be an absolute game changer for not just the US, but worldwide, particularly in those areas and those nations that are hard to reach with those remedies that we tried to intervene with previously, like remdesivir, requiring IV treatment like we were just talking about.

SEANA SMITH: And doctor, Merck isn't the only one seeking this type of therapy. We know that there are similar therapies that are being studied for COVID, one that's being developed by Pfizer, I believe, another by Roche. Does this make you more optimistic that these other therapies will also pan out and they will also be a potential option here down the road?

ANTHONY HARRIS: It does, indeed. And the reason why is, if we look at what they're trying to get after in terms of stopping the virus itself, it's a series of drugs that we are familiar with, called nucleotides. And what they do particularly is to stop the virus from replicating by disrupting that process in the cell. And so it's something that we have seen already cleared by FDA or EUA-approved in remdesivir. But we're seeing more and more attention paid to this type of pathway to help prevent severe illness and, obviously, death that we're talking about.

So there's a lot of silver lining in it, but still the concern that we want individuals to be vaccinated is what we need to re-emphasize so that we can continue to turn the tide, even with the developments with this treatment.

SEANA SMITH: And doctor, just in terms of what we've heard over the last couple of days, Dr. Fauci was out warning that some of the colder states or some of the states that are entering the fall and winter seasons right now, the colder months, that they could face a potential wave. From your perspective, from the data that you're looking at, should we be preparing for another wave? And I guess, what do you expect that to look like over the next couple of months?

ANTHONY HARRIS: The simple answer is absolutely, right? Anytime we have a scenario in the environment that causes people to get closer together, not further apart, we know that there is potential for increased cases, right? And it comes down to that R0 number, the reproductive rate, which is how many people are affected by one individual who has COVID-19.

And early on in the pandemic, we saw that number to be as low as 1.1, 1.8. With the delta variant, it's as high as five to eight, so meaning eight people infected by one individual with COVID. And so as the winter months come, we know that we may anticipate a spike because people are close together, huddling. And so we need to double down on our strategy of vaccination, double down on our strategy of prevention with mask wearing, et cetera. And in those states that are not promulgating such mandates, we need to be concerned.

SEANA SMITH: But to give one state that has been on the forefront of a couple of mandates that they've rolled out over the last several months, there was news out today that California is going to require all eligible students to get a COVID-19 vaccine pending FDA approval. From your perspective, is something like this, does that make sense? And should other states follow suit?

ANTHONY HARRIS: So as a public health official and physician, absolutely it makes sense. Why? Because we've done it before, right? If you attend university, if you are staying on campus, you're already required to have a number of vaccines, meningococcal being one of them. And so, to add this to the list of vaccines that are required, it makes absolute sense because at the end of the day, what do we all want?

Me, being a parent of two, I want our kids to be safe. I want our kids to be able to go to university and not have fears of contracting an illness that is preventable at this point in terms of outcomes-- poor outcomes. And so I think it falls in line with what we're going to see play out over and over in terms of how do we get on the other side of this pandemic.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, and going off of that, I mean, I'm a mother of-- I have a young son, two-year-old. So a lot of these rules, just in terms of what needs to be-- what needs to happen and keep people safe, make a lot of sense to me and make me feel a little bit more comfortable bringing him out in public.

And to that point, we also have [INAUDIBLE] because they're looking to impose stricter vaccine requirements. They want proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, to enter gyms, to enter some-- those types of areas, similar to what we're experiencing right now here in New York City. Along those lines, is this something that's necessary in order to cut back on the number of cases that we're seeing nationwide?

ANTHONY HARRIS: You know, I'm a Keynesian economist at heart, right? And so I do believe in allowing the market to kind of dictate what's necessary and what's not from a public health state as well. When we're talking about individual businesses, right, early on in the pandemic, we predicted at WorkCare that businesses that did a good job of preventing transmission risk in their facilities would attain a competitive advantage perhaps over some. And I think that can continue today in terms of allowing the businesses to make their decision on what to require to enter their doors.

And we'll let the market play out in terms of who comes and who feels comfortable to be a patron of that facility. And so it may be a little bit too much too soon to say across the board, everyone needs to have this mandate, because we know it's going to hurt some businesses for sure in terms of pushback from the public. So, hey, let's go back to the market in terms of understanding how to play this out. And let's see what happens. I think we still should have mask wearing, hands down, but at the end of the day, the vaccination is another issue.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Anthony Harris, really appreciate you taking the time. Great to speak with you and get your perspective. WorkCare chief innovation officer and associate medical director, we hope to have you back on the show soon.

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