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We really want to see 70-80% of the population vaccinated over the next few months: Dr. Oni Blackstock

Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice Founder & Executive Director joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the latest COVID-19 vaccine news.

Video Transcript

- Let us shift over to the other update we got yesterday in President Biden's first official press conference as president giving an update on his intentions to plan to run for re-election in 2024, along with the doubling of his initial goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days to 200 million vaccinations by that deadline. Take a listen to what he had to say.

JOSEPH BIDEN: On December 8th, I indicated that I hope to get 100 million shots in people's arms in my first 100 days. We met that goal last week by day 58, 42 days ahead of schedule. Now today, I'm setting a second and goal. And that is, we will, by my 100th day in office, have administered 200 million shots in people's arms.


- Joining us now for more on the rapid increase in America's vaccination rate is Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice founder and executive director with us today. Dr. Blackstock, I mean, when you look at it, more than a quarter of Americans now having received one dose, at least, of the vaccine-- when you look at maybe President Biden's expectations, here a lot of people came out and attacked his maybe a low goal in his first 100 days, now doubling it.

What do you make of that upping right now and where we're pacing? And I am not sure if you're on mute right now, if that's your end or our end.

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Yes, I was on mute. Thanks so much for having me on. Yeah, I think this announcement of changing the goal or the target to 200 doses by his 100th day is a morale booster.

But I think it's also the usual approach for this administration in terms of under-promising and over-delivering. If we stay on this target, 2 and 1/2 million vaccines a day, we will easily reach the 200 doses about a week before that 100th day deadline. So it's very feasible.

- And on that front, we saw two major states, California and Florida, expand the pool of those who are now eligible for the vaccine. That, of course, is good news for those who want the vaccine. But that's got to raise questions about the supply in those individual states. I'm curious, when you look at nationwide, what you're hearing about how much of that supply is actually getting out, now that we're talking about those beyond 65 and older.

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Right, yes, so I think it's really exciting news. I think we've seen about more than 40 states say that they will be able to expand eligibility by this deadline, by May 1st, which is super exciting. I think that states probably are expanding their eligibility because they're finding that demand in some of those priority groups, such as people over 65, is waning because so many have been vaccinated. And so they're opening up because they're actually seeing that they do have a supply, and that there is going to be new supply coming in in the next few weeks.

- There's something about that vaccination card, too, that seems more important than a social security card now when we think about returning to normal. We got the update from Rutgers saying that all students would have to be vaccinated before coming back to campus in the fall. When you look at that, versus maybe people who have been infected of the virus, maybe thinking, oh, I don't need the vaccine now, I mean, it seems like we're shifting away from this idea of vaccine scarcity to really trying to roll it out to everybody, and everybody going to need it to get back to normal. How should people be thinking about that as we return to normal?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Right, so I think Rutgers' announcement of mandating vaccines for its students is not unprecedented. Colleges and universities often had vaccine requirements. And we'll see whether other universities also do this.

There is going to be enough supply in May for all Americans, according to the administration. And so I think that we ensure that some of the access barriers that have persisted over the last few months, as long as those are addressed and we're able to get supply to the people who need it, I think that things should really accelerate. And we really want to see 70% to 80% of the population vaccinated. And I think that over the next few months, we're going to get much, much closer to that goal.

- And Doctor, as we get more and more Americans who are eligible for the vaccine, that seems to test the confidence that's out there in the vaccine. We've heard a lot about skepticism around these vaccines within certain communities. How much progress do you think we're making on that front, in terms of getting the messaging out, and then really trying to convince them of the importance of getting vaccinated?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, I think we've seen trends. For instance, the Kaiser Family Foundation had a survey recently showing that more and more folks who were initially hesitant, or wait and see, particularly Black and Latino-Americans, were more likely to shift to now wanting the vaccine. So I think as more and more family members, friends are getting the vaccine, people are learning more about it, that is helping to build confidence. We still do have certain demographic groups such as white Republicans who's acceptance of the vaccine has not increased. And so I think more targeted outreach is really going to be needed.

- And finally, two groups that have not gotten the all-clear, if that's the right word, in terms of getting vaccinated, there's been a lot of concerns about the impact on pregnant women as well as young kids. We got some data on both fronts. How do you think viewers should-- what do you think they should take away from it? And especially for pregnant women out there, how safe should they feel in getting vaccinated right now?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Right, so there was a recent study that was released of pregnant health care workers, actually, who had gotten the vaccination as part of being a health care worker. And those showed very robust immune responses that were also transferred to the unborn child, as well as if they were breastfeeding. So incredibly encouraging results.

And very few, if any, serious side effects experienced among pregnant people who received the vaccine. So all of this data is very encouraging. And we definitely want pregnant people, or people who are breastfeeding, or thinking about conceiving to talk with their health care provider to make sure they're making the best decision for themselves.

And then, obviously, having more vaccine data that hopefully will be coming out in the next few months for older children, and soon after that, younger children, will also really help, because about a quarter of our population is under the age of 18. And so if we want to reach herd immunity, we're going to definitely need to also start vaccinating younger children.

- That's certainly an important demographic there. Dr. Oni Blackstock, Health Justice founder and executive director, it's good to talk to you today.

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK: Thanks so much.