Doctor on Pfizer vaccine: 'Not sure this one is the game winner'


Dr. Anand Swaminathan, Emergency Medicine Physician in New Jersey joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to break down the latest coronavirus developments as Pfizer reports its vaccine trial was 90% effective.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Let’s talk more about this coronavirus vaccine right now. I want to give everyone an update on where we stand about the pandemic in the United States. Now, this is all according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, less than, just under 10 million positive cases of coronavirus in the United States right now, and the death count has risen to roughly 238,000 deaths.

So I want to talk about this more right now with Dr. Anand Swaminathan. He’s an emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Doctor, I want to ask you first about this news, this positive news, and hopes about the coronavirus vaccine said to be 90% effective. How optimistic should we be around this news? And when do you think we might be able to see a vaccine given more broadly to Americans?

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: I think we should be cautiously optimistic. I think there’s a lot of caveats we have to work out here. We keep hearing this number 90%, 90%. And let’s break that down a little bit.

First of all, none of us have seen the data. And the medical community needs to see that data, review that data, and see if it’s substantial and if it’s legitimate. 90% is a high mark to reach, so there’s a little bit of skepticism with that number. But the 90% efficacy is about preventing symptomatic infections. It’s not about preventing infections.

And we have to remember, there’s a lot of asymptomatic transmission of this disease. So yeah, I am optimistic, but I think we also have to understand the limitations that we’re seeing with this vaccine. 90% symptomatic reduction is great. Asymptomatic people can still transmit to each other. We don’t know how long that immunity is going to last.

The vaccine needs to be refrigerated down to– not refrigerated, frozen almost, down to negative 90 Celsius. That’s going to be a hard thing to do and get it out to everybody who needs it. And we’re only talking about 50 million vaccines ready by the end of the year. 50 million sounds like a big number, but it’s not nearly enough if we want to reach herd immunity.

So even if we reach 90%, even if the science is good, the numbers are real, we’re not going to have enough vaccine to get to everybody. So I think we have to be optimistic that the vaccine data is moving in the right direction. We’re getting more breakthroughs, which is good. I’m not sure this one’s going to be the game winner though.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Doctor, so many questions to ask you here about this vaccine, because, as you mentioned, we still don’t know too much about the efficacy around the vaccine. And then there’s, of course, who would get it first, right? You’re a doctor, how do you go about prioritizing the list?

Obviously, it’s expected that first responders and front line workers are probably going to be getting it first. But when do you start rolling it out to the general public? Do children become vaccinated because they’re spreaders? Does it go to the elderly first? How do you go about making that list?

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: Well, I’m in a good position where I don’t have to make that decision. I think that’s a really tough decision to make and figure out, and there are much smarter people who are out there who are working through this. But we have to understand that we want to protect the people who are the most vulnerable, but the research data that we have isn’t looking at the most vulnerable populations.

So we don’t know how people with chronic medical conditions are going to respond to this vaccine or if they’re going to have more side effects from it or less side effects. And not knowing that means it’s really hard to know who to get this to first. It’s great that we’re going to roll it out to first responders. But again, if that immunity wanes over time, are we going to have to get re-immunized?

I think there are a lot of first responders, a lot of physicians, a lot of nurses that are going to be ready and willing to take this vaccine. But remember, in order to get herd immunity, we need everybody to get it. And we don’t even have a great uptake of flu vaccine.

This is a new vaccine. People are going to be hesitant. And we need to make sure we go through the right processes to get it approved. The safety data has to be there. And then people need to be willing to get it. If they don’t, we’re not going to reach herd immunity.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point, folks out there are not willing to take this vaccine, at least from the latest polls that we have, one from Gallup back in September, saying only half of Americans would be interested in taking the vaccine. And then, of course, we have an anti-vaxxer movement in the United States that is gaining in steam and in power. How difficult do you think it’ll be for yourself, and other public health officials, and other doctors to push this vaccine out on adults, on children, and encourage folks to take this vaccine?

ANAND SWAMINATHAN: It’s going to be a huge problem, I think. You know, there is no science behind the anti-vax movement. And the science that was there that was put out has all been debunked. It just doesn’t exist.

Now, this particular vaccine is new, and we need to see that safety data. And I think once we have that safety data and it’s rolled out, we’re going to have to set an example. As those first line providers, we’re going to have to set the example and say, we took this. We believe the data that it’s safe.

If that data is there, and it is safe, we need to take it and show people that this is the best way for us to reach a place where we can actually go back to how things used to be. So a little of this is going to be us setting an example and the group that gets it first setting an example and saying, we’re not having the side effects. We believe the science, and we need to do this to help each other out.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Dr. Anand Swaminathan, emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Thank you so much for joining us.