Doctor: ‘If you are unvaccinated you are at risk’

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, Infectious Disease Physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis city Board of Health, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: We're joined by Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center. And she's also on the St. Louis City Board of Health. Doctor, it's always great to have you here with us. So let's just start with that Delta variant. I feel like we keep hearing about it almost every single day. And so many folks are saying, don't worry. Don't worry. If you're vaccinated, you're still protected. But truly, how much should this Delta variant be a concern to us as the country, but also individually, if you are vaccinated?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: So the hard truth is this. If you are vaccinated, you are protected. We know this from data coming out of the United Kingdom. We know this even here. We know that people that got both of their shots, in the case of Pfizer and Moderna, and certainly people who got their one shot with the Johnson & Johnson, fare well against this. Most of the new cases are in unvaccinated people. And a lot of those now, we heard that statistic, 50% of new cases attributable to the Delta variant.

So unfortunately, a line has been drawn in the sand. If you are unvaccinated, you are at risk. And the population that my heart goes out to that I hear the most from, that I get emails and DMs are parents, whose children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. And this is where I want to curb some of the panic. In saying that although we have seen and heard from India specifically that there was some uptick in cases in children, there is no evidence to suggest that children are getting sicker, that there's an increase in hospitalizations.

So for parents of children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, my message is this. Continue to do what we've been asking you to do this year. Mask up when you are in public spaces, outdoors better than indoors. And social distancing, handwashing, these things work. We know that that data will be available at the end of this summer. And we're hoping that we can vaccinate kids in the fall, all children. But until then, there is no need to panic.

KRISTIN MYERS: So I do want to ask, because we do have this study out from Georgetown that says there are these unvaccinated-- or I should say, undervaccinated-- clusters in the United States that are really putting the rest of the country at risk. Now the study highlights these five clusters. They're mainly in southern states. They spread across eight states in total.

Curious to know what that risk really means. What does that mean when these unvaccinated are undervaccinated folks are putting us at risk? Does that mean that there is a greater potential perhaps that even if you are vaccinated, and, as you said, you are still protected, that there might be a greater chance that you could contract coronavirus?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: You know me. I like to simplify things. And the way that I like people to understand this is, if we continue to have these clusters of undervaccinated regions, we just won't get to herd immunity. And if we don't get to herd immunity, we will not reach our new normal. We're all tired. We're all tired of having to make these adjustments to our lives of these limitations, not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do and partake in the things that we enjoy.

And if we continue to do this, not only will we not get to herd immunity, but we could go backwards. For vaccinated folks, again, we know that you are protected. But we don't know for how long. So I do anticipate boosters of some sort within the next 6 to 12 months. And again, for people who choose that level of protection, I have no concerns for them.

However, what happens to us as a community, what happens to us as a country, one death is too many when we have preventative measures available. So that is the greater concern. It is a community concern. And it is a concern of our new normal, our ability to live the lives that we all so desperately crave.

KRISTIN MYERS: Does this, do you think, raise the argument that, really, the United States should start requiring vaccinations, especially if you're using publicly funded resources, for example, like the public school system?

MATI HLATSHWAYO DAVIS: You know, it's a difficult and an excellent question in that we have seen studies from prior vaccination times and other epidemics where data around mandatory vaccines show that such policies do not move the needle that much. In this country, we know that that is a sore point, that it is tied to people's freedoms, that a lot of this has become politicized.

So in my mind, a blanket requirement for vaccinations would not be impactful and could make it more difficult for us to reach and educate and maybe help those in the vaccine resistant population to understand why this is necessary.

So I personally do not call for a blanket requirement. However, I do not think we can get past asking for mandatory vaccinations in certain high risk areas. I believe in hospitals, they should be. For hospital workers, they should be mandatory. These are folks that are taking care of the most vulnerable and the most sick and should be protected. We require this of people like myself, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, for a myriad of other vaccines. So I do not see why the COVID vaccine should be exempt.

And certainly in schools, you know, we always talk about children, but our teachers are essential and frontline workers. And they deserve to be protected, too. So I do think in certain places where vaccines have been made mandatory, this needs to be implemented. But a blanket? Absolutely not. Not for me, anyway.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, always a pleasure to have you here with us, infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center.

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