Doctor cuts through confusing CDC messaging: ‘Be vaccinated' and ‘get boosted'

Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Hilary Fairbrother joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how children are at risk with the spread of the coronavirus due to the fact that they aren't eligible to get vaccinated yet and how the Omicron variant is evading natural immunity.

Video transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back, everybody. The CDC has been busy updating guidance and expanding booster availability for Americans, including now allowing 12 to 15-year-olds to get the extra shot. Our health reporter Anjalee Khemlani here now to break it all down for us, because, Anjalee, it's getting really muddy and pretty confusing.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: It is, Alexis, unfortunately. It really is. And there have been several reports really analyzing just what's going on at the CDC and the confusing messages coming out there. So let's focus on boosters for today, because that's really the crux of what the CDC has taken action on this week.

So yesterday, we got the advisory panel recommending that 12 to 15-year-olds get that booster dose from Pfizer. And that's after the FDA already authorized it. And the CDC took Swift action and went ahead and approved and created those guidelines. We also know that this week, they did approve booster doses for those kids who are 5 to 11-year-olds who are immunocompromised.

And that's really adding that extra layer of protection as we see Omicron continue to surge around the country. In addition to that, we saw that based on data that shows just a bit of waning efficacy in the vaccines, especially against this highly infectious disease and this new variant, the time between a primary course and a booster has now been reduced to five months rather than six specifically for the mRNA vaccines.

There is probably going to be some guidance as well in addition for Johnson & Johnson. We know that previously, the guidance has been that adults have to get the booster-- should get boosters, rather, after the primary course and that those individuals 16 to 17 years old may get boosters. So we're seeing a lot of change as the administration tries to keep up with the changing variants, and we expect more guidance to come down as things continue to change. Back to you.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Anjalee Khemlani, thanks so much. I want to bring in Dr. Hilary Fairbrother now, an Emergency Medicine Physician. And, Dr. Fairbrother, thank you so much for being with us. I'm just curious what you're seeing there on the ground being a physician dealing with emergency cases.

We're hearing sort of on a large scale that it's more children who are being hospitalized this time around with the Omicron variant and most of them are unvaxxed. Can you tell us what your personal experience has been?

HILARY FAIRBROTHER: So definitely the most important thing that you can do for yourself, for your loved one to stay out of the hospital with COVID and severely ill from COVID right now is to be vaccinated. And the next best thing that you can do is get boosted. Now, unfortunately, for children under five, that's not an option.

And so we are really seeing this younger child group pay the price of continued coronavirus sweeping our country. And such a large volume of cases means that some of those children are going to get very sick and that they are going to need hospitalization. And that is really tragic. But since those children are not eligible by age to be vaccinated yet, they really have no other protection except for all of us hopefully protecting ourselves and decreasing the spread of this very contagious disease.

- Doctor, since we are seeing so many more children's cases, younger and slightly older ones, then is it the right time for them to be back in school? Or should they be sort of moving to remote learning, at least for right now while we're waiting for this surge to sort of die down a little bit-- hopefully in the next few weeks? Do you support that or do you think it's best for them to be in school?

HILARY FAIRBROTHER: Unequivocally, children being in school is better for kids. It's better for parents. It's better for our economy. Many kids have food that they have access to at school, safety at school, and just the problems that the trickle-down effect after children are not in school and the impact that it has on our workers and just on our economy in general is enormous.

I think each community is making this decision as to the number of cases in their community and their spread. Absolutely, children should be masked at school right now if they are in school, certainly during this Omicron explosion across the United States. It's really the only way to keep staff at school, in my opinion, these days.

If children are not wearing masks and we're not doing everything with testing that we can do to mitigate any outbreaks that occur within our school systems, I don't know how we can even expect there to be teachers or other staff to keep schools open, period. And certainly, I have heard of schools having to shut down because there aren't enough teachers and administrators to keep them open.

So I think we're in a tough place. And there are some communities that really might have to go to virtual learning, which is terrible for everyone and I think really should only be used as a last resort option when everything else has failed. Certainly, I think masking is a no-brainer at this point, and all children at school should be masked for their own safety and for the safety of the administrators and the educators at the schools.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Doctor, you use the word explosion for Omicron-- it truly does feel that way. You know, there's one line of thinking that says, you know what? The more people who get this, we're going to reach herd immunity-- haven't talked about herd immunity in quite some time-- and that in some ways, you can look at this and say, well, maybe because this is a milder variant and so many people are getting it, that's seen as a positive-- perhaps the virus is losing steam and the more people who have gotten it, it'll be harder for the virus to find a host. Do you think there's any truth to that line of thinking?

HILARY FAIRBROTHER: So I've heard a lot of parallels drawn between the early-1900s flu epidemic. And I think we've all heard those, and seen those, and read about those parallels being drawn. And now Omicron certainly is more contagious than Alpha, or Delta, or any prior variant. And it does seem to be at least slightly milder, which is wonderful.

Listen, all of the doctors and people across the world are rejoicing that maybe this is a little bit milder. I think the problem with herd immunity is that is really taking into account that this virus won't mutate significantly and we might not have a very significant variant roaming around that has nothing to do with Omicron that really doesn't see any natural immunity from people who have been sick with Omicron.

And that's kind of what we saw with Alpha and Delta. So I guess what I'd better explain by that is that for patients who had Alpha or Delta, they seem to have next to no immunity when it comes to Omicron. There is some evidence that there's slightly less severity in disease, and other people have certainly seen patients who are very sick with Omicron who have already had COVID.

And so the best protection that we have is vaccination. This idea of natural immunity is not really panning out with this virus. And I think part of that is because Omicron has so many mutations, and there's really no way to know what the next variant will have. So the best protection is to get vaccinated, to practice social distancing, wash your hands, wear a mask when in public.

And then from there, hopefully the next variant, hopefully things will keep being mild, hopefully we will move our way through this, or mitigate COVID, or live in our new COVID world. But all of these things will be much easier if we can get the people of the United States and the world vaccinated.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Doctor Hilary Fairbrother, emergency medicine physician, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

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