The rheumatologist Dr. Kanika Monga to discuss with Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers about the new joint security pledge signed by COVID-19 vaccine makers as U.S. cases top 6.3 million.
KRISTIN MYERS: We have had pharmaceutical companies signing a pledge to “put science first in the race for a coronavirus vaccine”. To check this and more, now comes Dr. Kanika Monga, a rheumatologist in Houston, Texas, added. So doctor, I want to start with that promise. I wonder if you believe that this promise will go far enough to restore public confidence in a vaccine that is currently causing some concern. Dr. Monga, you are muted right now so we can’t hear you yet.
KANIKA MONGA: Thank you very much. Better?
KRISTIN MYERS: Yes, we can hear you now, thank you.
KANIKA MONGA: Yes, I said, I hope so. There is already so much suspicion, so much misinformation about vaccinations. There are people who know better. As good as vaccinations are, they will always be cautious and always skeptical of what is to come. Given this current situation, it gives them another excuse. If they are like that, oh, it’s not under high standards, so why at all I really think this promise and the release will make a huge difference to at least gaining the trust of a few people.
KRISTIN MYERS: Now that promise comes right after many people raised their eyebrows after the president said, Hey, we’ll get a vaccine in time for the November elections.
KANIKA MONGA: Right right.
KRISTIN MYERS: That gave cause for great concern that this pandemic, and the vaccine in particular, may have been a little over-politicized, just, frankly, that we are far too involved in politics. I wonder what you think about it. Do you think politics has been too involved and too big a role in not just trying to get a vaccine out into the public eye, but just fighting this pandemic in general?
KANIKA MONGA: Yes. I mean, given this pandemic, it is unfortunately becoming clear how much politics is unfortunately influencing science. And that should never be the case. A lot of these vaccinations, drugs, all of this, the center has to be science, and the center has to be safety and effectiveness for the patients and the population. That’s the only way to do it. Only in this way have we ever been trained as doctors. It is really heartbreaking to see it turn out to be so, with so much politics involved. That should never be the case.
KRISTIN MYERS: So if not by the end of October, when do you think the most likely time for a vaccine to actually hit the market?
KANIKA MONGA: So when I hear guidelines or a deadline that says we have a vaccination by election day, why is that even, why are we discussing vaccinations and elections in the same sentence? The main goal of vaccination should be that it is safe and the studies show that it has worked even for our population. It doesn’t make sense to me to put it in the same sentence of an option. In fact, my goal, especially with the FDA, was that they would isolate the vaccination inspectors and protect them from any political pressure, really now, and I don’t think this is anything new.
I think they’re just repeating what they would have done anyway. But I think it’s so important that you say that now so that a lot of skeptical people can come on board. So maybe not by choice. I can’t predict when. But I hope early next year. But whenever it comes out, whenever or whatever that date is, I want it to be safe for people. And I want it to work too. Otherwise, what is it about?
KRISTIN MYERS: So now I want to switch to the vacation weekend we just had. We saw spikes after Memorial Day weekend, we saw spikes after Independence Day. I wonder what your concerns are if I asked you to be predictive, if you had a crystal ball, of what you think might come in the next two or three weeks after this holiday weekend. We’ve seen statistics that travel has actually skyrocketed nearly a million passengers a day with just airlines. When I hear a number like that, I worry very much that maybe people are traveling, people without masks, and we’ll see how those numbers start to rise.
KANIKA MONGA: Yes, I unfortunately believe that the cases will increase, as we have seen in the past with the holiday weekend. Whenever we start to loosen up the requirements a little, especially if we only wear one mask or even maintain that six feet of social distance, you see that risk. I therefore assume that the cases will continue to increase, especially due to the weekend. Colleges, campuses with lots of parties and gatherings, and I think people are just frustrated with how long this pandemic is going on. But the truth is, we have to hold on because this is very important to us. Especially during the holidays, keep in mind that we still need to make sure we are following all restrictions and guidelines that are important to preventing spread.
KRISTIN MYERS: So you pointed out something I want to talk about, especially in your state, as I mentioned it to everyone. They are currently located in Houston, Texas. I think Labor Day is a simple date on the calendar that everyone marks as the start of school. College students, college students have been in college for a few days and weeks. And we see news that surprise, surprise, college students do what college students do, what partying is. And this is where they have fun and they gather, which of course is not good news for school officials who want to keep their schools open.
So two questions. First, do you think or worry that schools, especially universities, as we know college students love to party and have fun when they are supposed to become these super-spreader locations? And then the second question is, I think, from a public health perspective. How can schools regulate student behavior that takes place off-campus in fraternity houses and sister houses? How do you keep college students from doing what they want, which is to get together and have a good time?
KANIKA MONGA: So a very good question. So I’ve been a student before. I went to UT Austin. I know a big part of campus and study is socializing. And that comes naturally with college. Now it is unfortunate that the backdrop for many of these college students is this pandemic. So it is very difficult to figure out what is right and how to really take on the responsibilities that you can be, but you cannot miss your college experience. Unfortunately, I think if the cases keep increasing and a lot of people are having parties with hundreds of students, not masks in a small space, then they will become places of super-proliferation. And that’s a big problem.
I know many sites were open for at least limited classes in person, but still offer that option for online classes. I think if the cases keep increasing and the students are not responsible for socializing and not really following the guidelines or following the restrictions that should be in place, then right now I am worried, yes there is a limited one Number of classes personally, they can take them away altogether And that would be very unfortunate if everything were just online. And then I think the second question you asked was, how can organizations, especially universities, students really govern? It’s a “catch-22” situation in my head.
I think universities can hold organizations accountable. You can hold accountable any kind of affiliation with various university sponsored organizations. But it makes it so difficult to get into the off-campus area and make sure people there are complying with the guidelines. It’s going to be so difficult. So I think what colleges or universities are going to do is they are likely to rely on restaurants, neighbors, maybe different apartment complexes to oversee their own rules and make their own guidelines for the residents of those places or people who run these restaurants visit and host events.