This is my prediction that by the end of February or maybe March, as more and more of the population gets infected. However, due to the confusion promoted by the news reporters, as well as social media and changes seen in most pandemics the population has become confused.
All of a sudden there is the push to use N95 and KN95 masks as the effective face protection.
But listen here, the use of N95 and KN95 masks were always the most effective, but the scientists were “silenced” and as long as you were wearing some sort of face masks or facial coverings “everyone” was satisfied. But listen carefully, the cloth and paper masks never were and protection from any virus. Remember that viruses are measured in microns, not inches or millimeters, etc.
Also, as Omicron takes over, we are seeing the effects and power of the portion of the vaccinated. Yes, they will get sick, but many will be asymptomatic and therefore will never be counted as infected. Which is my biggest problem with the Administration sending out millions of home self-tests. So, they are going to send out 500 million to a population of about 400 million people, which means that you can use the test once. Many times, the tests will be read as negative due to the timing of the infection and then what.
Also, with self-testing, if your tests are positive, who will report their positive tests? Therefore, will our future data on which we make decisions be accurate? Actually, No and we are already seeing this happen with all the home self-tests already being sold. And then the “sick” patients should self-quarantine, that if they are honest and care about those around them and those who matter to them, or just care about society.
This new variant/mutation is more contagious, and our population is exhausted. If you don’t believe me just review the New Year’s Eve celebration from Nashville or New York city. The crowds were huge and there were very few masks being worn!
Omicron not peaking nationally yet, surgeon general says. COVID-19 is sending mixed messages. The U.S. is recording over 800,000 cases a day for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, and hospitalizations are also setting records.
But New York State recorded only about 48,000 cases on Friday, almost a 47% drop from the previous week’s case count, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday.
“We are turning the corner on the winter surge, but we’re not through this yet,” the governor said in a statement.
Minnesota also saw declining intensive-care hospitalizations for COVID-19, and cases have been falling in Washington D.C. and other cities in the eastern half of the country.
But New York’s declining trend is not indicative of the national COVID-19 portrait, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned on Sunday.
“The entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he told CNN host Jake Tapper.
Oklahoma and Georgia both saw over a 100% rise in weekly COVID-19 cases, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows, while Colorado saw a 90% increase.
“We shouldn’t expect a national peak in the next coming days,” he said. “The next feel weeks will be tough.”
Also in the news:
The United States has reported its 850,000+ deaths, Johns Hopkins University data shows. The U.S. averaged 1,776 reported deaths per day over the last week.
The Biden administration on Wednesday will launch a website where Americans can order up to four free COVID-19 testing kits per person.
U.S. Rep. David Trone of Maryland announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Trone said he has received a booster and is experiencing “only minor symptoms,” according to The Washington Post.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has signed an executive order requiring all government workers on the tribe’s vast reservation to receive a booster shot.
Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 65 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 850,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 326 million cases and over 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.9% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What we’re reading: Omicron is closing daycare centers in droves. Parents are “just trying to stay afloat.” USA TODAY’s Alia Wong explains.
US now averaging 800,000 new cases each day and stated that the total deaths are now over 900,000.
The United States is reporting more than 800,000 cases a day for the first time, even amid signs that America’s omicron wave is slowing down. The country reported 5.65 million cases in the week ending Saturday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The rapid acceleration of case reports continues despite a shortage of tests. Still, in just the last week the country has reported more cases than it did in March, April, May and June 2021 – combined.
About 158,500 Americans were reported hospitalized on Saturday. Hospitals in 46 states report rising numbers of patients; 34 states report rising death rates.
Mike Stucka noted that we continue to push mask mandates, social distancing, vaccinations, and possible additional lockdowns.
With the majority of really sick hospitalized patients, actually about 72%, were non-vaccinated.
I just had a young lady with four children who notified me earlier in the week that because she had a few home self-tests she tested her sons with two of the boys just having sniffles or a minor sore throat. And three tested positive. And I believe that this is going to be the majority of COVID positive patients, that is minimal or no symptoms and therefore, not self-quarantining and therefore becoming super-spreaders.
COVID Vaccines Are a Scientific Feat, but ‘Prevention’ Is a Misnomer
— In public messaging, semantics matter
Rossi A. Hassad, PhD reported that especially since the advent of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and the increasing incidence of infection and reinfection among those fully vaccinated and boosted, I have heard from a number of people whose concerns reflect the following sentiment, “You recommended the vaccine to prevent COVID-19, I took it, and this is what I got (infected).”
Undoubtedly, these COVID-19 vaccines are a gift of life and continue to be safe and effective. Nonetheless, this sentiment is understandable, and in my assessment, it signals an urgent need for more precise labeling and messaging about the COVID-19 vaccines from the FDA.
On Dec. 10, 2020, at the invitation of the FDA, I gave a brief oral presentation at the open public session of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) meeting for emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. I ended my remarks as follows:
“In conclusion, the potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the identified risks. Therefore, I support the issuance of an EUA with the stipulation that the vaccine can protect against symptomatic disease. But at this time, it is not known if it prevents infection and transmission.”
The COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials and the resulting evidence show that the vaccines significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Nonetheless, in the labeling of the vaccines, and messaging to healthcare providers and the general public, the FDA specified that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen vaccines are indicated for the “prevention of COVID-19” — this may have fostered an unrealistic expectation of absolute protection or immunity against COVID-19. By scientific convention, a vaccine is generally characterized as a primary prevention measure for a specific disease: that is, “you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.”
Over the summer, on Aug. 2, 2021, I emailed FDA’s Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, regarding the word prevention, which the FDA has used to characterize the scope of protection provided by the three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S. I noted that the word prevention in this context seems to be a misnomer and can contribute to public confusion and vaccine hesitancy. In particular, in light of the increasing number of breakthrough cases, the public may be inclined to believe that the COVID-19 vaccines are losing effectiveness. I also urged the FDA to provide clarification to the public in this regard. Woodcock responded the same day as follows:
“Thank you for writing. We will take your suggestions into account. I agree that the expected results of vaccination are confusing for most people. It is very likely that vaccination prevents acquisition of infection in some people but not all vaccinated people and that some get symptomatic infection and rarely, severe disease, and this may be related in part to their overall immune system response, the variant they were exposed to, and the actual amount of exposure and the time since their last vaccination, among other things.”
Notably, in September 2021, the CDC tempered its definition of vaccination to reflect that vaccines produce “protection from a specific disease,” rather than “immunity to a specific disease.” (In either case, immunity was defined on the same CDC page as “protection from an infectious disease.”)
Woodcock’s response continues to reflect the performance of the COVID-19 vaccines. Prevention of COVID-19 is not the intended primary benefit of these vaccines. In fact, Woodcock and Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently made the point that most people will get COVID eventually. These vaccines continue to significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death — and that’s an amazing scientific feat amidst a deadly pandemic. Attention to timely and effective messaging to healthcare providers and the general public should be a top priority for the FDA. Semantics matter.
(When) to Boost or Not to Boost, That Is the Question
— Countless complex questions remain
John P. Moore, PhD noted that for several months, America has been in the vaccine-booster phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Various aspects of booster policy have been controversial and/or confusing, and the public response to the need for boosters has been mixed. But what is the best way to continue to provide the sensible majority who trust in the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines with the best protection in the coming months to years? At times, it seems as if some folks believe “a dose a day keeps the doctor away.” And a meme is now circulating of a “Pfizer Loyalty Card,” offering a free pizza after dose nine. While droll, might that actually happen? (Dose nine, that is).
While the strong protective efficacy of the mRNA vaccines was certainly not predicted early on in the global vaccine program, a basic understanding of vaccine immunology allowed us to predict that protective antibody titers would inevitably wane over a 6-month period and could be restored with a booster dose.
The Early Booster Debates
In summer 2021, data from Israel triggered discussions among policymakers, scientists, and company executives about the need for boosters in the U.S. The vaccine booster concept wasn’t — or shouldn’t have been — inherently controversial, particularly for individuals at high risk for COVID-19 complications. However, there were doubts about the arguably premature timing of, and rationale for, a broadly based boosting program. Arguments were also raised about using those doses in under-vaccinated countries instead, both on moral grounds and to prevent the emergence of even more troubling variants (e.g., Omicron…). Other debates centered on whether the goal was to protect against mild infections (which vaccines typically don’t do) or severe disease and death. These discussions generally faded away once it became clear that protection against severe infections was diminishing significantly for older individuals, and that fully vaccinated people could still transmit their infections to others. In addition, anxious members of the vaccine-embracing public, including members of the media, put pressure on the Biden administration. A vaccine boost became something that Jane Public and Ronnie Reporter wanted, and, frankly, expected.
Americans can now be boosted 5 months after their initial two mRNA vaccine doses of Moderna or Pfizer. The far fewer recipients of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine are also being boosted, most opting for an mRNA dose as that provides a stronger antibody response.
But what’s next? Already, Israel is rolling out a fourth Pfizer dose and is therefore well on the way to handing over a slice of pizza. Should we do the same here, and if so, when? In the hope that any policy decisions will be science-based, I will review some of the knowns and unknowns. Whatever knowledge I possess has been significantly boosted by helpful discussions with world-class immunologist colleagues.
Determining the Right Booster Schedule
Most agree that dose three (i.e., the first boost) should not be given too early. The period between the second and third dose is critical to the maturation of the immune response and establishment of immunological memory. As the quantity of antibodies in the blood declines, their quality increases, including their ability to counter variants. While there is no “magic moment” for dose three, the original CDC recommendation for a 6-month gap for both mRNA vaccines and the recent revisions to 5 months are both about right.
But what about dose four and onwards? Is there a point when it is certainly needed? Here, we don’t have hard data, although there are early indications from Israel that the antibody responses to Pfizer dose three are now dropping. That should not be a surprise, based in part on decades of experience with attempts at an HIV-1 vaccine. As but one illustrative example, an HIV-1 “spike protein” vaccine was given seven times to humans over a 30-month period. After the first two immunizations, every subsequent one triggered a rapid rise in antibody levels, followed by a gradual decline at a similar rate each time. The titer pattern over time looked like saw teeth. In the period between boosts, the antibody levels didn’t disappear, but the boosted peak levels weren’t much higher each time — there were ever diminishing returns to the potency of each booster dose.
Perhaps we will see something different with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and maybe the mRNA delivery method will be the charm — but I wouldn’t bet the farm on a dramatically different outcome to our experiences with the HIV-1 spike protein. In other words, boosting is likely to increase protective antibody levels in the short term but probably won’t be truly sustained (T-cell responses, which help to prevent severe disease, also wane but more slowly). If the pandemic persists, fairly regular boosting may therefore be needed, akin to the annual flu vaccines.
However, this scenario also invites more questions about the intervals between doses: the HIV-1 vaccine study discussed above used a 6-month interval between the later doses, probably because prior experience showed that was when the boosted titers dropped back to near baseline. The Israelis, however, are now giving the fourth Pfizer vaccine dose about 4 months after the third. Is that too soon for comfort? Well, for sure, it should be no sooner than that…and most immunologists I talked to favor a longer interval. Given the cost and logistics, some important decisions will need to be made soon.
Our political and public health leaders have much to consider and will need to decide whether there is a need to sustain a high level of protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and mild COVID-19.
Will We Keep Boosting…Forever?
What about the future? There is nothing inherently problematic with giving regular, sensibly spaced vaccine doses from an immunology perspective. Different COVID-19 vaccines can clearly be mixed when given sequentially. A recent HIV-1 vaccine study in monkeys involved nine doses of mRNAs, proteins, and protein-nanoparticles over a ~14-month period in a heroic attempt to broaden the neutralizing antibody response (the major obstacle to a successful HIV-1 vaccine). Next-generation, more potent COVID-19 vaccines may eventually play an important role. We’ll also need to explore alternative ways to deliver vaccines, whether based on immunology or emerging technology. What happens should be dictated by the trajectory of the pandemic, including the evolution of yet more variants. So far, despite vaccine manufacturers going ahead with their own plans, the case for variant-specific vaccines has been weak. Although, it’s possible the need for them may change in the coming months as Omicron continues to spread; and now what about the new variant, Deltacron?
Boosting J&J Vaccine Recipients
Additional complications are at play too: What’s the right approach to boosting J&J vaccine recipients? They can receive a second dose 2 months after the first, but in most cases that dosing interval is many months longer (and, as noted, most opted for an mRNA boost at that point). When should they receive a third dose? For the mRNA vaccines, the critical period for immunological quality improvements is the ~6-month interval between doses two and three (see above), but when does that happen for the J&J vaccine? In the long and rather random interval between doses one and two? After dose two? Or both? Could a third dose in the near future be too soon for comfort? Having more data would help.
Factoring in Natural Immunity
We also need to consider how to — or whether to — factor in immune responses induced by vaccine breakthrough infections, which are becoming increasingly common. Although breakthrough Omicron infections are generally not severe, the viral antigens will surely trigger a boosting effect in vaccine-primed immune systems — some members of the public are now embracing this idea. And we know that vaccinating previously infected people generates particularly strong immune responses (“hybrid immunity”). We can expect a lot of data on this topic in the next month or so, but for now we have to speculate.
But what happens when vaccination precedes infection? Should a two-dose vaccine recipient who is then Omicron-infected receive a further vaccine dose and, if so, when? Similarly, what happens if a triply vaccinated person becomes infected? Given how mutated the Omicron spike-protein is, an infection with this variant is likely to trigger the production of antibodies that have a lesser impact on new variants that more closely resemble the ones that circulated in 2020-2021. They would, however, be better poised to counter any variants that emerge from the Omicron lineage, as would Omicron-based vaccine boosters. In short, we need to determine how to factor in the combination of vaccination and infection history, and also how the pandemic may further evolve, to devise an optimal boosting approach. There are important scenarios that policymakers and serious immunologists must ponder soon. Otherwise, far-reaching decisions will be taken on the fly, which is never ideal.
The U.S. is blessed with an abundance of COVID-19 vaccines and world-class scientists. Our complex scenarios merit the most qualified experts to figure out the best paths forward. I, for one, look forward to reading what might emerge. I need that guidance to answer with greater confidence the questions I am frequently asked by friends, colleagues, and random members of the public. “Winging it” is becoming as tiresome as it is tiring.
Now that we have two antiviral medications that can be taken after a patient gets infected, I predict that all will change and that by the middle of February the pandemic will be declared over and be classified as an endemic. That will mean that we will be” instructed” to simply get our “up-dated shots” yearly with our updated flu vaccinations.
Infact, Moderna is already working on a combined vaccine to include updated influenza and COVID vaccines, which would be “offered” yearly.
So, can we get back to normal? Maybe! We still have to continue to assess the use of vaccines to those under the age of 5 years old. Once we have critically evaluated and cleared vaccines and antiviral medications for these young potential patients, we will have a safer healthcare system to “return to normal”.
As nations decide to live with the virus, some disease experts warn of surrendering too soon. The coronavirus isn’t going away, but that doesn’t mean resistance is futile, scientists say.
Joel Achenbach wrote that Nations around the planet are making a subtle but consequential pivot in their war against the coronavirus: Crushing the virus is no longer the strategy. Many countries are just hoping for a draw.
It’s a strategic retreat, signaled in overt and subtle ways from Washington to Madrid to Pretoria, South Africa, to Canberra, Australia. Notably, few countries today outside of China — which is still locking down cities — cling to a “zero-covid” strategy.
The phrase often heard now in the United States and many other nations is “live with the virus.” That new stance is applauded by some officials and scientists and welcomed by people exhausted with the hardships and disruptions of this global health emergency entering its third year.
But there are also disease experts who fear the pendulum will swing too far the other way. They worry that many world leaders are gambling on a relatively benign outcome from this omicron variant surge and sending messages that will lead people who are normally prudent to abandon the social distancing and mask-wearing known to limit the pathogen’s spread. Epidemiologists say the live-with-it strategy underestimates the dangers posed by omicron.
“This notion of learning to live with it, to me, has always meant a surrendering, a giving up,” World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said.
Virologist Angela Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan likewise fears that people are relaxing sensible precautions prematurely: “I understand the temptation to say, ‘I give up, it’s too much.’ Two years is a lot. Everybody’s sick of it. I hate this. But it doesn’t mean actually the game is lost.”
The WHO officially declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30, 2020, when there were 7,711 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 170 deaths in China, and another 83 cases scattered across 18 other countries — and no deaths.
Two years later, the virus has killed more than 5.5 million people, and the pandemic is ongoing. But the global health emergency has evolved — reshaped by the tools deployed to combat it, including vaccines. The virus itself and the disease it causes are now so familiar, they have lost some of their early spookiness.
No national leader would ever say that it’s time to quit the struggle, but the tone of the contest has changed, with little talk of beating, crushing, defeating the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is part of the world now, a “pantropic” virus that can infect people, deer, minks, rats and all sorts of mammals.
Many nations continue to impose mask requirements, vaccination mandates and travel restrictions. But few leaders in democratic societies have the political capital to take harsh measures to suppress transmission. Even the arrival of the ultra-transmissible omicron variant did not throw the world back into winter 2021, when the paramount goal remained stopping viral spread at all costs — much less back to spring 2020, when people were told to stay home, wipe down their groceries and not touch their face.
Even officials in Australia, long a fortress nation that sought to suppress the virus at all costs, have chosen to ease some mandates in recent weeks.
Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic — shown at a training session Jan. 11 in Melbourne, Australia — has been in a pitched battle with health authorities because he lacks required coronavirus vaccination credentials. (AP)
The country has gained global headlines for its treatment of unvaccinated tennis champion Novak Djokovic, who flew in for the Australian Open and immediately ran afoul of the government’s virus protocols, spending the better part of a week in a detention hotel. On Friday, Australia’s immigration minister canceled the player’s visa a second time.
But the other national story in Australia is a debate over the relaxed restrictions. National and state leaders had an agreement that strict measures would end when vaccination reached 80 percent of the eligible population. That threshold was reached months ago, and now more than 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated. Masks are still required in some indoor settings, and there are capacity limits, but opposition leaders and some experts have decried what they call the “let it rip” strategy.
“The decision to remove restrictions just as Omicron surged has cost us dearly,” declared a report from an independent group of experts called OzSAGE. “The ‘let it rip’ strategy and defeatist narrative that ‘we are all going to get it’ ignores the stark lived reality of the vulnerable of our society.”
In South Africa, where officials first sounded the alarm about omicron, the government in December eased protocols, betting that previous encounters with the virus have given the population enough immunity to prevent significant levels of severe illness. The omicron wave there subsided quickly with modest hospitalizations, and scientists think one reason is that so many people — close to 80 percent — had previously been infected by earlier variants.
Omicron also appears to be less virulent — less likely to cause disease. This heavily mutated coronavirus variant stiff-arms the front-line defense of antibodies generated by vaccines and previous infection but does not seem to be adept at invading the lungs or escaping the deeper defenses of the immune system.
In the ideal scenario, omicron’s alarming wave of infections will spike quickly, leaving behind a residue of immunity that will keep a broad swath of the population less vulnerable to future infections. This would be the last major, globally disruptive wave of the pandemic. The virus would still be around but would no longer be in a special category apart from other routinely circulating and typically nonfatal viruses such as influenza.
There are other scenarios less attractive. Scientists are quick to point out that they don’t know how long omicron-induced immunity lasts. The virus keeps mutating. Slippery variants packing a more powerful punch could yet emerge, and virologists say that contrary to what has sometimes been conjectured, viruses do not inexorably evolve toward milder strains.
But humans change, too. Outside of locked-down China, most people are no longer immunologically naive to the coronavirus. Scientists believe that’s a factor in omicron’s relatively low severity for individual patients. In the long term, humans and viruses tend to reach something like a stalemate. Only one disease-causing virus, smallpox, has ever been eradicated.
In the short term, experts believe omicron is essentially unstoppable but of limited threat to individuals even as it causes societal chaos. Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said he believes that about half of the U.S. population will be infected with omicron during the next three months, with most cases asymptomatic.
“There’s no way to stop its spread — unless we do measures like China is doing, and you and I know very well that’s not possible in the United States,” Mokdad said.
There is no unified global response to the pandemic. Despite calls to “follow the science,” scientific research cannot dictate the best policy for some of the stickiest issues — such as when to open schools to in-person learning, or who should be prioritized for vaccines, or whether people who have no symptoms should be regularly tested.
The national strategies typically reflect elements of a country’s culture, wealth, government structure, demographics and underlying health conditions. Also, geography: New Zealand has managed to record only a few dozen deaths from covid-19, one of the lowest per capita death tolls on the planet, by leveraging its isolation in the South Pacific.
Japan, Singapore and South Korea, nations with a long history of mask-wearing and aggressive measures to suppress epidemics, have managed to keep the virus largely in check without draconian lockdowns or major sacrifices to their economies.
Peru, hammered by the variants dubbed lambda and gamma before the delta and omicron waves arrived, has had the deadliest pandemic per capita, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking site. The nations of Eastern Europe, with older populations and high vaccine skepticism, are not far behind.
Countries have different and sometimes unreliable ways of documenting the pandemic, but some general trends are clear. Among the wealthiest nations, the United States — where the pandemic is thoroughly polarized, misinformation is rampant, and a significant fraction of the public has resisted vaccination — has had an unusually deadly pandemic. According to the Hopkins tracker, the United States ranks 21st in reported deaths per capita. Britain is not much better at 28th, while Canada is 82nd.
A group of doctors who advised President Biden during the presidential transition have urged a reset of the strategy to recognize the “new normal” of the virus, which has little chance of being eradicated and will probably continue to cause typically mild illness and require vaccination boosters at a frequency yet to be determined.
Biden took office nearly a year ago vowing to crush the pandemic, having won the presidency in part by emphasizing a more aggressive posture against the contagion than President Donald Trump. Biden’s administration pushed vaccination hard and saw millions of people a day roll up their sleeves during the spring. On July 4, after caseloads had dropped, he assembled a crowd on the South Lawn for a celebration of independence from the virus.
But the surge of infections and deaths from the delta variant proved that celebration to be premature, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidelines, saying even those people fully vaccinated should resume wearing masks indoors. The delta wave began to subside in the fall, but then omicron, crammed with mutations that make it wildly more transmissible and evasive of immunity, erupted in late November.
Biden’s omicron strategy is not significantly different from what he employed against previous variants. On Dec. 2, he detailed his plans by first announcing what he would not do: “lockdowns.” He vowed to distribute 500 million rapid tests and doubled the number in recent days. His covid task force continues to emphasize the importance of vaccines, therapeutics and testing rather than restrictions on mobility and gatherings.
Fatalism and fatigue
The strategic shift toward the live-with-it strategy in many nations, including the United States, has often gone without formal acknowledgment from national leaders. Spain is one of the exceptions: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said he wants the European Union to stop tracking covid as a separate disease and recognize that it is becoming an endemic pathogen.
Across the Pyrenees, French nightclubs closed as omicron swept through. Indoor masking is required, regardless of vaccination status. In bars, patrons are not allowed to consume alcohol while standing up. France, like Italy and many other European countries, has leaned heavily on vaccine passports.
French President Emmanuel Macron is blunt about his desire to make life uncomfortable for the unvaccinated by limiting their ability to go into public places. In a newspaper interview, he used graphic language that has been translated into English as “I really want to piss them off.”
Many global leaders, including those in the United States and Europe, have focused on vaccination as the key to mitigating the pandemic. The vaccines do lower the risk of severe illness. What they do not do as well is stop transmission and mild infection. The speed of omicron’s spread is the key factor in the equation that determines how much pressure it will put on hospitals — which are currently seeing record numbers of covid patients in the United States.
“If we just completely let everything go and allow the omicron epidemic to run its natural course, we’ll completely overrun our health system and be left in a situation potentially worse than what we experienced in early 2020,” said James Lawler, co-director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security.
He is not seeing the precautions he saw early in the pandemic, when he was among the first disease experts to sound an alarm about the extreme transmissibility of the coronavirus. Earlier this week, he went to a grocery store and was virtually alone in wearing a mask. That’s the norm, he said, in Omaha.
“There’s not a mandate,” he said. “Across the entire experience of humanity, we should have learned by now the only way to get high levels of compliance like this is to make it mandatory. That’s what happened with seat belts.”
After Lawler made those comments, a county health commissioner imposed a mask mandate covering Omaha, but the Nebraska Attorney General filed a lawsuit to block it.
There is fatalism mixing with pandemic fatigue and, in some countries, science denial or ideological rejection of the restrictions and mandates that many public health experts consider to be common sense measures in a pandemic. And anecdotally, people may rationally feel the battle is lost, the virus has won.
Public health officials warn that this is a dangerous attitude. It’s true that for an individual, risk might be low. But when a virus spreads as quickly as omicron does, the equation suddenly spits out alarming results — millions of people sick at once, many of them with underlying conditions that have already put them on the edge of a cliff and vulnerable to a shove.
Rasmussen, the University of Saskatchewan virologist, is among the experts who think people have misunderstood the concept of endemicity — which is the point at which a virus continues to circulate at low levels but is not generating epidemic-level outbreaks. She fears some people hear the “endemic virus” talk as a sign that resistance is futile.
“People think that means we just give up,” she said. “They think ‘endemic’ means that we’re all going to get covid eventually. I’m hearing people say, ‘Why not just get it over with now, and I’ll be bulletproof?’ None of this is what endemicity means.”
Endemic COVID doesn’t mean it’s harmless or we give up, just that it’s part of life
Catherine Bennett discusses the eventual change in her article. We have experienced many bumps in the road since 2020 and one would have to be extremely brave to predict what the pandemic may throw at us next.
But in terms of the endgame, many experts believe COVID will eventually become an endemic disease. However, what this actually means is a source of considerable confusion. One of the main reasons for this is a misunderstanding of endemicity itself, and what COVID being an endemic disease would actually look like in the real world.
Let’s break it down. What does ‘epidemic’ actually mean? A disease is either epidemic or endemic. The most straightforward explanation of an epidemic disease is that it’s one in which the number of cases in the community is unusually large or unexpected. When this occurs, it signals a need for public health action to bring disease transmission under control.
In the case of a pandemic—a worldwide epidemic—this occurs on a much larger scale. Depending on the infectiousness and severity of the disease, it can represent a global public health emergency, as we’ve seen with COVID.
When you have the emergence of a completely new virus like SARS-CoV-2 that has the potential to cause severe illness while also being highly transmissible, the lack of any immunity among the population results in the drivers for disease spread being incredibly strong.
A disease being epidemic indicates there’s an imbalance between these drivers of disease spread and the factors limiting spread in the community. In short, it means the drivers for disease spread overpower the factors limiting spread. As such, the disease spreads like a raging bushfire. It’s explosive and hard to bring under control once it has seeded.
From epidemic to endemic
However, over time, the underlying forces driving an epidemic alter. As immunity begins to increase across the population—ideally in a controlled way by vaccination, but also by natural infection—the pathogen starts to run out of fuel and its ability to transmit falls. Pathogens can include a variety of microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. In this case, let’s assume we’re talking about a virus.
On top of immunity, we can also reduce a virus’ ability to spread by behavior changes, such as 1 / 3 limiting contact with others, mask wearing and improved hand hygiene. In addition to lowering the virus’ ability to transmit, immunity also reduces its ability to cause disease, meaning fewer people become really sick or die.
And finally, if we are lucky, over longer periods of time, the virus may also evolve to become intrinsically less severe. When will the COVID-19 pandemic end?
The net result of this is we move from an imbalance in terms of the forces driving disease to a steadier state of equilibrium. Instead of explosive and unpredictable disease spread, we reach a point where the presence of circulating disease represents a lower threat to the community than it did at the beginning of an epidemic.
Transmission becomes more predictable, but not necessarily constant—we may still see some waves, especially seasonally. But these are expected and manageable. In short, we start to live alongside the virus.
This is what we mean by an endemic disease. Examples of endemic diseases include the common cold, influenza and HIV/AIDS. Endemic doesn’t mean we drop our guard. The discussion around COVID becoming endemic becomes even more complicated by very different views about what this actually translates to in practice.
It’s important to emphasize it doesn’t mean we drop our guard, surrender to the virus or downgrade the threat the virus poses to individuals and the community. We remain vigilant and respond to surges in cases when they occur, doing what’s needed to keep transmission as low as possible.
Importantly, a disease being considered endemic doesn’t mean we consider it mild. It just means it remains a part of our lives, and therefore we still protect the vulnerable from severe illness, as we do with other diseases. It’s crucial we understand living with the virus isn’t the same thing as ignoring the virus. Instead, it represents an adjustment in the way in which we respond to the disease.
It’ll be a bumpy ride. It’s also important to highlight this transition may not necessarily be smooth and there will no doubt be challenges along the way. One of the main obstacles we’re going to face is the possible emergence of new variants and how these will impact the infectiousness and severity of the disease.
In order to reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging, it’s vital we really step up our rollout of vaccines globally to reduce virus transmission. To aid us in our transition to this next stage of the pandemic, we will, thankfully, be able to draw on many new weapons which are in the pipeline. This includes next-generation vaccines which will be more effective against the latest variants, or universal vaccines that cover all variants. We expect new vaccines will also be better at controlling transmission.
We’ll also have ever-improving treatments, and better infection prevention and control engineered for specific environments. The big question, of course is when will this transition to endemicity happen? Many experts, 2 / 3 believe huge strides will be made along this path in 2022.
It has been reported by the WHO that Omicron sub-variant has been found in 57 countries. A sub-variant of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus strain, which some studies indicate could be even more infectious than the original version, has been detected in 57 countries, the WHO said Tuesday.
The fast-spreading and heavily mutated Omicron variant has rapidly become the dominant variant worldwide since it was first detected in southern Africa 10 weeks ago. In its weekly epidemiological update, the World Health Organization said that the variant, which accounts for over 93 percent of all coronavirus specimens collected in the past month, counts several sub-lineages: BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.3.
The BA.1 and BA.1.1—the first versions identified—still account for over 96 percent of all the Omicron sequences uploaded to the GISAID global science initiative, it said. But there has been a clear rise in cases involving BA.2, which counts several different mutations from the original including on the spike protein that dots the virus’s surface and is key to entering human cells.
“BA.2- designated sequences have been submitted to GISAID from 57 countries to date,” The WHO said, adding that in some countries, the sub-variant now accounted for over half of all Omicron sequences gathered. The UN health agency said little was known yet about the differences between the sub-variants, and called for studies into its characteristics, including its transmissibility, how good it is at dodging immune protections and its virulence. Several recent studies have hinted that BA.2 is more infectious than the original Omicron.
Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the WHO’s top experts on COVID, told reporters Tuesday that information about the sub-variant was very limited, but that some inital data indicated BA.2 had “a slight increase in growth rate over BA.1”
Omicron in general is known to cause less severe disease than previous coronavirus variants that have wreaked havoc, like Delta, and Van Kerkhove said there so far was “no indication that there is a change in severity” in the BA.2 sub-variant. She stressed though that regardless of the strain, COVID remained a dangerous disease and people should strive to avoid catching it. “We need people to be aware that this virus is continuing to circulate and its continuing to evolve,” she said. “It’s really important that we take measures to reduce our exposure to this virus, whichever variant is circulating.”
Merck to Deliver 3.1 million Treatment Courses of COVID Antiviral
Ralph Ellis reported that a little more than a month after receiving FDA authorization, Merck has delivered 1.4 million courses of its COVID-19 antiviral pill in the United States and expects to deliver its total commitment of 3.1 million treatment courses soon, company CEO Rob Davis said on CNBC.
Merck has also shipped 4 million courses of the pill, molnupiravir, to 25 nations across the world, he said. “We’ve shown that molnupiravir works against Omicron, which is important against that variant,” Davis said Thursday morning. “And obviously we’ll have to see how this plays out and what is the initial uptake, but right now we feel we’re off to a good start.”
In June the U.S. government agreed to buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion and in November agreed to buy an additional 1.4 billion courses for $1 billion.
The FDA granted emergency use authorization in late December to two antivirals for people who contract COVID: Merck’s molnupiravir and Paxlovid, which is produced by Pfizer. The drugs are designed for people with mild or moderate COVID who are more likely to become seriously ill — mainly people 65 and older or people who have chronic illnesses such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, obesity, or compromised immune systems.
Both antivirals require a five-day course of treatment. Merck’s is for adults ages 18 and older, and Pfizer’s for anyone age 12 and up. In clinical trials, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in Covid patients by 30% but slashed the risk of dying by 90%, Davis said.
“The fact that molnupiravir does reduce the risk of death by 90%, we could have a meaningful impact in helping patients,” he said. Davis told CNBC that Merck sold $952 million in molnupiravir pills in the fourth quarter and is on track to rack up an extra $5 billion to $6 billion in sales in 2022.
Last week, Merck said laboratory studies showed molnupiravir was active against the Omicron variant. In December, Pfizer said preliminary lab studies also suggest the pill will hold up against the Omicron variant.
WHO official sees ‘plausible endgame’ to pandemic; Medicare to provide up to 8 free tests per month: COVID updates
John Bacon,Jorge L. Ortiz and Celina Tebor wrote in USA Today that the director of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said Thursday that coronavirus deaths are starting to plateau, and the continent faces a “plausible endgame” to the pandemic.
Dr. Hans Kluge said there is a “singular opportunity” for countries across Europe to take control of COVID-19 transmission as a result of three factors: high levels of immunization because of vaccination and natural infection, the virus’s tendency to spread less in warmer weather and the lower severity of the omicron variant. Data in the U.S. is similar to the data from Europe, providing similar hope.
“This period of higher protection should be seen as a cease-fire that could bring us enduring peace,” Kluge said.
At WHO’s Geneva headquarters, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world as a whole is far from exiting the pandemic.
“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines, and because of omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity, preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” Tedros said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
So, with the announcement that Pfizer has submitted their studies on 6 months to 5-year vaccine approval, the antivirals and the vaccine statistics, that the change to COVID-19 to be transitioned to the classification as an Endemic is right around the corner.
US Exiting ‘Full-Blown Pandemic Phase’ of COVID, Fauci Says
Carolyn Crist wrote the latest prediction from Dr. Fauci. The U.S. is heading in a positive direction in the pandemic as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decline, said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Vaccination rates, treatments, and prior infections will make the coronavirus more manageable in 2022, Fauci told the Financial Times. Broad mandates and mitigation protocols will begin to be lifted.
“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” he told the newspaper. “There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus.”
The U.S. is reporting an average of 240,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, according to the data tracker from The New York Times. That’s a 63% decline from the previous 2 weeks.
About 100,000 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s also down 28% in the past 2 weeks.
At the same time, about 2,600 deaths are being reported each day, the newspaper reported, which is the highest level seen in the U.S. in a year.
Fauci said COVID-19 restrictions around the U.S. will end soon. He didn’t give a specific timeline but said it was likely to happen in 2022.
Some states have already begun to lift pandemic rules as COVID-19 cases subside. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon, and New Jersey announced on Monday that they would lift mask mandates for schools and other public spaces throughout February and March. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul dropped New York’s mask mandate as well.
At the same time, Fauci stressed that the coronavirus won’t be wiped out and people will have to learn to live with it. Health officials may soon reach an “equilibrium” where they don’t need to monitor infection levels as closely, he said.
“I hope we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection that the COVID restrictions will soon be a thing of the past,” he said.
And I believe that we are just about there!
This is my prediction that by the end of February or maybe March, as more and more of the population gets infected. However, due to the confusion promoted by the news reporters, as well as social media and changes seen in most pandemics the population has become confused.