The U.S. is in a “complicated” moment in the pandemic where cases are relatively low and hospitalizations close to the lowest levels since the start of the crisis, making many feel that it’s all over.
That’s not the case, according to one leading expert in an op-ed for CNN.com.
“‘Every four to six months since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen the emergence of a significant variant, including Delta in the spring of 2021 and Omicron in late fall of 2021. There is little reason to think we are done with viral evolution or that we won’t see more transmissible or immune-evasive variants in the future.’”
— Dr. Ashish Jha
Jha argues in the op-ed that the likelihood of future surges in cases makes it key that the country prepare and bolster its testing, masking and surveillance systems, including wastewater surveillance, which provides early access to new strains and variants.
“Stockpiling tests now, when the demand for them is low, will keep domestic manufacturing lines open for surge production and allow us to distribute tests better when they’re needed,” he wrote.
The U.S. also needs to expand protections for the most vulnerable, which include older people, the immunocompromised and people with disabilities. It also includes those people who are unable to be vaccinated as they do not produce an adequate immune response.
Treatments need not just to be widely available — they need to be publicized, he said.
“We now have plenty of Paxlovid — a highly effective oral antiviral pill — available in thousands of locations across the nation. It’s no longer in short supply, so we must keep expanding access, and getting the word out that Paxlovid is free and available,” he said, referring to the antiviral developed by Pfizer Inc.
Above all, the effort to get more Americans vaccinated should not be abandoned as vaccines, including variant-specific ones, still offer the best protection against severe disease and death.
“Continuing to purchase vaccines (including potentially variant-specific ones) and making them available, accessible and free to the American people remains a critical public health strategy,” said Jha.
Finally, the rest of the world must also be vaccinated, as every new major variant was first detected overseas before showing up in the U.S. “There is no domestic-only strategy for a pandemic — certainly not one that could possibly work,” Jha said.
All of these measures require funding, which means Congress must step up and provide the resources to ensure the U.S. does not end up at the back of the line for new vaccines and therapies, said Jha.