Op-Ed: No, Mr. President, the pandemic is not over

On “60 Minutes” on Sunday, President Biden declared “the pandemic is over.” Effectively into our third 12 months of battling COVID-19, all of us want that have been true. However sadly, that could be a fantasy proper now. All the information inform us the virus just isn’t contained. Far too many individuals are dying and struggling. And new, worrisome variants are on the horizon.

There are 400 to 500 People dying of COVID every day, and that prime every day demise toll has remained fixed for the final six months. In July, we have been down to only over 200 deaths per day, half of the place we at the moment are. A every day toll within the a whole lot is a tragedy, as a result of most COVID deaths may have been prevented by vaccinations, boosters and early therapies.

It’s not simply the deaths. There have been greater than 2 million confirmed new COVID infections within the final month, and contemplating the untested and unreported instances, the true quantity is a a number of of that, likely no less than fivefold. This implies the virus remains to be fulfilling its principal goal of discovering an enormous variety of new or repeat hosts to assist unfold and perpetuate itself.

Some share of those individuals who get contaminated or reinfected will develop lengthy COVID, manifesting persistent and incessantly disabling signs for a lot of months or years. There may be nonetheless no validated therapy for lengthy COVID. The one means to make certain of stopping it’s to by no means change into contaminated.

In June 2021, we have been at our nadir, averaging fewer than 12,000 new confirmed instances within the U.S. per day. That’s containment of the virus, a stage we will dwell with, related to low numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. It’s in no way “zero COVID,” the coverage of suppressing all infections, which has proved to be unattainable world wide. However it’s achievable.

However that didn’t final as a result of new variants got here on the scene, first Delta after which the Omicron variant and subvariant household in successive waves. The virus considerably developed to evade our immune response and change into way more contagious. The parable that the virus would finally change into milder has been absolutely debunked.

We’ll stay susceptible if we faux the pandemic is over. The US is a adverse outlier for booster pictures, with only one in 3 People having had any booster shot. For folks 50 and older, only one in 4 have had a second booster (fourth shot) regardless that repeated research have indicated a lifesaving profit from the second booster. The U.S. at the moment ranks 72nd on the planet for its booster charge, which is extraordinary given we’re the lead producer of vaccines, have been the primary to validate them, and are buying and losing tens of tens of millions of pictures that can’t discover a recipient. Each different wealthy nation on the planet has no less than double our booster charge.

We should always redefine “fully vaccinated” to imply no less than three pictures, not simply the preliminary two. However the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention refuses to budge on that definition.

We should always encourage all eligible People to get the brand new boosters, that are absolutely aligned with the present BA.5 variant that accounts for nearly 90% of instances. But the uptake has been disappointing, leaving the nation extremely susceptible. And now the president has declared “the pandemic is over,” which absolutely won’t assist to get extra People boosted.

Two intertwined, troubling points additionally illustrate why that assertion is disconnected from the science.

First, there’s now robust proof of imprinting, that means that after being uncovered to an earlier pressure of COVID-19, we don’t mount as robust an immune response to new strains. This offers the virus an additional edge. Not solely are some new variants extra evasive of our immune system, but additionally our our bodies are much less able to taking them on after we do combat again.

Then there are the brand new variants which have already surfaced, reminiscent of BA.2.75.2, which reveals extra evasion of our immune system than any prior model. It’s sadly inevitable that this variant, or one other one with many new, necessary mutations, will result in one other wave months from now. Such variants are so distinct from what we’ve been uncovered to — what our immune techniques acknowledge after infections and vaccines — that we are going to be much less protected towards future waves.

We desperately want a option to block infections and transmission, together with extra sturdy, efficient and variant-proof vaccines.

One asset that might encourage extra folks to get boosted, and can be higher at blocking infections and unfold, can be nasal, oral or inhaled vaccines, fairly than a shot. Two such vaccines have lately obtained approval in China and India, however the U.S. has not backed any of those packages. Nor has it made any robust commitments to growing second-generation vaccines — not boosters, that are like reworking a home, however really new vaccines with extra highly effective nanoparticles containing antigens or mRNA that would tackle your entire sarbecovirus household.

That may very well be a part of how we get to some extent of credibly saying “the pandemic is over.” To claim this, it takes a glance again after we’ve got achieved a sturdy, steady, low variety of infections and their sequelae for a lot of months.

We’ll get by means of this, however we’re not by means of it but.

Eric J. Topol is a professor of molecular medication at Scripps Analysis and writer of the publication Floor Truths.