A Focus on the Most Vulnerable
Biden’s statement “could have been phrased better,” says Paul Offit, MD, an infectious disease expert and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But, he says, things are different now than in early 2020.
“We are in a different place. Now most of the population is protected against severe disease [either by vaccination, infection, or a combination].”
The effect of that protection is already playing out in requirements, or the lack of them, Offit says. At the pandemic’s start, “we mandated the COVID vaccine at our hospital [for employees]” Now, the hospital won’t mandate the new bivalent vaccine.
The focus moving forward, he agrees, should be on the most vulnerable. Beyond that, he says people should be making their own decisions based on individual circumstances and their risk tolerance.
One important and looming question, Offit says, is for scientists to find out how long people are protected by vaccination and/or previous infection. Protection against hospitalization and severe disease is the goal of vaccination, he says, and is the only reasonable goal, in his view, not elimination of the virus.
Biden ‘Is Right’
Taking the oppositive view is Leana Wen, MD, an emergency medicine doctor, health policy professor at George Washington University, and frequent media commentator, who says Biden should not be walking back his comment that the pandemic is over. “He is right.”
She says the U.S. has entered an endemic phase, as evidenced by social measures – many people are back to school, work, and travel – as well as policy measures, with many locations relaxing or eliminating mandates and other requirements.
There is disagreement, she says, on the scientific measures. Some say that over 400 deaths a day is still too high to call a pandemic endemic. “We are not going to eradicate the coronavirus; we need to live with it, just like HIV, hepatitis, and influenza. Just because it’s not pandemic [in her view] doesn’t mean the level of disease is acceptable or that COVID is no longer with us.”