Call it the first wave of the pandemic, really Coronavirus Collide. The statistics may be difficult to parse—the U.S. stopped systematically collecting data on coronavirus cases months ago—but it is almost certain that more and more Americans are becoming infected. Coronavirus. In recent weeks, Jill Biden has gone into quarantine after testing positive, while John McEnroe missed much of the U.S. Open due to an infection.The virus has been increasingly showing up in wastewater since late June, especially in the Northeast Coronavirus Hospitalizations have nearly tripled nationwide.
Historically, though, this rise has been more of a ripple than a wave—three years of infections and vaccines and bodies that remember what they saw softened the viral outbreak. Despite the increase in cases, Coronavirus Hospitalizations remain about one-eighth of what they were at the peak of the pandemic, and coronavirus deaths are one-fifth of what they were at this time last year. This spring, the country’s excess deaths, a measure of how many Americans have died relative to past averages, fell to pre-pandemic levels, a sign that the emergency is indeed over. That doesn’t mean the threat has passed.
The virus continues to evolve, replicating billions of times in millions of people every day, and scientists are tracking the spread of two Omicron descendants in particular. EG.5 (unofficially known as Eris) has become the dominant variant in the United States, accounting for more than 20% of infections. While the variant is outcompeting its rivals and may be driving the recent rise in infection rates, it does not appear to cause more severe disease than previous variants, and treatments such as Paxlovid are effective against it. A second variant, BA.2.86, nicknamed Pirola, has been detected in a handful of states and at least ten other countries. It carries a series of mutations on its spike protein that are “similar in size to the evolutionary jump” made by the original Omicron variant, a virologist said, raising concerns about its potential to evade our defenses. But early evidence suggests this variant is not particularly transmissible and that our antibodies may provide a reasonable level of protection.
The current slew of variants, then, will most likely not tip our balance. Still, the continued evolution of viruses—and the inevitable emergence of future pandemic pathogens—warrants continued vigilance. Given the cost of the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine we’ll overinvest in responding to new infectious disease threats related to this or other viruses: In the U.S. alone, CoronavirusBy the end of this year, economic losses could reach $14 trillion—a figure close to China’s GDP. Yet the public and political will to fight infectious diseases appears to have evaporated, sometimes translating into hostility to the idea that we should do so. Opposition to established immunization requirements for childhood diseases has surged as more than half of states have recently taken steps to limit the power of public health officials.The coronavirus is no longer a top concern for most Americans, with only 17% saying it last year Coronavirus boosters, less than half of whom are over sixty-five. Can we make progress on issues when few people care?
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new Coronavirus booster. They are targeting the version of Omicron that will dominate in June, but they also managed to generate antibodies that neutralize the strains currently circulating. Like the previous boosters, they are expected to provide protection against severe disease for several months and may provide a short-lived defense against infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans get vaccinated, although some experts believe the benefit of a second shot is uncertain for young, healthy individuals who have been vaccinated and infected. (The UK currently only recommends booster shots for the elderly, those with chronic conditions and other specific groups.) Amid the debate, it’s easy to lose sight of a simple fact: For those at high risk, vaccinations can save lives.
Health officials have begun locating Coronavirus Booster vaccines are not a new thing—one to be dissected and debated—but a routine phenomenon, similar to the annual flu shot. This is really about making public health boring again. This may well be the right strategy, but it doesn’t feel like enough. For one thing, only about half of Americans get the flu shot. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that we can do better than chase the latest variants with boosters that provide a brief defense against the disease but do little to stop the spread. Some scientists are trying to develop vaccines that could provide long-lasting protection against not just current variants but a range of coronaviruses, or reduce the chance of contracting the virus by dramatically boosting antibody levels in the nose and mouth. It’s also possible that future vaccines will be administered via skin patches and nasal sprays — a palatable alternative to injections for people who are afraid of needles. NextGen, a $5 billion effort modeled after Operation Warp Speed by the Biden administration to accelerate advances in vaccine technology, released its first round of funding last month. But no one can say if and when such a vaccine will be available, or how many people will take it.
Politics may be the art of the possible, but it is also an exercise in prioritization.At the heart of the endemic challenge Coronavirus The public interest is waning, and in some corners, so are revisionist pundits. At the same time, due to pandemic fatigue, many Americans are now unwilling to accept inconveniences, let alone make sacrifices to reduce the risk of infection. We cannot abandon education, communication, and persuasion—the basic tools of public health—but for now, directing limited political and financial capital toward biomedical advancement may be the surest path forward.
The rapid arrival Coronavirus Vaccines have saved countless lives during the pandemic—a feat made possible because of decades of research and development that preceded it. A rapid response to an emergency depends on the investments we make before it arrives; a smooth return to normal life requires sustaining them after it passes. ❖