First, I wanted to thank everyone who expressed concern after my Last Post outlining how I got infected with COVID-19. I want you to know that I’m doing very well. Being 10 days out from symptoms and diagnosis, and viral antigen negative, I’ve now returned to my normal activities.
Several important things happened this week. Dr. Fauci announced that the United States had exited the “pandemic phase” of this illness. While there has been political debate around this statement, not to mention court rulings and noise from the talking heads on television, new medical findings support that statement.
The BA.2 variant “wave” has proven much milder than its Omicron twin. While BA.2 infections have increased 50% in the past two weeks, the overall level of infections remains much lower that last winter’s Omicron surge. Hospitalizations have increased minimally (11%), ICU admissions (-4%), and deaths (-24%) have both decreased during this time.
This milder wave may be due to several factors. Weather is better across the country and people are outdoors, where the virus is harder to spread. The BA.2 variant may cause less severe disease than Omicron, but that has not been seen in test tube experiments. The biggest finding, though, is the disconnect between cases and severe illness and deaths; this is almost always the result of prior immunity. In this regard, two findings announced last week are crucial.
Vaccinations continue to increase. Over 80% of individuals over the age of 5 and 95% of those over 65 years are fully vaccinated. This is an impressive accomplishment given the slow uptake and disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Equally important, the CDC has now found that Omicron has basically “boosted” the immunity of most Americans. Well over 60% of adults and 75% of children have been infected. Also, data from our group and others has shown that the combination of immunity from infection and vaccination is stronger than from either source alone.
Thus, based on immunity alone, Dr. Fauci’s statement about being “beyond” the pandemic phase is justifiable and correct.
A final note. I was happy to see the government echo my support for the broad use of Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral drug, to treat COVID-19. Unfortunately, it has caused a bit of a run on the drug and made it harder to obtain. Also, many report that doctors seem reluctant to prescribe Paxlovid, seeming to want to restrict it to only the most severe cases.
Paxlovid is approved for anyone over 15 years of age. If you have significant symptoms from COVID you should take it unless you have a medical problem (allergy, metabolic disease) that excludes it. Call one of the government’s “test to treat” sites to get further information if it is not available from your physician.