This Is When the Pandemic Will Finally Be Over, Former FDA Head Now Says
These new developments and policies put the U.S. on track for COVID containment.
When COVID vaccinations were first introduced in the U.S. nearly a year ago, many experts predicted that they would quickly bring about the end of the pandemic. Sadly, vaccination rates slowed dramatically over the summer, right as the fast-spreading Delta variant hit. While the U.S. has now gotten something of a hold on Delta's surge—as both COVID cases and hospitalizations have fallen by 7 and 10 percent in the last week, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the country is still far from the earlier prediction that the pandemic would be fully contained in 2021. But with vaccine mandates, child vaccinations, and booster shots, a lot of progress has been made in our fight against COVID in just the past few months, allowing experts to now have a clearer picture of exactly when the pandemic will finally be over.
During a Nov. 5 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said that the end of the pandemic might be closer in sight than many of us realize. According to Gottlieb, upcoming vaccine mandates will aid in moving the U.S. out of the trenches.
"These mandates that are going to be put in place by Jan. 4 really are coming on the tail end of this pandemic," he said.
On Nov. 5, the White House announced that employees of large companies, health care workers, and federal contractors must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. According to the administration, these mandates will cover two-thirds of all workers, with more than 84 million employees and 17 million health care workers impacted.
"By Jan. 4, this pandemic may well be over, at least as it relates to the United States after we get through this Delta wave of infection. And we'll be in a more endemic phase of this virus," Gottlieb said.
The former FDA head has previously discussed the end of Delta's surge and how it would likely be the last major variant the country sees. During an Oct. 4 interview, Gottlieb predicted that the Delta variant would die down by the end of November, as it finishes spiking in various regions of the U.S. like the West, Midwest, and potentially the Northeast, Reuters reported.
"I think this Delta wave is probably the last major surge of SARS-CoV-2 infection that we have in the U.S., barring something unexpected happening," he said. "It's largely coursed its way through the U.S., and so maybe by Thanksgiving, on the back-end of that, we'll start to see prevalence levels nationally decline in a more uniform scale."
Another key step in ending the pandemic before Jan. 4 is the recent authorization of COVID vaccines for kids. On Nov. 2, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, officially signed off on a Pfizer vaccine for children ages five to 11. According to the CDC, this new authorization covers about 28 million children in the U.S., which will significantly help to curb community transmission.
"I think the reason why a lot of people are overestimating the risk of coronavirus, or are still worried about it even if they're vaccinated … is because the kids are still vulnerable," Gottlieb said previously during a Sept. 27 interview on Squawk Box. "Once adults are able to vaccinate their kids, the anxiety about getting a breakthrough infection—knowing that you're probably not going to get very sick, your odds of getting very sick are very low if you're vaccinated, but you could bring it back into the house—I think that's going to start to resolve."
According to Gottlieb, being able to vaccinate children will also help move the U.S. from a pandemic to an endemic. An endemic virus is one that is still circulating, but at a relatively low frequency, like the seasonal flu. And some countries—like Portugal, which had the highest COVID vaccination rate in Europe during late October—have already hit this transitional period from pandemic to endemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"This is going to become more of an endemic illness where you just see sort of a persistent infection through the winter … but not at the levels that we're experiencing certainly right now," Gottlieb explained to CNBC on Aug. 13.