Top Virus Expert Warns This Is the "No. 1" Thing Vaccinated People Must Do Now
This may be the only thing that will keep COVID deaths from rising.
There is a clear disconnect across the U.S. in terms of the COVID pandemic right now. Some people are planning summer vacations, while others are masking back up as coronavirus cases start climbing back up. More than half of the U.S. population is still experiencing low virus transmission, but infections are rising, and many areas across the country have moved into medium and high levels of community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency's latest data shows that there has been an 18 percent increase in infections and a 24 percent rise in hospitalizations in the past week, largely thanks to the new Omicron subvariants circulating widely.
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But despite the rise in cases and hospitalizations, COVID-related deaths are still falling in the U.S. Even as the country closes in on the tragic milestone of one million deaths, the average number of new deaths caused by the coronavirus has actually declined by 1.2 percent in the last week, according to the CDC.
"What has been remarkable in the latest increase in infections we're seeing is how steady serious illness and particularly deaths are eight weeks into this," White House COVID response director Ashish Jha, MD, told the Associated Press (AP) on May 25. "COVID is no longer the killer that it was even a year ago."
According to Jha, this is the first time in the course of the pandemic that infections and deaths have not trended together. Fatalities usually start rising three to four weeks after cases experience an uptick. Jha said this new trend is an important development in helping Americans get back to normal, but it isn't just a stroke of luck.
"We are now at a point where I believe fundamentally most COVID deaths are preventable, that the deaths that are happening out there are mostly unnecessary, and there are a lot of tools we have now to make sure people do not die of this disease," Jha said.
These tools include vaccinations and treatments for the virus. But in terms of vaccinations, staying up-to-date with your shots is also important. In fact, Jha told the news outlet that the "number one" thing people can do now as the summer months approach is to "go and get boosted."
According to the CDC, about 220.7 million Americans—or 66.5 percent of the total U.S. population—have been fully vaccinated as of May 18. But of those, only 102.4 million people have gotten at least one booster dose. This means that nearly half of the total booster-eligible population has not yet received their additional shot. And despite this, the average number of vaccine doses being administered every day in the U.S. is declining.
"In places in the country where boosting rates are much lower, where the infection is starting to spread more, I am absolutely concerned that we're going to see, unfortunately, we may see more serious illness," Jha warned.
The White House is also setting its sights on the COVID treatment Paxlovid as summer rolls in and people start gathering in larger groups. According to the AP, the U.S. has ordered 20 million courses of Paxlovid from the drugmaker Pfizer, and is taking new steps to make the antiviral treatment more accessible across the country. This includes the development of test-to-treat locations where patients will get immediate access to Paxlovid once they test positive, and clearer guidance to physicians to help them determine how to manage Paxlovid's interactions with other drugs.
Jha said available tools like COVID treatments and vaccines can allow gatherings of all sizes to take place more safely over the next few months, but only if people take advantage them. "Being vaccinated and boosted is a huge part of making sure that those kinds of activities are substantially safer," he said. "And then, of course, we want to make Paxlovid as widely available across the entire country, so that if you do end up getting a breakthrough infection, you're still protected against serious illness."