President Biden’s COVID diagnosis on Thursday is a reminder that not only is the virus an ever-present risk but also that we are in the midst of a surge of two extraordinarily transmissible variants.
Biden has just returned from a short trip to the Middle East and a quick day trip to New England. Despite his team’s best efforts, he has clearly been exposed to someone infected with COVID.
The fact that Biden is 79-years-old puts him at a higher risk compared to a healthy 40-year-old, but he has a number of things going in his favor. To my knowledge, he is pretty fit for his age and doesn't suffer from other severe co-morbidities, such as diabetes or immunosuppression.
Even more importantly, Biden has access to amazing scientific advances that did not exist when former President Trump tested positive for COVID in October of 2020. Biden’s COVID experience will be very different than if he had caught this nine months ago, much less 21 months ago.
That’s not because the virus itself has become more mild, but rather because we have made such tremendous strides with prevention and treatment—all of which offer us hope amid the ongoing pandemic.
Biden is vaccinated and twice-boosted. Those steps he has taken to protect himself significantly decrease his risk of hospitalization and severe illness. (By up to 80 percent, even in the face of the new variants, according to one study published this month.)
Now add the antiviral drug Paxlovid, which President Biden is taking, into the mix. This new medication—three pills, twice daily, for five days-reduces his risk of severe disease or hospitalization even further. Although nothing in medicine is 100 percent, this puts his risk of something bad happening pretty darn close to zero.
Based on preliminary data, Biden is also less likely to develop long COVID, thanks to the vaccine and treatment.
For Biden–thanks to vaccinations, boosters, and Paxlovid–COVID is more likely to be a discomfort and an annoyance, rather than something serious. I wish that were true for all of us.
We cannot forget that some Americans remain at higher risk despite vaccination and boosting because they are getting treatment for cancer or have other immune issues.
The good news is these modern miracles that make COVID lower risk for Biden are available to every one of us in the United States. However, only 23.6 percent of Americans aged 65 and older are vaccinated and double-boosted, according to the CDC.
Nevertheless, as an emergency physician and public health professional, I cannot emphasize this fact strongly enough: Every American over 50 should be vaccinated and twice boosted.
Although Paxlovid is theoretically available to all Americans–thanks to the Biden administration’s test-to-treat program–the reality is that most of us don’t know to ask for it and many are unable to get a prescription, even if eligible. Furthermore, access to this drug is likely to drop further this fall, considering the lack of action in Congress to continue funding COVID preparedness and treatment plans at the federal level.
At the end of the day, if I were treating Biden, I would tell him the same thing I tell all my vaccinated patients in the emergency department, which is, “I’m glad you’re vaccinated and boosted. If appropriate, let me prescribe you Paxlovid to decrease your risk further. Secondly, take it easy until you’re feeling better. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, for fevers and body aches. And finally, if you’re not starting to feel better in 5 to 7 days, or if you start to feel much worse at any point, please see your doctor for further evaluation.”
My overall level of concern for Biden is relatively low, but I’m going to be keeping a watchful eye on him for the next week, as I would for anyone.
Ultimately, I want everyone to know that what he’s getting for treatment is not out of reach for the rest of us and that–with proper prevention, testing, and treatment protocols–we can help make COVID a less lethal disease for all.
The world is watching when a US President catches COVID–offering us new opportunities to talk about why everyone should take steps to prevent the spread, be vaccinated and boosted, and have access to the best treatments that science can produce.