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COVID cases continue to rise at a record rate, breaking 800,00 in America for the first time the other day—and hospitalizations are rising as well. With them, somehow optimistically, hope is rising also. With all these infections, plus all the vaccines, maybe we will reach "herd immunity" and this pandemic may soon turn into an endemic—meaning, a virus we can learn to live with. Maybe. But also maybe not, warned Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He spoke this morning at the World Economic Forum conference, during the "COVID-19: What's Next?" panel. Read on for five points of life-saving advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Dr. Fauci Warned More Variants Could Come and Make Things Worse
Don't clink champagne glasses yet. Omicron may not necessarily infect everyone, give us all immunity, flame out and poof—that's the end of the pandemic. "When you talk about whether or not Omicron, because it's a highly transmissible, but apparently not as pathogenic, for example, as Delta, I would hope that that's the case, but that would only be the case if you don't get another variant that eludes the immune response to the prior variant," warned Dr. Fauci. "For example, we were fortunate that Omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless is not as pathogenic, but the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity. So I really do think forseeing that it is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is gonna be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for, because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging."
Dr. Fauci Warned We are Not Near the Endemic Phase Yet
Dr. Fauci admitted he didn't know if 2022 is the year when we go from pandemic to endemic. "When I talk about the pandemic, I put it into five phases," he said. "The truly pandemic phase, where the whole world is really very negatively impacted as we are right now when there's the deceleration of the pandemic. Then there's control, there's elimination, and eradication. I think if you look at the history of infectious theses, we've only eradicated one infectious disease and that's smallpox. That's not gonna happen with this virus. Then there's elimination—elimination means when you get rid of it in your own country, but it's somewhere not in your country, but it's there. For example, polio has been eliminated in the United States and in many nations. So the next one up the ladder is control. Control means you have it present, but it is present at a level that does not disrupt society. And I think that's what most people feel when they talk about endemicity, where it is integrated into the broad range of infectious disease is that we experience—for example, the cold weather, upper respiratory infections, the para-influenzas, the rhinovirus, the antivirus. You want to get it at a level that doesn't disrupt society. That's my definition of what endemicity would mean—a non-destructive presence without elimination." We are not there at all right now.
Dr. Fauci Warned Herd Immunity is Going to be "Very Elusive"
Herd immunity will be "a difficult calculation because when you talk about herd immunity, and you talk about the protection in the community where you combine those who've been vaccinated with durable protection, and those who've been infected, recover with durable protection. However, when you have a virus in which the infection causes immunity, that seems to wane rather quickly. In addition, when you're dealing with a vaccine, that's an extraordinary, a successful and protective vaccine where the immunity also wanes there, and you have then the third ingredient is the virus, which has….this extraordinary capability of mutating, developing new variants. And the new variants can be alluding the immune response. And we're seeing that with Omicron where Omicron fortunately is not as pathogenic inherently, but when you look at its protection, particularly against infection to a lesser degree against severe disease, it does elude the immune response. That's a different scenario than what we see when you have a virus like measles, which does not really change very much and gives you almost lifelong immunity. And you have a measles vaccine, which does not give you anything changing, but allows you to have rather lifelong protection. That's the ideal herd immunity with dealing with a very complicated situation here makes a classic definition of herd immunity very elusive."
Dr. Fauci Said Disinformation About COVID is "Destructive"
"There are some inherent nonbelievers that no matter what you say give you a real problem," said Dr. Fauci. "One of the things that, that we, I believe the entire world is facing, but we certainly are facing it in a very, very disconcerting way in the United States is the amount of disinformation that is accompanying what should be a problem where everyone pulls together against the common enemy, which is the virus. We have disinformation that is entirely destructive to a comprehensive public health endeavor. And I'm not sure how we're going to counter that except by getting out as much correct information as we possibly can and use the social media in a way as opposed to in the somewhat destructive way that it is being used right now."
Final Word From Dr. Fauci
"We know if we all pull together as a society, we would be much, much better off," said Dr. Fauci. "I mean, even at its best, this is such a formidable virus in its ability to do the things that's already done with multiple waves and multiple surges and multiple variants. But you make the virus have an advantage when you don't implement in a unified way." So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.