White House public health officials offered cautious optimism that Americans could begin to move on from coronavirus, but cautioned that keeping immunity vaccination up to date and combating scientific disinformation remained key for the country to successfully emerge from the three-year Covid-19 pandemic.
“If you look at where we were a year ago at this time, when [coronavirus variant] Omicron started to surge, we were having 800,000 to 900,000 infections and 3,000 to 4,000 deaths [a day]. Today, we had less than 300 deaths. Yesterday, we had 350 deaths, and … anywhere from 27,000 to 45,000 cases” Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the US president, said.
“That is much, much better than we were a year ago. But if you look at it in a vacuum, it’s still not a great place to be,” Fauci told CBS Face the Nation on Sunday.
But he acknowledged that “everybody’s got Covid fatigue … and people just want it behind us.”
The infectious disease expert, who is retiring at the end of the year after many decades as a leading public health official, said Covid was still concerning and “it is not at a level low enough where we should feel we’re done with it completely because we’re not.”
Separately, the White House Covid response coordinator Ashish Jha, told ABC’s This Week that: “It’s been, obviously, a long 2.5 years for Americans, and we understand that people want to move on. The good news is people can move on if they keep their immunity up to date.”
The officials’ comments comes as the White House undertakes a campaign to encourage the public to get the new Covid boosters, designed to combat Omicron, as well as flu shots. The low take-up of both this fall has disappointed health experts, with just 11% of the population accepting the latest Covid vaccine and 42 million Americans receiving this year’s flu vaccine.
“We think it’s incredibly important as we head into the holidays for people to update their immunity, get the new Covid vaccine, get the flu shot,” Jha said.
Both Fauci and Jha addressed concerns that Covid vaccine hesitancy had translated into flu vaccine hesitancy in some states even as a “tripledemic” of flu, Covid, and the respiratory virus, RSV – hitting children and the elderly hardest – is straining hospitals in some places.
“We know these vaccines are incredibly effective. They’re very safe. That’s point number one,” Jha said. “Our strategy is get out into the community, talk to religious leaders, talk to civil society leaders, community-based organizations, have them get out to the community and talk to people.”
Fauci said he had been “very troubled” by the divisive state of American politics and its effects on public health.
Asked why he thought the anti-vaccine movement, which had long existed among a minority on the left, is now prevalent among some conservatives in the US, Fauci blamed an expansion and amplification of anti-science, anti-vaccine thinking.
He said it was “something I’ve never seen in my 54 years in medicine at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] is that the acceptance or not of a life-saving intervention is steered very heavily by your political ideology”.
“Why would you ever want to see that ‘red’ [Republican-voting] states are under-vaccinated and ‘blue’ [Democratic-leaning] states are pretty well vaccinated and there are more deaths among red state Republicans than there are among blue states Democrats?” he added. “Divisions of political ideology … shouldn’t be a reason why you get sick or you don’t get sick.”
Meanwhile, Jha said that China’s aims for zero-Covid, where fresh outbreaks across the vast nation result in lockdowns and now protests and crackdowns, was unrealistic.
“Obviously, that’s not our strategy. We don’t think that’s realistic, certainly not for the American people. Our strategy has been build up immunity in the population by getting people vaccinated,” he said.