Not so fast, Mr. President. Outgoing presidential COVID adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday walked back President Joe Biden’s assertion that the coronavirus pandemic was “over.”
A lot depends on how we respond to current variables and future virus variants, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said during a fireside chat with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And much of that is up to the American people.
“How we respond and how we’re prepared for the evolution of these variants is going to depend on us,” Fauci said. “And that gets to the other conflicting aspect of this — is the lack of a uniform acceptance of the interventions that are available to us in this country where even now, more than two years, close to three years, into the outbreak, we have only 67% of our population vaccinated and only one-half of those have received a single boost.”
Biden cited the dropping infection, death and hospitalization rate, as well as the fact that people were relaxing protective protocols when he spoke to “60 Minutes” anchor Scott Pelley.
“The pandemic is over,” Biden declared in answer to Pelley’s question during an interview that aired Sunday night.
Fauci had a slightly more tempered take.
“We are not where we need to be if we are going to quote ‘live with the virus’ because we know we are not going to eradicate it,” Fauci said. “The next question we ask: ‘Are we going to be able to eliminate it from our country or from most of the world?’ and the answer is unlikely because it is highly transmissible and the immunity that’s induced by vaccine or infection is also transient.”
COVID-19 is still killing nearly 400 people daily, and though the pandemic is “heading in the right direction,” that did not preclude a resurgence caused by yet another variant, Fauci said.
The pandemic phase of the coronavirus outbreak certainly does seem to be ebbing, as even World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.
“We are not there yet, but the end is in sight,” he said at a news conference in Geneva, with worldwide deaths from the novel coronavirus dropping to levels matching those at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
It’s not clear how much of that drop is due to cases simply not being detected, given that countries worldwide have been relaxing protocols in recent weeks and months, even as the omicron BA.5 variant has taken over.