The researcher who accurately forecast the rapid decline of the omicron surge believes there will be no new surges in the United States until the end of 2022 unless a radically different variant emerges.
“We not expecting a bump in the United States like in Europe,” said Dr. Ali H. Mokdad of the University of Washington, where he is, among other titles, chief strategy officer for population health and professor of health metrics sciences.
Surging case numbers in Europe and China have had some experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, within the past week sounding an alarm about a subvariant known as BA.2, which could be considered a son of omicron.
“We’re monitoring what we are seeing in Europe,” Mokdad said. “Cases are continuing to decline (in the U.S.) despite change in behaviors.”
Those changes are that people are increasingly shunning masks and gathering more often.
In mid-January, Mokdad issued what at the time was a shocking forecast that omicron cases would soon wane because the variant would be running out of targets. And it did, after sweeping through the population.
Currently, the immunity against omicron is 75% to 80% of the population due to recent infections and vaccinations. So any variants within that omicron family should not cause another wave, he said.
“There’s no indication that the current variants are much different than omicron,” Mokdad said. “It all depends on what type of new variant.”
BA.2 is already in the U.S., with the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showing that 23% of the cases are of that subvariant, and it has been here for four weeks.
Four weeks after the initial arrival of omicron in December, it had pushed the delta variant almost completely out of the picture.
Mokdad said he can’t rule out isolated bumps in COVID cases in some spots in the U.S.
He added that the U.S. has an advantage over Europe and elsewhere: better vaccines.
“The mRNA vaccines are better than the assortment of vaccines available in Europe,” he said. “(The U.S. has) lower vaccination rates but better vaccines. We have more immunity than European counties.”
Mokdad recently spent a few weeks vacationing in Florida: “There is no COVID there in anyone’s minds. I was the only one wearing a mask.”
Mokdad’s other conclusions:
• Some states have dropped reporting COVID statistics to a weekly basis from a daily basis, and they need to get back to reporting on a daily basis.
• Due to the sweeping nature of the original omicron wave, the pandemic phase is over and the endemic phase has begun.
• A fourth dose of vaccine is not needed right now. “We should consider that in winter.”
• The U.S. and states should consider investing in, securing and distributing antivirals ahead of winter 2022-23 when close contact among individuals will likely bring a surge of cases.
• There should also be a plan to share ventilators in place by winter.
Vaccinations and booster/third shots have slowed to a trickle. That trend is likely to continue all year with protection wearing off to some extent.
“(That 75%-80% immunity) will start coming down and by the end of June we’ll go back to maybe 65% and will continue to all the way to winter,” Mokdad said. “At winter, … yeah we’ll be in a very bad position.”
At that time, there will have to be a push for more vaccinations, especially among the immunocompromised.
“A healthy person will experience symptoms but will not die from the virus,” he said.
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., said the current mood among the public is troubling.
“I’m concerned that people think that it’s over,” he said. “The virus is not going to disappear. (It will be) smoldering along at lower levels.
“It won’t be making as many people sick, so it won’t be as taxing on the health care system. (And the current climate among the public) could permit the spread of milder illness since people might not even test or vaccinate.”
The national seven-day average of cases is nearly three times higher than the average in June before the delta surge.
Schaffner lamented the vaccination level in the U.S., adding that most who are seriously ill are unvaccinated or undervaccinated.
The most recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health shows the state with 611 COVID hospitalizations, including 96 in intensive care.
The state does not break down the numbers by vaccination status. During the omicron surge, Tower Health and Penn State Health did break down the numbers by vaccination status.
Most of the time, most of the patients were unvaccinated or had only received one dose. Tower Health has gone to a once-a-week dashboard update, and Penn State Health has discontinued its dashboard.
Schaffner isn’t yet concerned about declining vaccination rates.
“The substantial majority of the vaccinated population still has very good protection,” he said.
He believes that the more people hear about the declining cases, the less concerned they are about protecting themselves with a vaccine.
The immunocompromised, the elderly and frail would pay the highest toll of complacency.
Schaffner said the booster is the baseline now.
“The first two (shots) were good but not good enough,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, 41.7% of the population has reached the booster level, CDC statistics show.
In terms of counties, the CDC shows Berks at 42.7% boosted, Chester, 41.8%; and Montgomery at 40.6%.
Schaffner said it’s likely that the best course of action will be for a fall COVID booster and a fall flu shot.
Source: Berkshire mont