These '3 key actions' could end the pandemic and make COVID-19 'manageable': medical expert

These '3 key actions' could end the pandemic and make COVID-19 'manageable': medical expert
HONOLULU, Hawaii - Lt. Col. Ronald Cole, Public Health Command-Pacific's Human Health Services director and a public health nurse, receives the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, on Dec. 23, 2020. The inoculation was part of the Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration plan that is a phased, standardized and coordinated strategy for prioritizing, distributing, and administering COVID-19 vaccines to protect DoD personnel, maintain readiness, and support the national COVID-19 response.

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post on October 6, former Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana S. Wen delivers some good news and some bad news about the COVID-19 pandemic. The bad news: the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to Dr. Wen, is "here to stay for the foreseeable future." The good news: COVID-19 can be turned into a "manageable problem" — and she lays out "three key actions" that could help bring that about.

COVID-19, the world's deadliest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919, has — according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — killed more than 4.8 million people worldwide, including over 707,700 in the United States and more than 599,000 in Brazil. At this point, those who are most likely to die from COVID-19 are the unvaccinated. And 75% of U.S.-based adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19.

"To start," Wen explains, "we must first accept that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future…. We should also acknowledge two realities. First, it's unlikely we will see the virus suddenly become less lethal. In fact, new mutations could result in more contagious and more virulent variants. Even worse would be if such variants evade the protection of existing vaccines."

Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, continues, "Second, while we should continue to try to achieve population immunity through widespread vaccination, we will likely not be able to suppress infections to very low levels any time soon…. Here's the good news: Despite these realities, I believe we can turn COVID-19 from an existential crisis into a manageable problem with three key actions."

According to Wen, the "key actions" that need to be taken are: (1) "We must have vaccines available for younger children," (2) "We need oral, outpatient treatment for COVID-19," and (3) "We must have free, readily available rapid tests."

Wen notes that "one in four" new COVID-19 infections are in children and that "hundreds of kids have died from COVID-19," adding that "thankfully…. the Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a meeting of its advisory committee to review Pfizer's vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds for October 26.

Also "on the horizon in the not-too-distant future," Wes writes, is "an antiviral pill" from Merck "called Molnupiravir that it says can cut hospitalization or death by about 50%."

"To be clear, antiviral pills would not be a 'cure' for COVID-19, and it's obviously much better to be vaccinated and not contract the virus in the first place," Wen emphasizes. "However, there are about 70 million Americans who have so far chosen to remain unvaccinated. If taking a pill means that infected patients are half as likely to require a hospital bed, that can help relieve the stress on our health care system and save countless lives."

Wen laments that testing for COVID-19 "remains a hugely underutilized infection-control strategy in the United States" compared to Canada, the U.K. or Japan.

"We need as big a push for testing as we had around vaccines, with the aim to produce enough tests for every American to be tested at least twice a week," Wen recommends. "With the addition of free, accessible testing, we could reach a point within the next several months when COVID-19 is no longer a major consideration when making decisions around work, school, social engagements and travel."

Wen adds, "The end of the pandemic is not an elusive concept. Barring the terrible circumstance of a much worse variant developing, I believe that we have already passed the darkest days of COVID-19. The virus may be here to stay, but if we are armed with the right tools, it no longer needs to dominate our lives."

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