Carlos Del Rio, MD, updates clinicians and the public on where we are now on the respiratory virus and the modalities to treat and prevent severe disease.
Last Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a global public health emergency. Although this is mostly perfunctory news, it does demonstrate the virus has become less significant to public health.
“Globally, we are seeing a decrease in the number of cases, and a decrease or stabilization in the number of deaths,” confirms Carlos Del Rio, MD, interim dean, Emory University School of Medicine and interim chief, Academic Office for Emory Healthcare.
Del Rio does say that although the incidence rates are down, he acknowledges a caveat, specifically that there has been less testing overall as well as a greater number of people testing at home. He does note there are other unique indicators to help give an understanding of where we are with COVID-19 such as wastewater surveillance.
Another significant point to underline is that millions of people in the United States do remain vulnerable to the respiratory virus and people are still dying from it every week.
In light of this, he points to the value that vaccination still holds. “The benefit of vaccination continues to be it is very good protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Del Rio says. “Vaccines are not very good at preventing infections, especially with the current variants. There’s been a significant amount of immune escape.”
Del Rio was invited to speak at the recent ACP conference, and he presented a scientific session, COVID-19 Update 2023: Where Are We Now?
There have been other recent developments including the CDC and FDA recommending the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA bivalent COVID-19 vaccines be used for all vaccinations in the United States. Also, Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, has decided to step down as director of the CDC at the end of June.
As COVID-19 undergoes a transformation that is settling into an endemic phase, clinicians and the public will need to accept the fact people will continue to contract the virus.
For those people that do, antivirals are available. “For people over the age of 65 and have mild or moderate COVID, the use of antivirals, like Paxlovid, are frequently indicated,” Del Rio says. “People might say, ‘I don’t have severe symptoms so I don’t need treatment.’ And we need to remind people to get treated, not because they have severe symptoms or not, but they have risk factors for severe disease.”
Contagion spoke to Del Rio who offered perspective on the virus today, if we have enough antivirals, and what the new FDA and CDC recommendations using the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines does for clinicians and the general public.
To check out all our coverage from the ACP conference, go to our page with all articles and interviews.