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Virus Experts Just Predicted What Will Happen Next

“The reality is that COVID is likely to become endemic in this country.”
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Will coronavirus ever "end"? It doesn't seem that way, with the Delta variant causing a new surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Concerned, Former CDC Directors, Dr. Tom Frieden and Dr. Robert Redfield, and CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Services Officer, Lt. Alyson Cavanaugh, DPT, Ph.D. joined SiriusXM Doctor Radio's "Doctor Radio Reports" to discuss all things COVID, and the following 9 points about what may happen next—and where the virus came from—could save your life. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Is It True That COVID-19 Case Numbers Are At The Same, High Level For Unvaccinated & Vaccinated People? 

unrecognizable doctor trying to vaccinate its patient while she is refusing it.

Fmr. CDC Director Robert Redfield: "In the state of Maryland, and we're watching this carefully… if I looked at people that were newly diagnosed in the last seven days, 25% were among fully vaccinated people.. We did see 15% of them be hospitalized and we did see 2% of them die. So it's not like it's nothing, but I do agree with you, the majority of the people being hospitalized across the United States right now are among unvaccinated individuals. I don't want to take away from that message, please get vaccinated. But what I'm also trying to raise the message, the vaccines protective effect doesn't seem to be lasting forever. I just want to make sure that we don't underestimate the importance of maintaining that immunity, and I think this is where we need to be a little more aggressive. When I looked at renal transplant patients who are going through programs that have large groups of renal transplant patients, I find that maybe as many as 70% they'll have antibodies against the virus, despite being vaccinated. This tells me as a virologist and vaccinologist that I would be concerned that they're no longer protected. We've seen the same with cancer chemotherapy patients. I'm a little worried about the elderly in the nursing homes because unfortunately we're starting to see an uptick in infections back in nursing homes again. Well, I think that's what I would expect if there's a waning durability of the immune response that the group that we focused on getting vaccinated first would be the first to start to show breakthrough."


Where Are We Headed At This Stage Of The COVID-19 Pandemic?

female wearing protective mask while standing opposite the worker of airport and checking temperature

Fmr. CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden: "The reality is that COVID is likely to become endemic in this country. And it's going to change how we do a lot of things. It'll change our attitudes toward travel, toward large events, but it doesn't mean that we're stuck with this. If we basically get our vaccination rates up, if we have to tweak the vaccine, then if that happens, we should do it. The bottom line is we can make a much safer and more secure society by doing certain things. Tracking when the virus is up and down, protecting the most vulnerable, taking steps to decrease spread whenever it's increasing, recognizing that masking is going to probably have a role in the longer term."


Wouldn't You Rather Get Less Sick, and Not Die, Compared to Wearing a Mask?

sinesswoman wearing protective mask while traveling by public transportation.

Fmr. CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden: "During flu season, on the subway, wouldn't you be more comfortable if everyone were wearing a mask? That's what they do in East Asia, and they have much milder flu seasons. We don't give flu the kind of respect it deserves. Every year flu sends hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital and kills tens of thousands in this country. We kind of accept that as if it were the normal course of events, but it doesn't have to be."


What Has COVID Taught Us?

Two doctors wearing personal personal protective equipment

Fmr. CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden: "I'll end with really two points of optimism. The first is that COVID is showing us that our global health really is interconnected, and it's important to all of us to strengthen systems around the world to find, stop and prevent health threats. And second, I think that COVID may really facilitate our recognition that many of the deadly and expensive health threats that we're dealing with today are not necessary. They're optional. We can choose to implement public health programs that can relegate the history, many of the infections and conditions that today drive up healthcare costs and drive down productivity and life expectancy."


Back In January 2020, What Could The CDC Have Done Differently? What Caused The COVID Pandemic?


Robert R. Redfield
Courtesy of the CDC

Former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield: "One of the first, I think mistakes that was made as we began to confront this pandemic is sort of the immediacy of the scientific community to call this new COVID-19 virus SARS-like.. The second is, and it's part of a great debate, one of my greatest disappointments as a clinical scientist I think about all of this, is maybe the lack of scientific openness in terms of getting at the issue of what really caused this.. One is it's like SARS and it came from a bat to an intermediate animal, and then to humans.. the alternative hypothesis is that this came as a consequence of a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan..I wish the scientific community would have embraced both hypothesis with vigor and did what they could to try to come to a scientific answer as to what the origins are, because I do think it's important. If this in fact was a laboratory leak as a consequence of some of the science that was done in that laboratory where people were mixing viruses to see if they could gain better tropism for humans, I would argue that some of that science needs to be thought very carefully about whether that's the kind of science we want to do. But that's my disappointment. I think NIH, should have led a huge scientific investigation from the very beginning on origin and take both hypothesis as hypothesis, rather than what seemed to be a fairly concerted effort by the scientific community."


Were There Signs Of COVID-19 That The CDC Didn't Look At Early Enough?


A technician at a drive up testing facility in Chicago walks between cars with patients awaiting testing for coronavirus covid-19

Former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield: "Well, I think Korea really had some lessons that unfortunately we couldn't operationalize fast enough, but if you look in retrospect, why did Korea do so well? And one of the reasons they did so well is when they had their MERS outbreak, where they had the case of MERS got into Seoul and they ended up with a huge MERS outbreak, they did something that was really important. They formed a partnership between their private sector and their public health community in the space of diagnostics. So when CDC and I think, we got unfair criticism on this, not accurate reporting on this is that when CDC within seven days developed a brand new diagnostic test that could diagnose COVID-19, by I think we finished it by the 17th of January in that timeframe, that's what allowed us to diagnose the first cases in Seattle. That was unprecedented from a description of a new pathogen to having a functional test, we should have been patted on the back rather than constantly misquoted that this was somehow a flawed test. The mistake CDC made was once we were providing the test to the United States public health community, they had to send the test to CDC for us to do it. Some of the people at CDC thought it would be great if we could just manufacture the test and send it to all the public health departments. CDC is not a manufacturing company. And when they did that, they had a production problem with one of their agents, which it took us four or five weeks to correct. But the fact is that the private sector wasn't engaged, and I know when the president had a meeting, when we brought the diagnostic companies to the Roosevelt room to ask them to get engaged, this was probably sometime in mid-March, they weren't really engaged. Because when they got engaged to build the diagnostics for MERS and SARS, as soon as they finished all that research cost and had a product, nobody bought it cause those epidemics stopped. And I think the private sector figured that COVID-19 was going to be the same. It's going to just disappear. We needed the private sector, at the starting gate in January one. I think one of the missed opportunities was that BARDA should have basically put out millions of millions of dollars to the private sector to get diagnostics up and ramping so we had all the diagnostic tools we needed by the end of January, early February. So we could have done just what you said, what ultimately should have been the public health platform, which was aggressive, expansive testing and retesting of the population as fundamental to our public health efforts. And unfortunately, even as it launched and the private sector got involved and worked hard to provide testing, you can remember the reports by Admiral Giroir and others would say, okay, we did 10,000 tests a day, we did 20,000 tests a day, we did a 100,000 tests a day. The truth is, I figure, that we needed to be doing about 5 million tests a day. And even as we sit here today, we're not at that. So a big missed opportunity, part of it because there wasn't this established alliance between the public health community and the private sector, and obviously the mechanism by which we had in our country to do that was BARDA and that wasn't activated. The purpose, and as I would tell the secretary, it wasn't CDC's responsibility to develop a diagnostic test for all of clinical medicine. Our responsibility was to build the diagnostic tools for the public health departments of this country. And that's what we did. But this was a huge shortcoming of our early response and some advocates, Scott Gottlieb and others, I think identified it early that we just needed to do expanded testing."

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When Did The COVID-19 Virus Start To Spread Throughout America?

Woman feeling sick inside air plane

Former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield: "And when you ask about when the virus came into the country, we have lots of evidence that strongly suggested this virus really didn't enter the United States in a meaningful way until January 2020. We did aggressive screening for antibody and large populations of people that had influenza-like illness. We did it in "children clinics with influenza-like illness. We looked at molecular evolution of the virus by sequences based on an evolutionary clock. So we had a variety of different sources of scientific data, and this virus really did in my view, in a significant way, enter the United States in January. I think what was not appreciated was, and I remember when I met with the president and said that we needed to shut down air travel to Europe, having done the same for air travel to China, people wanted to know why I felt that way and at the end the president asked me, was there anything else I wish I did? And I said, 'yeah, I wish I'd come in here two weeks ago or four weeks ago and told you to shut down air travel to Europe.' Because what would have happened while we were focused on China, was China was sending people into Europe and then the Europeans were coming into America. And we really had an aggressive seating of the United States from European travel, probably in late February, March. And of course we were off to the races after that, that the virus was no longer containable. We didn't have a containment strategy because it was flawed because we based it on SARS. We needed to really go to an aggressive mitigation strategy with enormous diagnostic capability where we were really routinely screening lots of people beyond our current diagnostic capability. And I think if there's a lesson we need to learn that lesson. Korea learned it in MERS, and I think that's why they got the jumpstart on COVID. They had a really great partnership with their diagnostic private sector that they brought into public health. We need to have that. We don't have that right now."

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Does a New Study Show Vaccination After COVID Infection Cuts Reinfection Risk In Half?

Scientists and microbiologists with PPE suit and face mask hold test tube and microscope in lab

USPHS Lieutenant/EIS Officer With The CDC, Lt. Alyson Cavanaugh, DPT, Ph.D.: "We are learning every day, a little bit more about natural immunity. What we know from right now from the science that we currently have, is that for most individuals, reinfection is very rare within the first 90 days after your infection. So there is some protection for most individuals that are at least 90 days. But you are absolutely correct that as this virus continues to mutate, as we see new variants emerge, and circulate in our community, this may affect the duration of our natural immunity. This may impact it, and we're still learning how it does that. From this particular study, we looked at individuals who were re-infected during May and June, and had had a prior infection back in 2020. So the virus that was circulating and dominant in this time period in May and June did look different from what was in circulation back in 2020. And the results of the report show that among those who were unvaccinated after their first infection, they had more than double the odds of being re-infected compared to those who had been fully vaccinated. So I think it's important to recognize the added benefit of vaccination, even if you've already had COVID-19."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek