Winning against COVID-19

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Joseph Giambrone, professor emeritus in the Auburn University College of Agriculture’s Department of Poultry Science with a joint appointment in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathobiology, has penned this article stating COVID-19 is now endemic worldwide and will never be eradicated and, therefore, we must learn to live with the prospect of emerging variants. He hopes we can regard COVID-19 as the “influenza of the 2020s” and receive an annual booster vaccination.

The introduction of new molecular-based COVID-19 vaccines with general availability during the first quarter of 2021 reduced concern and offered a solution to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the emergence of new variants complicated control that depended on social distancing, masking and attaining a level of population immunity that would have inhibited transmission of the virus. A further complication was the initial reluctance of a third of the U.S. population to be vaccinated, with a residual 25% totally opposed to receiving a dose based on personal objections largely fueled by web-based and talk-radio misinformation.

In addition to vaccines, the federal government recently has distributed N and K95 masks, which are more effective in preventing viral transmission, as well as in-home rapid testing kits. The government also funded hospitals, which are now equipped with antiviral treatments, well-trained infectious disease medical care staff and improved isolation treatment facilities with modern ventilators to reduce the incidence and severity of infectious diseases. In addition, data from the worldwide surveillance for coronaviral variants obtained from clinically ill patients or wastewater treatment plants is now actively shared in real time to help prevent future pandemics.

In reviewing statistics on COVID-19, there are clear indications of an improvement in weekly statistics.  This, however, does not minimize the deaths of at least 920,000 of our fellow citizens, each of whom was a person with a family and each a small but important tragedy. It is regrettable that, since the advent of vaccination, more than 90% of fatalities could have been avoided even with exposure to the virulent Delta variant. As of Jan. 14, there had been 2,586 deaths in the U.S. with and from COVID-19, down from 2,991 in mid-January and still representing 2,300 unnecessary fatalities given the preponderance of unvaccinated in body bags. There have been 78 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, with 206,317 cases recorded on Feb. 14, down 78% in a month. On Feb. 5, the seven-day average of tests conducted approached 1.2 million but with a positive rate of 14.3%. That far exceeds the World Health Organization target of 5%, denoting control of an infection. We currently have 89,000 in the hospital with 19,000 in intensive care units, creating a burden on our health care resources and personnel. This is an improvement on 152,000 hospitalizations with COVID-19 in mid-January. Hopefully, the encouraging trends in reduced hospitalization and fatality rates will continue since we are in the third year of the pandemic and America's health care workers are reporting significant levels of burnout and even anger about the complications of politics and rising incidents of abuse from patients and their families.

Since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, 252 million people have received at least one dose, representing 76.5% of the population, and 64.4% have received two doses of predominantly mRNA vaccines. Only 27.7% of those eligible have received a booster dose which stimulates solid immunity, hopefully for longer than six months. Unfortunately, the uptake of vaccines varies among states, demographics and between urban and rural populations. There are still areas of rural America with vaccination rates between 25% and 30%, representing the potential for emergence of new variants and perpetuation of the disease.

It is emphasized that resolving inflation, increasing our supply chains, restoring our national productivity, educating our children, reducing our national debt and improving our quality of life will largely be dependent on suppression of COVID-19. We can regard the current situation as Winston Churchill’s statement, “End of the beginning but not the beginning of the end.” COVID-19 is now endemic worldwide and will never be eradicated and, therefore, we must learn to live with the prospect of emerging variants. To that end, many states have lifted statewide COVID-19 mandates. The best we can hope for in the future is to regard COVID-19 as the “influenza of the 2020s” and receive an annual booster vaccination. At least we may have the opportunity to dispense with polarizing vaccine and masks mandates, which have often led to physical confrontation and/or vitriolic verbiage. Our ardent hope is to again attend indoor entertainment and business events, a return to large office settings, travel freely across borders and revert to our pre-COVID-19 lifestyles.

About Joseph Giambrone:

Joseph Giambrone is a professor emeritus in Auburn University’s Department of Poultry Science with a joint appointment in the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. During his graduate research career at the University of Delaware, he was part of a research group that developed the first vaccine against an antigenic variant of an avian coronavirus. During a sabbatical leave during his tenure at Auburn, he was part of a research group in Australia that sequenced the entire genome of antigenic variant of a coronavirus of chickens. During his 42-year research career as a molecular virologist, immunologist and epidemiologist, he has made critical advancements in understanding the ecology of viral pathogens, led efforts to improve detection and surveillance of viral diseases and developed new and effective vaccines and vaccine strategies to protect commercially reared chickens as well as pathogens, such as avian influenza viruses, which have spilled over into human populations. His research has had a profound impact on practices used today to reduce the incidence and severity of viral diseases of commercially reared poultry as well in human populations.

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