In our nationally syndicated radio show this week, we talk with Dr. Aaron Carroll, who is a Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the Chief Health Officer of Indiana University. Despite rising infection rates, many of the precautions common last summer are melting away. There are no mask mandates on airplanes, and most restaurants do not require proof of vaccination. Is the COVID pandemic really over, or are we engaging in wishful thinking?
When Will the COVID Pandemic Be Over?
Dr. Carroll has written about the idea that the COVID pandemic is over. Most of us hoped that it would be done by now, but the latest variants are spreading rapidly. At this point, it seems we will need to learn to live with SARS-CoV-2.
Unfortunately, the virus is rapidly adapting to living in us. With each new variant, vaccines based on the original virus lose some of their effectiveness. For the most part, they still prevent the hospitalizations and deaths that were so terrifying when the pandemic began. However, we may need to accept the idea of periodic vaccinations to maintain protection.
Why Have the Vaccines Been So Controversial?
Although anti-COVID vaccines have been politicized, opposition to vaccination is not a new phenomenon. People have been skeptical of numerous other vaccines as well. As a pediatrician, Dr. Carroll has had trouble convincing parents that protecting children against chickenpox (varicella) is worthwhile. As with COVID vaccines, some of the people protected are those who cannot get vaccinated themselves, like very young babies, or elderly people whose immunity has waned.
Some people fret that the COVID shots were developed in record time, which they were. Dr. Carroll describes how the initial basic research was ready even before the pandemic began. Then too, the federal government provided a lot of financial support, which made it possible for companies to condense their usual development program without skipping steps. We review common myths about the vaccines and Dr. Carroll explains why they are myths, not facts.
With the rapid spread of BA.4 and BA.5, many people are coming down with COVID. Some are infected for the second or third time. Who needs treatment, and what treatments are available? Dr. Carroll walks us through them, from monoclonal antibodies to remdesivir, Paxlovid and molnupiravir. Should we reserve such treatments for the elderly and others at risk for severe complications of COVID?
Looking Back at the COVID Pandemic and Looking Ahead:
What mistakes did we make that we might have avoided? What lessons have we learned for the next health emergency? Most importantly, why should we stop thinking about the COVID pandemic like doctors and start thinking more like public health officials? We may not be able to predict when the pandemic will be over, but we should be ready to do some things differently and better next time. One thing we should focus on immediately is improving ventilation. Not only will that help protect people from the next variant of SARS-CoV-2, it can help protect everyone from the next airborne pathogen, whatever it turns out to be.
This Week’s Guest:
Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS, is a Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He is Bicentennial Professor, Associate Dean for Research Mentoring, and Chief Health Officer of Indiana University. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist and is a regular contributor to Opinion and the Upshot for The New York Times. Dr. Carroll’s most recent book is The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully.
The photograph of Dr. Carroll is copyright Marina Waters.
Listen to the Podcast:
The podcast of this program will be available Monday, June 20, 2022, after broadcast on June 18. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.