COVID-19 in the short and long term: 3 thoughts from Dr. Peter Hotez

Ahead of the May 11 end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine, told the Houston Chronicle April 27 that emerging variants, vaccine uptake and pandemic preparedness are top of mind for him.

Here are three takeaways from his interview with the Chronicle.

1.) Emerging variants and subvariants

Short-term, public health officials and clinicians must keep in mind the rise of a new variant, XBB.1.16, and the potential for future variants. 

XBB.1.16 is an omicron subvariant that the World Health Organization dubbed as a "variant of concern" in early April. In other countries, particularly India, XBB.1.16 has become the dominant strain of COVID-19. In the U.S. it has been spotted in several states, but has not replaced the current dominant strain yet.  

"Near term, we have to recognize that COVID-19 is still with us. XBB.1.5 and the new one, XBB.1.16, are slowly creeping up," Dr. Hotez said.

2.) Vaccine uptake

The emergence of new variants and subvariants bring the need for updated vaccines. Americans have been slow to adopt the most recent bivalent vaccine released in September, which concerns Dr. Hotez.

Since Americans have been slow to get the booster it's concerning for future iterations of vaccines to protect against other COVID-19 variants.

"Only 17 percent of the eligible population has gotten the bivalent booster, which is going to be a problem in encouraging people to get a second," Dr. Hotez said. "The number of Americans accepting a second bivalent booster will be single-digit percentages."

The low percentage of uptake could be problematic for future pandemic preparedness efforts.

3.) Pandemic preparedness 

Another pandemic could be on the horizon, Dr. Hotez noted, which means preparedness efforts should be a priority. 

"I've said that COVID-19 is the third major coronavirus over the last 20 years, with SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. Then COVID in 2019. It looks as though every seven or eight years we get a new major coronavirus epidemic or pandemic," Dr. Hotez told the Houston Chronicle. "On that basis, a fourth major coronavirus is around the corner before 2030. We need to think about longer-term pandemic preparedness strategies for the end of this decade."


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