Infectious disease expert says US isn’t ready for next pandemic

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An infectious disease expert warned Friday that the United States isn’t ready for the next pandemic, adding that it’s easy for Americans to become “shortsighted and exhausted” by current conditions.  

Dr. Céline Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, told The Hill during its “America’s Report Card” event that the U.S. is vulnerable to future pandemics as new infectious diseases emerge across the world. 

She added that though infections from the highly transmissible omicron variant have waned, the U.S. has not taken steps to prepare itself against future pandemics or the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. 

“We get exhausted, we become short sighted, we don’t build the necessary pandemic preparedness to protect ourselves and insulate and shield ourselves better for next time and there will be a next time,” Gounder said.  

To stop the emergence of future variants, Gounder believes the United States should invest in genomic surveillance and vaccination domestically and abroad.  

“We tend to be fairly, frankly provincial in how we think about things here, but if you look at every single variant to date, those have emerged elsewhere around the world where there’s been high levels of transmission and low levels of vaccination,” Gounder said.   

“Depending on whether you would have a game changing variant or slower mutation you’re looking at probably the emergence of something that is truly game changing like Delta or Omicron somewhere between every two to 10 years,” Gounder added.  

Sixty-five percent of all Americans are fully vaccinated, but less than 70 percent of the world’s total population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with wealthier countries far outpacing poorer countries in vaccination rates.  

Moving into the next stages of the pandemic, health metrics will likely shift from the number of cases to other factors, she said.   

“The focus moving forward will really be on cases, number of cases, how quickly they may be increasing in an area, hospitalizations, but also importantly hospitalization capacity,” Gounder said.  

States across the country, including California and New York, have begun to drop indoor mask mandates in recent weeks, based on metrics that have shown a decrease in hospitalization rates and higher vaccination rates.  

“I just fear that people are going to commit the same mistakes as before and really just move on without taking those steps to build up our public health systems,” she said. 

Tags COVID-19 Infectious diseases Pandemic pandemic preparedness

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