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Fauci said U.S. can return to normal when COVID resembles the flu—but COVID deaths are still 10 times higher

March 8, 2022, 12:54 PM UTC

Governments across the world are desperately trying to return to normal and live with COVID as an endemic disease akin to the flu.

But a new report released on Monday says this action is premature, at least in the U.S., considering COVID-19 deaths are still 10 times higher than those from the flu.

“Make no mistake, the United States is far from a normal situation,” states the 136-page report, drafted by 53 scientists, doctors, and public health experts. “The shift to the next normal should not induce complacency, inaction, or premature triumphalism.”

The report, led by former Biden transition team COVID-19 advisory board member Ezekiel J. Emanuel, says going into March 2022 the U.S. was still experiencing 35,000 hospitalizations per day and 12,000 deaths per week from COVID. The only greater killers in the U.S. are heart disease and cancer.

The country would normally tolerate only 1,150 deaths a week from the flu or respiratory illnesses caused by RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) before putting in place emergency mitigation efforts, the report noted, calling the number of deaths from COVID-19 “intolerable.”

The report sought to design a road map for exiting the pandemic, noting that without one, people’s behavior would diverge as COVID fatigue sets in: “In the absence of a road map, [the U.S. people] seem to follow whichever expert or outlet is closest to their preferences.”

Fauci’s advice vs. the report

U.S. Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci said in February the world was nearly over the full-blown first phase of the pandemic, that the worst may be behind us, and that the world was “approaching normality.”

While the report agrees, noting, “Optimism is justified,” it adds, “Inaction is not.” It says two factors have become critical as the world exits the pandemic: COVID fatigue and new variants.

To combat these two risks, the report calls on the U.S. government to invest more in monitoring and preparing for future COVID threats. The report demands more investment be made in manufacturing antiviral pills, so they can be developed as quickly and as effectively as the first vaccines. The study also expects the virus to develop resistance to antiviral drugs, and predicted a cocktail of antiviral pills will be needed to face future variants.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized two COVID-19 antiviral pills—one from Pfizer, the other from Merck—in December for prescription usage for hospitalized COVID patients. It also authorized the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for nonhospitalized COVID patients in January.

Fauci noted in a recent interview on Bloomberg Television’s The Close that COVID drugs like Pfizer’s Paxlovid that keep high-risk patients from hospitalization and death are becoming plentiful as production scales up.

The report also calls for the federal government to do a better job providing clear, evidence-based advice about when and for whom additional vaccine booster doses are needed. The National Institutes of Health has yet to conduct studies to define an optimal dosing schedule or combination of vaccines, with the study noting “more insight is needed into whether prior SARS-CoV-2 infections offer protection similar to two doses of vaccine.”

The ambivalence of those comments reflect ones made by Fauci in early February, when he noted that annual vaccine boosters might not be needed, as once was expected. “It will depend on who you are,” Fauci said in an interview with the Financial Times, “but if you are a normal, healthy 30-year-old person with no underlying conditions, you might need a booster only every four or five years.” 

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