A top White House official is warning that the country may remain vulnerable to COVID-19 if more funding for tests and vaccines is not approved by Congress – just as many Americans are hopeful the pandemic will end soon, and are showing that they are no longer as worried about the virus as they were in months past.
Dr Ashish Jha, who was recently appointed White House coronavirus response coordinator, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the immunity Americans have to the virus, whether from the vaccines or through natural infection, is waning.
This comes as the federal government fears funding for Covid-related programs will soon run out, significantly reducing the access Americans will have to vaccines, tests, and treatments. This would leave the population ‘vulnerable’ to the virus going forward, Jha explains.
These warnings come as less-and-less Americans are worrying about the virus, according to a recently published Gallup poll, and many are prepared to move on from the virus and transition back to normal life. Less than a third of respondents to the poll said they were worried about Covid still.
Case figures in America are trending upwards, though, up to 90,000 per day for the first time since late February, increasing 37 percent over the past week. Deaths are cratering, though, signaling the more mild nature of recent Covid strains, with deaths falling 30 percent over the past week to 386 per day.
‘As we get to the fall, we are all going to have a lot more vulnerability to a virus that has a lot more immune escape than even it does today and certainly than it did six months ago,’ Jha told the AP.
‘That leaves a lot of us vulnerable.’
Dr Ashish Jha (pictured), White House Covid response coordinator, warns that Americans could soon be left vulnerable to the pandemic if more funding is not approved
Jha is pushing for lawmakers to approve more funding for the federal government to put towards Covid mitigation measures, a topic that has become contentious in recent weeks as some want to spend the money elsewhere.
Biden had pushed for the funds to be a part of a spending package that included aid to Ukraine, but was forced to pull it out of fear disagreement for that section would halt the entire bill.
Federal officials say the funding will be enough to get America into fall, while also allowing the country to continue ordering Covid vaccines. There has been speculation that if the funding is not approved the U.S. will no longer be able to offer the vaccines to all Americans, only to high risk groups.
Jha fears that every moment the funding is delayed pushes the U.S. down the pecking order on vaccine orders, as other countries put in orders for more vaccines in the future, and will get priority as more jabs are manufactured by leading firms like Pfizer and Moderna.
‘I would say we’re really kind of at that deadline and waiting much longer just puts us further back of the line,’ Jha added.
‘If we’re willing to be in the back of the line and get our vaccines in the spring, we have plenty of time. But then we’ll have missed the entire fall and winter. That’s not an acceptable outcome, I think, for the American people.’
Whether Americans even want more Covid shots is still up for debate, though. Rollout of the COVID-19 boosters was slow when they first became available in fall of 2021, with older Americas not flocking to get the shots in a way the federal government expected.
Little change in daily vaccines administered was seen either when fourth doses of the jab were approved for Americans 50 and older earlier this year.
A Gallup poll published Wednesday found that only 31 percent of Americans report being either ‘somewhat worried’ or ‘very worried’ about catching COVID-19, a three percent drop from version of the poll that was conducted in February. Within that group, 17 percent of Americans said they were ‘very worried’ about Covid still, a five percent drop.
The poll signals the shifting state of the virus as America approaches the summer months. In previous years, the warm weather months have come with large, devastating virus surges.
The survey was conducted in mid-April, when the trend of declining cases that had existed for nearly three months to that point coming off of the mid-January peak of the winter Omicron surge began to reverse.
Participants were asked of their feelings about the pandemic, the virus and what sort of personal mitigations strategies they were using – or ignoring – in their day-to-day life.
The study also found that 64 percent of Americans believed that the pandemic was ‘getting better’. At the time of the survey, cases had just dropped below 30,000 per day, making it one of the lowest points since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Around 21 percent of Americans said they believed the situation was about the same, and only 12 percent believed it was getting worse.
The last time this little amount of Americans believed the situation was getting worse was summer 2021, when cases were at a low point just before the explosion of the Delta variant.
These good feelings have led to some changes in behavior as well. Only 17 percent of Americans reported that they were still social distancing, the lowest point of the pandemic so far.
Just under a third of Americans said they have avoided large crowds, a fifth reported avoiding public places and just 15 percent avoided small gatherings.
Those figures are also all pandemic-lows, Gallup reports.
The changing feelings on Covid are a positive sign for the future, but also come as officials warn that more pandemic related threats are forming around the world.
The prevalence of the new BA 2.12.1 Covid strain – the most infectious version of the virus being sequenced by U.S. health officials – is continuing to grow, officials report.
The strain, which was first detected in New York last month, now makes up 42.6 percent of sequenced Covid cases in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Tuesday. It is an increase from the 33 percent of cases the strain made up the prior week.
This newly detected version of the virus is a sub-lineage of the BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant, which remains the dominant strain as it makes up 56 percent of cases. The new strain is believed to have around a 27 percent growth advantage over its predecessor, and will likely take over as the nation’s dominant strain by the end of the month.
Every single Covid case sequenced by the CDC falls under the umbrella of the Omicron variant, with the Delta variant now having been totally snuffed out by its successor.
The BA.1 strain of the virus, which caused record case outbreaks across the world over the winter, now only makes up 0.6 percent of cases in the U.S., as its sub-variant have almost entirely overtaken it.
While the BA 2.12.1 strain has taken time to take over from the stealth variant as the dominant strain nationwide, it already makes up two out of every three cases in the New York and New Jersey region of the U.S., the CDC reports.
It is the only region of the country where the strain is dominant. It is also the part of the country where officials first detected this new strain in the U.S.
The new strain makes up nearly half of cases, 48 percent, in the Mid-Atlantic region of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to the CDC.
It also makes up over 40 percent of cases in New England and in the deep south regions of America.
Like previous strains, this version of the virus seems to be making its way across the country east-to-west, with prevalence dropping in further westward regions of the country.
The BA 2.12.1 strain (red) now makes up 43% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in the U.S., growing from 33% the week before. The BA.2 ‘stealth’ variant (pink) remains dominant, making up 56% of cases
BA 2.12.1 (red) makes up two of every three cases in the New York and New Jersey region, the CDC reports. In every other region, the ‘stealth’ variant (pink) is still dominant
Newer versions of Omicron may be on their way to America as well.
There are growing concerns about the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the virus, which are now making ground in South Africa, causing another surge in the nation. The country was also the first to suffer from the original version of Omicron in late November.
Last month, the World Health Organization announced that it is officially tracking the two strains of the virus as potential concerns.
A pre-print study out of South Africa also found that the two variants may have the ability to evade immunity to the virus provided by previous infection.
That could be a grave concern for officials, as the massive spread of Omicron during the winter months – giving a vast portion of Americans immunity to the virus in the process – will no longer protect people going forward, opening the door for yet another large surge.
These new threats have the White House worried that America could be in for a dark fall and winter months in the second half of 2022.
A senior official in the Biden administration told CNN that the White House is currently projecting around 100 million infections of the virus to occur during the upcoming fall and winter months – a time of the year where new case records have been set during both years of the pandemic.
For comparison, according to Johns Hopkins University data, around 40 million Covid cases were reported in America from September 1 to February 28. While this is likely a severe undercount because of the highly infectious, yet mild, nature of the Omicron variant, it means the White House believes case figures could reach even further heights this year when compared to last