Pandemic progress: How far have we come and where are we going?


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Warnings from infectious disease experts about an anticipated spike in COVID-19 cases after the holidays might feel like déjà vu from last year. That’s because it is. 

However, significant strides have been made since Thanksgiving 2020. A “game changing” vaccine has been approved for everyone five and older in the United States. Eligibility for booster shots has been expanded to all adults 18 and older. 

With those strides also came serious tribulations — a deadlier, more contagious delta variant that pushed hospitals and ICU beds in Texas to their limits this summer, paired with the rampant spread of misinformation about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. 

About 54.5% of Texans are fully vaccinated, not too far behind the nation’s percentage of Americans who are fully vaccinated, about 59%. 

COVID-19 cases are on the rise nationwide, and while Texas is doing better than many other states for now, the rolling seven-day average of new infections is slowly climbing again, according to state data.

Whether the case surges will continue on a seasonal basis is still uncertain.

“I think it’s too early to tell what the endemic phases will look like,” said Dr. Gerry Parker, director of pandemic and biosecurity policy at Texas A&M University. “I don’t think it’s going to be quite like the flu, I mean the flu is very seasonal.

It raises concern for infectious disease experts, including the state’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Jennifer Shuford of Texas DSHS.

“We could still have a lot of transmission of COVID-19 through the holiday season and into 2022,” she said. “So it’s something that we’re worried about because we think there are vulnerable Texans out there that really could get a bad infection over the next few months.”

Parker said the one thing that is better this year versus last (aside from vaccines) is the increasing treatment options. 

“The monoclonal antibodies and the antiviral specifically are important tools because if you do test positive and you’re high risk of contracting severe disease, the monoclonal antibodies can be very important if you have not been immunized,” Parker said. “…The antivirals also are would be much easier to administer compared to the monoclonal antibody. So these are all important tools in our toolkit, but vaccines are the number one tool to prevent.”

Doctors like Parker and Shuford emphasize that those treatment options are an additional tool, and should not be seen as a substitute for getting vaccinated. 

“The vaccines are fantastic vaccines and way exceeded our expectations in their effectiveness,” Shuford said. “Now there are two oral therapies that are under consideration by the FDA for emergency use authorization. And so it’s giving us a little more hope that maybe we’ll have more therapeutics, or more medicines available to us for COVID-19 in the near future. Vaccines are still our best option though, for really controlling COVID-19 Across Texas.”

The FDA is expected to approve Merck and Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill soon.

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