DAvid Rosner, who studies public health and social history at Columbia University, spent 10 days in a hospital in November after contracting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which worsened his asthma, and led to pneumonia .
“It’s over now, but there were moments where it was very poignant, and I wish people were more aware in general,” Rosner, 76, said.
Now they worry that American residents may be even less aware of the ongoing threat from Covid because of the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this week that it would allow the coronavirus public health emergency to end in May.
While other public health experts are concerned about Covid, some support the administration’s decision because they do not see a state of emergency as an effective way to solve larger problems with the health system’s ability to respond to the virus .
“There are many more systemic issues that we have to fix that a public health emergency is not prepared to fix,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and director of the Epidemiology Center at Brown University School of Public Health.
Despite disagreements over whether the public health emergency should continue beyond May, Nuzzo, Rosner and others agree that a Republican push to end the emergency now is irresponsible and that Biden will avoid lifting the emergency order in May. may cause additional problems.
“Looking three and a half, four months ahead to see what the Covid situation will be is both optimistic and sobering,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Lifting the declaration would “once again expose disparities in both treatment and prevention”.
When the federal government declared a public health emergency nearly three years ago, it meant that some requirements for government programs were waived and millions of people enrolled in Medicaid. The government did not allow states to remove those people from Medicaid once they were enrolled. The move allowed most Americans to receive free Covid tests, vaccines and some treatments for the virus.
Once the order is lifted, most Americans will still be able to get the vaccine at no cost. But people enrolled in Medicare or private insurance will have to start paying for over-the-counter Covid tests in the lab and at home, according to Reuters. Beneficiaries of Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will have to pay for some testing costs starting in 2024.
Most people will also end up paying some of the cost for treatments such as the anti-viral Paxlovid.
People who don’t have insurance will have to pay full cost for the vaccines, and vaccine makers Pricer and Moderna plan to raise the cost of shots from $30 to $120.
While people continue to be hospitalized and die from Covid, their numbers have steadily decreased; Most people have stopped wearing masks; And Joe Biden declared the pandemic over in September 2022.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said her biggest concern is the cost of vaccines.
“What will happen every winter is that we will struggle with insurance,” said Gandhi, whose patients all use public health insurance. “We would say, actually this patient is at higher risk. He’s older. He has HIV. He’s immunosuppressed. You really need to shop [vaccine booster]And they’ll say, ‘It’s too expensive.'”
Charging so much for vaccines is also unethical, Gandhi said, especially in the case of Moderna, which received $10 billion in government funding to develop the vaccine.
“I really think it’s greedy,” she said. “They’ve got so much public money.”
Rosner said Biden’s declaration that the pandemic is over and the lifting of the public health emergency also makes it difficult for people to ask friends to take precautions like wearing masks or getting tested.
“We still don’t know if it’s over, and we see new variants emerge every week, and we have a huge portion of the US population that is still not fully vaccinated,” They said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have called on the Biden administration to end the declaration immediately rather than waiting until May.
It would be “catastrophic,” Nuzzo said.
“There will be some changes that need to happen, including making sure people have access to medicines and making sure hospitals can shift administratively,” he said.
While Nuzzo is also concerned about uninsured people’s access to drugs, vaccines and testing, she doesn’t think the public health emergency is going to solve bigger problems like closing children’s hospitals or lack of staff or access to people. is applicable. Flu Vaccines.
He said that the government should focus on funding the public health departments. Such state and local agencies work to prevent the spread of disease and ensure that people have access to health services such as vaccinations, among other responsibilities. Between 2010 and 2020, funding for state public health departments declined 16% per capita, and spending for local health departments declined 18%, according to a Kaiser Health News and Associated Press analysis.
“Unfortunately, Congress has not appropriated additional resources” to fund health departments, Nuzzo said. “The work of responding to Covid and all the other pathogens floating around in our mix is ongoing, but we lack the resources to do it. Unfortunately, I don’t see a public health emergency declaration or rescue as make or break. It was a problem before this happened.
Regarding concerns about changes in public attitudes toward COVID since the end of the public health emergency, Nzo said, “We’ve had a lot of headlines like that throughout the pandemic.”
According to a Gallup poll, a month after Biden declared the pandemic on 60 Minutes, there was an 11% increase in the number of people who thought it was over. Fewer people plan to get a new booster shot than a year ago, according to a Monmouth University poll after the Biden interview.
Nuzzo said the reduced concern about the virus is “always a risk, but we have many opportunities” to get boosters. “So those communication challenges remain and that certainly adds to it, but it’s not the only instigator.”
But Rosner said the order should remain in place until “the public health community really feels it has a handle” on the virus.
“I think we’re hoping that the new strains are not more resistant to vaccines, and that’s not clear,” he said. “You need to understand that the public is responsible, or that the public understands its responsibilities and can act rationally. This is the moment.