By Richard Sternberg, M.D.
It seems to me that almost every other columnist, and most periodicals, publish predictions for the coming year. I might as well share mine regarding COVID.
What follows is solely my opinion. While this is based on what I’ve researched and behaviors I’ve seen
over the past two years, much of what I’m saying here is pure speculation.
By the end of the coming year, 85 percent of the US population will have experienced an episode of COVID. This is not to say that all or even a majority of these will be symptomatic; the disease has become so infectious, ubiquitous, and people become so casual about it, that almost nobody will be able avoid coming in contact with it. In fact, 85 percent is probably too low. On the other hand, having had COVID-19 or being vaccinated clearly has been shown not to protect against it.
The rolling out, distribution of, and prescribing of the oral medications to treat COVID symptoms is going to be poorly done. We still don’t have our act together on testing urgently and rapidly people who demonstrate early symptoms or were in close contact with someone with active disease. There remains great denial in the general public on the risks of getting COVID, the seriousness of having the disease, and the proper effective use of treatments. Many who could be treated won’t be until it’s too late to fully alleviate symptoms and mortality.
The current variant of concern, Omicron, while apparently being slightly less virulent than Delta (though this may just be a confluence of the situation at this time and the fact that many of the Omicron cases are breakthrough) has such a high rate of infectiousness and transmissibility that the total number of hospitalizations and rate of death in the general population will remain where it’s been over the past year. The risk of dying of Omicron on an individual basis appears to be less, but this is offset by the risk of contracting it which seems to be much greater. The total number of cases will be high.
Large pharmaceutical companies, which initially truly seemed to be acting out of a sense of altruism in dealing with the very dangerous international crisis, will be found to be increasing their decision-making processes based on financial returns. My concern is the pronouncements that current vaccines are adequate for Omicron challenge is slowing down the development and production of vaccines to the new variants. These companies are beginning to make large profits, which were very much in question two years ago when the crisis began. Then, it was an all-hands-on-deck situation; companies that had been great rivals were cooperating. Companies gambled significantly by overlapping development, testing, and production in order to get vaccines to the public in record time. These companies, understandably, want now to start making profits based on their investments. Reformulating, testing, and manufacturing vaccines before they pass testing muster is very expensive. Why would they want to do that now when they’re already selling another product not requiring any further expense other than manufacturing doses.
Disruptions such as we’ve seen over the Christmas vacation of scheduled flights and other transportation issues will continue. It’s a matter of not having adequate manpower at any given time. Similarly, disruptions in professional entertainment/sports will continue.
Even individuals who have been very careful about contact, travel, and being vaccinated are going to increasingly let down their guard and put themselves at more risk.
There will be no thought-out, unified plans for how we get back to the new normal, at least in the United
States. Government clearly has been unable to deal with this, and individuals have behaved without taking social considerations into their decisions. This will continue. Nevertheless, some form of new normal is going to evolve over the year.
I could probably go on and double the number of predictions. I think the seven I’ve provided is enough for now. We will return to this list at the end of 2022 and find out what was right and, I hope, find out where I was wrong.