Interview: Expert says guard needs to stay as 1 mln death toll shows pandemic isn't over in U.S.

By Liu Yanan (Xinhua) 08:54, May 13, 2022

NEW YORK, May 12 (Xinhua) -- The milestone of 1 million COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is a stark reminder that this pandemic is not over and "we cannot let our guard down in terms of prevention," said an expert with the University of California San Diego.

Statistics show that even after COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out and oral antiviral drugs became available, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States died from coronavirus infections.

"In the United States, the poor healthcare infrastructure, coupled with COVID disinformation contributes to vaccine hesitancy. These issues create a perfect storm where new, even more infectious SARS-CoV-2 variants evolve and 'learn' to escape vaccines," said Steffanie Strathdee, professor at UC San Diego Department of Medicine in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.

This problem has been exacerbated because many countries have relaxed their COVID-19 mitigation strategies - like mask mandates - allowing viruses to spread, added Strathdee, who co-authored The Perfect Predator, a medical memoir involving a deadly superbug.

"Most countries have not addressed the fact that SARS-CoV-2 and its variants are airborne. This property requires an entirely new way of dealing with prevention," Strathdee said.

Unfortunately in many countries, COVID-19 vaccines are not widely available or people are not being fully vaccinated, said Strathdee. She noted that in many African countries, fewer than 10 percent of the population is vaccinated.

Commemorating 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday each is an irreplaceable loss and people shall remain vigilant against this pandemic.

The impacts of COVID-19 could be far-reaching with roughly 9 million people or 3 percent of the population in the United States losing one of their family members.

Strathdee said, "I don't think we have recognized the full effect of this pandemic yet; its impact will be felt for generations to come."

COVID-19 is having a direct and an indirect effect on health, through the impact of Long COVID and the effect of the pandemic on mental health. Beyond its acute impact on death and disease, it will increasingly contribute to disability, noted Strathdee.

Certain communities in the United States have been hit especially hard, with older Americans and people of color suffering disproportionately. As of March 25, about three quarters of the dead, or around 730,000, were people aged 65 and older.

Strathdee said older people have been more susceptible since their immune systems weaken with age, and they are more likely to suffer from comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease that worsen COVID-19 symptoms.

Strathdee added COVID-19 has also disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities for many reasons.

"Many are employed in jobs that put them at high risk of exposure, and when they get infected, they have poor access to health care and often lack paid sick leave," said Strathdee.

People with fewer resources are more likely to live in more densely populated living arrangements, such as adults living with both their children and their parents, which means that when one person gets infected the rest of the household is more likely to get infected, according to Strathdee.

Moreover, these same communities have higher rates of comorbidities like heart disease and diabetes which mean that they experience more serious complications from COVID-19, said the expert.

There is also greater medical mistrust in communities of color that contributes to low vaccination rates, Strathdee said. "All of these factors contribute to a heavier burden of COVID."

(Web editor: Peng Yukai, Liang Jun)


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