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Is the pandemic over? A COVID update

As I write this, I have contracted COVID-19 for the first time.

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It seems that we may be getting to a better place with the pandemic. Numbers have dropped. Things are starting to feel “normal-ish.” So it is a legitimate time to wonder if the pandemic is over.

Well, as I write this, I have contracted COVID-19 for the first time. And two subvariants are causing a surge on the East Coast. So folks, it is not over. But we are shifting into a new phase of the pandemic. Thanks to the vaccine, which lessens the severity of COVID, I am writing this article from my couch instead of from a hospital bed.

We have transitioned into what feels like a more livable phase of the pandemic which feels really good. As we enter this next phrase, questions persist. I’ll answer some of them in this column.

Is COVID “endemic?”

Moving from a pandemic to endemic means that the disease is around, but not causing significant disruption to the community. Hospitals are not overwhelmed and schools and businesses are remaining open.

While COVID-19 is not yet considered endemic, we are moving in that direction. The omicron variant did not impact our health care system as significantly as feared. But our hospitals were still above capacity for many weeks and had to reduce the number of elective operations.

So we are not there yet. The more people in the community who have immunity, however, the quicker COVID moves from pandemic to endemic.

Wasn’t omicron more infectious? Does that mean the vaccines don’t work?

Even to vaccinated people omicron was much more infectious, as are the variants of omicron such as BA-2. This doesn’t mean the vaccines aren’t working. One of the reasons our health care system was not overwhelmed with patients with severe disease — despite the high numbers of omicron infections — is because the vaccines are doing a good job preventing serious illness.

Should I get the second booster?

The FDA just approved a second booster for people over age 50 and those 12 and older who are immunocompromised. This is because the vaccines’ ability to protect against severe disease wanes over time. The boosters help to protect against severe disease, the need for hospitalization and death.

Those under age 50 who are not immunocompromised are less likely to have severe disease, so they don’t get as much benefit from a second booster. The vaccines lose some of their effectiveness after four to six months, so if you are 50 or older or are immunocompromised and at least four months have passed since your last booster, you are eligible.

Even as COVID-19’s severity ebbs, we must remember that the virus will continue to be a part of our lives. There are still unvaccinated people who are at high risk, including children under 5, those who are immunocompromised and those who did not get the vaccine.

I expect we will still see surges that require masking indoors periodically. The pandemic is not over, but yes, we can be thankful for the progress we have made.

Megan Frost, MD, is a general surgeon with APP–General Surgery, Grants Pass. She holds a master’s degree in public health.

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