The Delta variant dashed many people’s hopes about the pandemic ending quickly when its spread caused a major summer surge. The highly contagious strain erased much of the progress made after the winter peak and even brought back safety protocols such as mask mandates in some places. But according to Scott Gottlieb, MD, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, the U.S. will likely finally see the end of the Delta surge before too long. Read on to see when he believes the outbreak will come under control.
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The Delta surge will end in the U.S. by Thanksgiving, Gottlieb says.
With many watching the current national COVID numbers continue to decline, some experts have become cautiously optimistic that the trajectory of the pandemic might slowly be changing, even with some areas seeing cases rise. But during an interview on Oct. 4, Gottlieb predicted that the Delta surge would end within a matter of weeks, Reuters reports.
“I think this Delta wave is probably the last major surge of SARS-CoV-2 infection that we have in the U.S., barring something unexpected happening,” he said. “It’s largely coursed its way through the U.S., and so maybe by Thanksgiving, on the back-end of that, we’ll start to see prevalence levels nationally decline in a more uniform scale.”
Gottlieb believes the last region to see a spike in cases will likely be the Northeast.
While Gottlieb was optimistic that the Delta surge would be winding down by late November, he stopped short of saying that the pandemic would be totally over. Instead, he said that the national decline in cases was primarily thanks to declining cases in the South, which was hit hard by the summer surge amid low vaccination rates. But he reiterated a prediction he had previously made that the variant would continue to spread into other areas before the long-running outbreak truly came to an end.
“I think the big question mark is what happens in the Northeast,” said Gottlieb. He pointed out that the region was already seeing cases trend slightly upward despite being one of the most highly vaccinated areas of the country, but would likely see more, saying: “I still think that Delta is going to sweep through the Northeast.”
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COVID will still affect the winter and will likely stick around in a way similar to the flu.
Gottlieb also made it a point to clarify that just because the Delta surge would likely end in the coming weeks didn’t mean the danger would be eliminated by December—especially as other seasonal viruses make their annual return. “I don’t think it’s going away,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to do things differently, especially in the wintertime when this virus is going to circulate, in part because it’s going to be circulating alongside influenza, and the twin sort of threat from COVID and flu is going to be too great for us to really bear.”
“My prediction would be that this is going to become an annualized vaccination, at least for more vulnerable people and at least for a period of time,” he added.
Gottlieb also said the fight against COVID on a global scale would likely take a significant effort. He estimated that while vaccine manufacturers would probably be able to produce 10 to 15 billion doses collectively for the world’s population, it would still be essential to focus on the infrastructure that will allow it to get to people everywhere. “The challenge is going to be getting the distribution on the ground in hard-to-reach settings, and that’s where there really isn’t any focus,” he said. “I think that’s where the world should be putting some money. I think the supply will be there.”
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The CEO of Moderna had a similar prediction for when the global pandemic would end.
Gottlieb’s prediction for the pandemic’s global outcome is similar to that of Stéphane Bancel, CEO of biotechnology company and vaccine manufacturer Moderna. In a Sept. 23 interview with Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung, Bancel said that significant changes in production capabilities meant that companies could address the lag in global vaccine equity much more quickly in the coming months, Reuters reports. When asked about how long it would take for the pandemic to end and for life to return to normal as a result of this development, he replied: “As of today, in a year, I assume.”
Bancel explained that even with vaccine hesitancy in some areas, the pandemic would likely slow down as more of the public gets exposed to the virus. “Those who do not get vaccinated will immunize themselves naturally because the Delta variant is so contagious. In this way, we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu,” he predicted.
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