A top infectious disease expert said Sunday the US needs to rush giving out the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before an anticipated “Category 5” hurricane-like surge in cases.
Michael Osterholm, who was an advisor to President Joe Biden’s transition team, said that even one dose could lessen the blow of a likely outbreak of infections driven by new, contagious strains of the virus.
“We still want to get two doses in everyone, but I think right now, in advance of this surge, we need to get as many one-doses in as many people over 65 as we possibly can, to reduce serious illness and death that is going to occur over the weeks ahead,” Osterholm told NBC anchor Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”
One dose of Moderna’s vaccine has proven to be 80 percent effective, while just one shot of Pfizer’s has an efficacy rate of 52 percent, the drugmakers said.
“So we do know that if we get a number of first doses in people, particularly 65 years of age and older, we can really do a lot to reduce the number of serious illnesses and deaths in this next big surge which is coming,” said the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Osterholm said that the country needs to “call an audible” with its vaccination program since he anticipates it will become inundated with new cases “in the next six to 14 weeks,” due to contagious, new variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
“We are going to see something that we have not seen yet in this country,” he said. “England, for example, is hospitalizing twice as many people as we ever had hospitalized at our highest number.”
Osterholm compared the anticipated surge to a Category 5 hurricane.
“You and I are sitting on this beach where it’s 70 degrees, perfectly blue skies, gentle breeze,” Osterholm said. “But I see that hurricane five, category five or higher, 450 miles offshore. And, you know, telling people to evacuate on that nice blue sky day is going to be hard.”
The potential outbreak may mean implementing tough lockdown measures again, Osterholm said.
“We’re really good in this country at pumping the brakes after we wrap the car around the tree,” Osterholm said.
“You know, what we have to do now is also anticipate this and understand that we’re going to have change quickly. As fast as we’re opening restaurants, we’re likely going to be closing them in the near term.”
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked to be allowed to use vaccines reserved for second doses amid a shortage. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not supported that move, but has said it is ultimately up to the feds.