Health on the Frontlines: Beware the Winter COVID Surge

COVID vaccine administration
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) worker receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination for MTA employees at Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. March 10, 2021
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

As predicted, we are experiencing a COVID surge after Thanksgiving and Chanukah gatherings. Local doctors and urgent care centers are seeing more positive cases. After Christmas and New Year’s, we expect even more cases as the dominant Omicron variant of coronavirus represents the majority of current cases.

Since it is no longer politically correct to name viruses after their country or location of origin, the Greek alphabet has come to the rescue once again to name the latest flavor of coronavirus called Omicron, which was first reported in South Africa. The Omicron variant has been found in most U.S. states as of this writing and is highly contagious. Fortunately it appears to be less lethal than prior variants, but several deaths have been reported. The reality is, by being vaccinated, you reduce your chance of severe illness, hospitalization or death by more than 90%.

Fortunately, we are in a different place in treating COVID in the early outpatient phase of the virus with the Regeneron monoclonal antibodies, invented by Columbia University-trained Dr. George Yancopoulos MD, Ph.D. and Dr. Christos K., and the Merck antiviral pill invented by Dr. George Painter at Emory University and brought to Merck by Ridgeback Theraputics of Miami. The senior VP of infectious diseases at Merck, Dr. Nick Kartsonis, is bringing it to reality as the FDA Advisory Board gave it a thumbs up on November 30.

We now await the FDA full committee for final approval to get it into our pharmacies to treat COVID as soon as it presents and even after exposure to take prophylactically.

Between herd immunity, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals, the COVID threat will diminish over time as long as a super variant doesn’t emerge or we run out of letters in the Greek alphabet. We must keep hope alive!

Peter Michalos, MD is associate professor of clinical ophthalmology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; past president of medical staff/chief of surgery, Southampton Hospital; chairman, Hamptons Health Society; and a Southampton resident.

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