The White House COVID-19 response coordinator said the Biden administration aims to transition out of managing the pandemic day-to-day and focus instead on planning for future pathogens.
“We are working very hard to make sure that transition is in a very kind of orderly, a very transparent way so everybody sees it coming,” Dr. Ashish Jha said Tuesday at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Jha said the government should be financing the next generation of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics as the U.S. moves past the COVID pandemic emergency phase and settles into a “new normal.”
“One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the last many months — and we’re going to continue this work, and you’ll hear more from the administration on this — is getting us out of that acute emergency phase where the U.S. government is buying the vaccines, buying the treatments, buying the diagnostic tests. We need to get out of that business over the long run,” Jha said.
By next year, COVID treatments, including vaccines, should be integrated into the regular health care system for people to access in the same way that they seek help for other diseases, he said.
“My hope is that in 2023, you’re going to see the commercialization of almost all of these products,” Jha continued. “Some of it is actually going to begin this fall, in the days and weeks ahead. You’re going to see commercialization of some of these things. So we just move them into the regular health care system.”
Jha cautioned that plenty of issues, including regulations and market dynamics, still need to be resolved before the government can assume a more supervisory role.
Jha also looked ahead to the upcoming winter season, with both COVID and flu circulating. Health experts in Australia, where it is currently winter, describe what they call a “twindemic” of flu cases surpassing pre-pandemic levels and a COVID surge powered by omicron subvariants like BA.5.
“I expect this fall and winter to look much more like the fall and winter of 2019 than the last two years, with a lot less mitigation,” Jha predicted. “And that means we should be ready for more flu and more COVID.”
The flu, in pre-pandemic times, already strained the health system, he noted.
“Throw in COVID on top of that, our health care system is going to get into serious trouble unless we are very proactive about preventing it,” he said, adding that testing and treatment will play important roles this winter.
Jha advised people to seek an updated COVID booster when it becomes available and to get a flu shot. Businesses and schools, he said, should look at ways to improve indoor ventilation.