Brief # 88
Health and Gender Policy
The New COVID-19 Variant: What We Know, and What Should be Done
By Justin Lee
January 5, 2021
In early December 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announced the new members of his public health team and objectives he plans to implement within in his first 100 days in office. These objectives include a federal requirement for Americans to wear masks where Biden is legally able to enforce compliance and seeking strategies to open the majority of schools across the country.
Since then, a new COVID-19 virus variant has been detected in over 30 countries. First publicly recognized in the UK, the variant has forced British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to issue a nationwide lockdown for England on January 4th, 2021. The variant has also since been detected in California, Colorado, Florida, and New York. California alone continues to report over 35,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, with public health experts cautious the current surge across the nation will only get worse as millions of Americans defied pleas not to travel during the holiday season.
More than 350,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. Healthcare infrastructures in major US cities are collapsing. Vaccine distribution and administration has been at a snail pace. Are masks and social distancing enough? Should Biden also consider a federally mandated lockdown?
When looking at this situation, it is important to analyze what we currently know.
What We Know: It is important to first state that viruses undergo mutations constantly, and there are currently multiple COVID-19 strains globally. The variant detected in the UK is more distinct because the variant has more mutations than other variants. Scientists and clinicians have reported the new variant is more easily contagious and transmissible by 50-70%. The new variant also seems to affect younger people more than previous strains.
There is no evidence, however, that the new variant is deadlier or more dangerous. There is also no evidence that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are ineffective on this new variant.
We also know that lockdown measures have profound effects on people. As the socio-economic factors are rather clear and obvious, studies have shown lockdown measures also affect mental health. These studies have shown that participants, particularly young adults and women, had increases in rates of suicide, anxiety, depression, and risks for self-harm.
What Should be Done: As dire as the current pandemic is for the US, a nationwide lockdown should be one of Biden’s last options. Instead, the next administration should focus on:
- Establishing federal leadership and presence: Since the election, the current administration has shown a lack of interest and concern regarding the pandemic. With President Trump more concerned about his re-election and staying in office, states are forced to scramble in maintaining their healthcare infrastructures and navigate through vaccine distribution delays. Biden has the opportunity to step in at one of the worst moments of the health crisis and show true leadership through establishing concrete, viable plans for states to follow and allowing public health experts to do their jobs in advocating vaccines, wearing masks, and social distancing.
- Expediting COVID-19 variant research and testing: The more we know about the COVID-19 variants, the faster the CDC, FDA, and life science industry can work together to develop or adjust treatments and vaccine candidates. The FDA should also keep a close eye on upcoming AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccine candidates, as more late-stage data will be available for their review in the coming weeks.
- Addressing and creating a vaccine distribution network: It comes as no surprise the current vaccine distribution system is failing, with the US far behind in inoculating Americans and millions of doses sitting in storage. Biden’s COVID-19 team will have to rethink the current distribution network. Some solutions could be involving major pharmacy retailers in administering vaccines or temporarily allowing other licensed health professionals (such as dentists) to administer vaccines. Other reports suggest having more Americans have access to receiving their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and focus less on ensuring inoculated recipients receive their second dose.
- Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 Map
- NPR: COVID-19 Variant
- Washington Post: British Lockdown
- CDC: COVID-19 Variant
- BBC: Lockdowns and Mental Health
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