A reality we can hope for is not COVID zero, but COVID that doesn't disrupt our daily lives, says doctor

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

“The more people we get vaccinated, the more likely it is that we turn this virus into something that's much more manageable than it is today,” says Cornell physician Dhruv Khullar. Photo by Shutterstock.

Coronavirus cases are rising in every state, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. In the last week, the U.S. averaged 32,000 cases a day, according to John Hopkins University. It’s more than double the average number of cases earlier this month. 

Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky has described this moment as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as nearly every new infection, hospitalization, and death is happening to people who haven’t gotten their shots. This is frustrating doctors who are once again overrun with COVID-19 patients. 

“​​When a patient comes in, no matter who they are, what their history is, what their illnesses [are], doctors … [are] gonna treat that patient like any other patient and do the absolute best we can,” says Dhruv Khullar, physician at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. 

“On another level, there's a sadness or a frustration when you see so much death and disease due to something that we know is almost entirely preventable.”

Khullar says some doctors are hesitant to bring up vaccinations with these patients, while others actively recommend treatment. He says one doctor he spoke to says they’ve been the most forceful in their medical recommendations during the pandemic. 

He notes that a small percentage of medical professionals hesitate to take the vaccine themselves, and to help break through to them, you can turn to continuous conversations about education and treatment, plus offers on incentives. He says heavy-handed approaches like vaccine mandates could also be an option in the U.S. once the doses receive full FDA approval. 

“These vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of people at this point. And so we know very well the efficacy and the safety of them. One reason I think they haven't been approved yet is that they're very new. … We're still collecting data from the initial trial participants. But from everything we know, I would be shocked if these weren't approved in the near future.” 

Khullar says it might not be possible to entirely eradicate coronavirus — due to its nature — but we can control how it affects daily life, similar to our handling of the flu or common cold. 

“The more people we get vaccinated, the more likely it is that we turn this virus into something that's much more manageable than it is today,” he explains. “I don't think COVID zero is a reality, but really pushing COVID into something that doesn't disrupt our daily lives, that very much is a reality that we can hope for.” 

Credits

Guest:

  • Dhruv Khullar - physician and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and contributing editor at The New Yorker