August 16, 2022
Coronavirus Response Coordinator, The White House, Dean, Brown University School of Public Health
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
During this week’s Path Forward event, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark hosted a discussion with Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID response coordinator and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, on what businesses can do to help fight the COVID pandemic, prospects for this fall and winter, and the next generation of vaccines.
Path Forward, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event series, helps business and community leaders find the answers they need to navigate a post-pandemic world.
Two Things Turning the Tide Against COVID: Vaccines and Better Treatments
Dr. Jha emphasized how far we’ve come in the battle against COVID. Today, death and hospitalization rates from the disease are much lower than they were two years ago or even earlier this year. He said this was due to two factors: high vaccination rates and the availability of treatments for the virus.
“Between 80-90% of adult Americans have gotten at least one shot, about 80% have had two shots,” Jha said. “The vast majority of Americans have gotten vaccinated. That’s the really good news.”
Unfortunately, the COVID virus is continuing to evolve and find new ways to attack. The good news is that our vaccines are evolving too. Jha said that a new generation of vaccines will be available this fall as soon as September. These new vaccines promise to be even more effective against new variants like BA.5. The new vaccines will be available for all adults, whether it’s their first shot or they have had previous COVID vaccines or boosters.
“These are substantial upgrades in our vaccines,” Jha said. “It’s going be really important that people this fall and winter get the new shots; it’s designed for the virus that’s out there and should be highly effective against the new variants.”
He added that if you do test positive for COVID—and if you’re over 50 and/or have underlying health issues which might result in having severe complications—it’s best to take Paxlovid, which is a free antiviral that’s widely available. This drug has been highly effective in preventing serious cases of COVID.
“Paxlovid’s goal is to prevent you from getting seriously ill, to prevent you from going to the hospital, the ICU, or worse,” Jha said. “It’s extremely important that people get treated if they’re eligible.”
Prepping Now for a Winter Season of More COVID and Flu
One positive effect associated with the pandemic has been a severe reduction in the cases of flu viruses circulating as people wore masks in public more often and practiced social distancing. However, Jha said as restrictions have loosened, it’s not likely cases will remain low this coming flu season.
“That is going to be different this winter,” Jha said. “We should be ready for more flu and more COVID.”
Jha said that the best ways to prepare and take stress off of healthcare workers this winter include:
How Businesses Can Help in the Fight Against COVID
Jha said there are several ways businesses could help limit the spread of COVID, including investing in improved ventilation.
“Improving indoor air quality in public spaces is one of the most important things we can be doing,” Jha said. “The fixes for these things don’t tend to be that expensive…There are a lot of very simple technologies: basic filters and basic air purifiers that cost $50 or $100. These are things most people can do.”
However, the most important thing to do is to continue to encourage workers to get vaccinated.
“The single biggest thing you can do to keep your employees safe, to prevent disruption, is doing everything you can to encourage your workers to keep up to date on their vaccines,” Jha said. “And I think the vaccines we’re going to have in the fall are going to be a really important part of that.”
From the Series