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Dr. Jerome Adams on new omicron subsets, ending the pandemic, new treatments ahead

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — New COVID-19 numbers out Thursday showed a dip in hospitalizations in Indiana. The state health department reported around 200 fewer Hoosiers in the hospital compared to Wednesday, and almost 500 fewer than a week ago.

New cases and the state’s total positivity rate also did increase, though.

WISH-TV medical expert and former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams talked Thursday on News 8 via videoconference, back in Indiana after a trip to Arizona.

The first topic was new variants of the coronavirus — omicron subsets BA.1 and BA.2 — that may be even more contagious than the original omicron. Adams says the variants have differences in the spike protein.

“It’s also got additional changes not seen in the original version. It’s unclear right now how significant those mutations are, especially given that we’ve all been exposed to omicron across this country, and the quick spread of it in places like Denmark raises concerns that it really could be more contagious and take off.

“The good news is that an initial analysis in Denmark shows us there’s no differences in hospitalization for BA.2 compared with the original omicron. The message is still the same. Get your vaccine. Get your booster. That’s the best way to protect yourself against the current version of omicron and future variants that may arise.”

On another topic: Is the nation on the downside of the surge? “Hey, my fingers are crossed. It looks like we’re coming back down. That is good news. That’s good news. But here’s the concern: Cases come down usually about 2-3 weeks before hospitalizations and deaths. So we’re still going to continue to see hospital capacity taxed. We’re still going to unfortunately see people passing away. We need to continue to take precautions because we also don’t know what we don’t know about this new BA.2 variant.”

Regarding a new Associated Press poll that says many Americans don’t believe the COVID-19 pandemic will end soon, Adams said, “This pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon because it doesn’t just have to end here in the United States, it’s got to end everywhere for it to stop being called a pandemic. What we’re looking for is reaching a state of being endemic, which means the disease has reached a constant or steady state. Many of us are hopeful that omicron being so contagious will mean that between the people who are getting vaccinated and boosted and the people who’ve been exposed to omicron, we may all have a baseline level of immunity that lowers the virus to a steady state. But every time we’ve thought that before, we see a new surge coming back against us again. So I think we’re going to be here for a while, but we’ve got the tools to live with it, which is something we always talk about.”

“We are going to be living with this for years because, again, until we get the rest of the world vaccinated then the virus will pop up in South Africa or China or England or somewhere else and then people will bring it back here. But, that’s why we need to protect ourselves. As vaccines and boosters get to a steady state where you have a normal annual update, like with the flu shot, and I think we’ll be able to live with it. I actually am optimistic about later this this spring and summer. I’m hopeful that as we continue to see vaccinations go up and, like I said, more people are going to have some baseline immunity from omicron that things will get back to a new normal here in Indiana and in the United States.”

Adams also talked about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoking the emergency approval for Eli Lilly & Co.’s antibody treatment for the coronavirus.

“A monoclonal antibody — mono means one — is designed to respond very specifically to a certain strain of the virus. We’ve had many mutations, and Lilly’s along with Regeneron’s (treatments for) monoclonal antibodies simply no longer work against omicron. There’s only one monoclonal antibody that still works against omicron. So that’s not a bad thing about the drug, it just means that the virus continues to mutate. We need to continue to come up with new and better treatments to respond to it.”

“I just heard from the White House that they’re going to be rolling out more Paxlovid, the new oral antiviral, and Molnupiravir, the Merck antiviral, so we’re going to have more choices in the future. But again, the best protection is to prevent yourself from getting in that car wreck in the first place and not rely on that airbag on the back end. Get your vaccine. Get your booster to protect yourself and hopefully we’ll have some new treatments available coming soon.”