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A new COVID wave is accelerating across the U.S. with cases rising in almost every state. New daily cases are up by more than 50 percent from just two weeks ago, while COVID-related hospitalizations rose by 12 percent over the last week. This as the CDC signed off on Pfizer COVID boosters for children ages 5 to 11. White House COVID response director Dr. Ashish Jha joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.
New COVID Wave is accelerating across the country with cases rising in nearly every state. New daily cases are up by more than 50% from just two weeks ago, while COVID related hospitalizations rose by 12% over the last week. Meantime, the CDC has now signed off on Pfizer COVID boosters for five to 11-year-olds.
Joining us for more on all of this is White House COVID Response Director, Dr. Ashish Jha. It's great to have you with us.
Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid Response Coordinator:
Good evening. Thanks for having me here, Geoff.
And the White House said recently that there could be up to 100 million infections from the virus later this year. That's, of course, after the country marked 1 million deaths from this disease. Where are we in the life of this pandemic? In so many places, it feels like people have moved on. Is that a function of us learning to live with COVID? Or do you think we are becoming dangerously complacent?
Dr. Ashish Jha:
Yeah. So Geoff, I think if we take a step back and look at where we are in this pandemic, obviously there's a lot of infections out there. Two years in I don't think anybody wants to hear that. It's frustrating. But we do have a lot of immunity that we have built up through — largely through vaccinations and through boosting, people are much, much better protected and so as infections are rising, we are seeing hospitalizations and deaths much lower than we did in previous instances where infections rose.
And you know, when I look out to the future, we have got to keep up with this. I mean, the virus is not done. We've got to keep on working on improving our vaccines, making sure we have enough treatments. I think complacency can get us into a lot of trouble. But if we stay active, we stay focused, continue to combat this virus, I think we can keep Americans safe.
The CDC this week, as you will know, they recommended a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages five to 11. But hesitancy is pretty high and less than 1/3 of children in that age group have actually gotten two doses of the vaccine. What's the level of concern in the White House about that?
Yeah, so the evidence, first of all on this, is really clear, kids benefit from these vaccines, they really do. Vaccines make an enormous difference in keeping kids out of the hospital, preventing kids from getting sick. So that part I think, is very, very important that we've got to get that out.
Obviously, there's been a lot of misinformation about children and vaccines, and particularly children and COVID, suggesting that somehow COVID is not a big deal for kids. We know kids can get sick from this, what we have to do is both make vaccines widely available and continue to message on the science and evidence on this issue.
And of course, when that headline came out, I heard from parents of children who are younger than five who said, you know, what about the first dose for my kid? It was a couple of weeks ago, I guess three weeks ago now, where Moderna announced that it's seeking emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine for kids who are six months to five years old. Haven't heard much about that since then, what's the status there?
Yeah, I mean, I have a lot of friends who have kids under five and they are frustrated. And I understand that frustration. Look, the bottom line is that for each age group, what we have done is FDA has carefully reviewed the data. And when it has met their standards, they've authorized it, that is what is going to happen here. So the FDA scientists are going through all that Moderna data. And as soon as it meets their standards, I am confident they're going to make a decision. And my hope is it will happen soon.
I want to ask you also about long COVID. There are government estimates that as many as 23 million Americans already have long COVID. Do we have a better sense of what causes it? What is best to treat it? What's the latest?
Yeah, this is a really important issue. I mean, I think we do not spend enough time as a country talking about long COVID. There are a lot of Americans who are continue to suffer after an infection. What we know is that if you're vaccinated and boosted have breakthrough infection, you're much less likely to get long COVID. And if you do get it, you're it's much milder. That said, it's clearly kind of a heterogeneous group of conditions. It's a variety of different things that people are suffering from, we need a lot more research, we are launching a series of new studies to try to understand it better, as well as trying out new therapies to try to understand both how do we prevent it and how do we treat it?
Looking ahead to the fall, perhaps the winter, the emergence of another sub variant? If we're in a position where we need to wear masks again, in doors, do you think that there was enough political will for lawmakers elected officials to make that case and for the American people to actually listen?
Yeah. Look, again, as we just started with, you know, people are tired of this pandemic, we understand that. The virus unfortunately is not done with its work. As we look to the fall and winter, what I'm playing paying attention to right now is watching the virus evolve. We've got to pay very close attention to what happens if we do see a new wave of infections, we want to be ready with a new generation of vaccines, treatments.
I've always believed Jeff that masking is an important part of keeping, you know, keeping infection numbers low. And I think we're going to want to get that message out to people that in areas with high infection numbers, masking is going to be an important tool to keeping infections low and getting — letting us get through the fall in winter without substantial disruption.
White House COVID Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, great to speak with you as always.
Thank you, Geoff.
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Andrew Corkery is a national affairs producer at PBS News Weekend.
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