Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm warned Sunday of a coming “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections in the U.S. due in part to a more contagious variant that is spreading and affecting younger people.
“I believe that, in some ways, we’re almost in a new pandemic,” Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace. “The only good news is that the current vaccines are effective against this particular variant, B117.”
In addition to this variant being known to be more contagious and deadly, Osterholm said it is more likely to affect children, an age group that throughout the pandemic had been largely unaffected by COVID-19.
NEW: "We are just at the beginning of this surge, we haven't even really begun to see it yet," says @mtosterholm on #MTP "We are now seeing increasing number of severe illnesses [and] ICU hospitalizations in individuals 30 to 50 years of age who have not been vaccinated." pic.twitter.com/9P39ELPjBU
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) April 4, 2021
“Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under eighth grade get infected often, or they were not frequently very ill,” he said in a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Kids are playing a huge role in the transmission of this,” he told Wallace.
Osterholm said he initially was in favor of students physically returning to classrooms, but because the virus is changing, he’s changing too.
“There isn’t a country in the world right now that has seen a big increase of this B117 that is not locking down. We’re the exception. And so the bottom line message from all of these countries is, we could not control this virus until we did lockdown,” he told Wallace. “We have to do a better job of helping the public understand that this is short term. All we’re trying to do is get through this surge of cases that are going to occur over the next six to eight to 10 weeks because of this B117 variant.”
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Sunday also attributed new outbreaks in some states to a rise in infections among younger people but said he does not think there will be a “true” fourth wave of cases thanks to the rising number of vaccinations.
“What we’re seeing is pockets of infection around the country, particularly in younger people who haven’t been vaccinated and also in school-aged children,” he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
Gottlieb said that he thinks the FDA could authorize Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use for children ages 12 to 15. He doesn’t expect it to be available to children younger than that before the start of the fall school semester, however.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, also warned last week of a feeling of an “impending doom” over the recent rise in the seven-day average of cases.
“When we see that uptick in cases, what we’ve seen before is that things really have a tendency to surge and surge big,” she said.
The nation’s seven-day moving average of cases has been rising in recent weeks, with it topping 64,000 on Saturday. The last time it was this high was in early March, according to the CDC’s website.
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