Dr. Michael Klepser is a pharmacy professor at Ferris who specializes in infectious diseases and point of care diagnostics. He has been staying up to date on all pandemic related information and has contributed to many Torch articles in the last couple of years. This week, he was willing to be a part of a question and answer session, as we reflect on almost two years of the pandemic and look ahead to the future.
We are nearing year two of the pandemic, is there an end in sight? Is this the ‘new normal’?
COVID is going to linger. The trends appear to suggest that even though cases have been going up and down, mortality and hospitalizations are not spiking proportionally. This is good. I think COVID will continue to be around and infections will continue, but it will become like influenza.
With the increase in variants, do you think that will affect the efficacy of the vaccines?
What we have seen is that immunity may differ to preventing infections, but they still tend to be protective against severe disease. Vaccines are still effective.
To go with the above question, do you think that yearly boosters will become standard?
We are likely going to need additional COVID booster shots. We may need one every year like influenza.
Numerous people have now gotten COVID more than once, are reinfections something that people should be concerned about?
Yes and no. It is reasonable to believe the people will get reinfected, just like [with] the cold and influenza [viruses].
Could you explain why there have been breakthrough infections with the current Omicron variant in vaccinated individuals?
With Omicron, you have more opportunities to become infected because there are more people carrying the virus, and you have an increased chance of not clearing the virus because of its ability to evade your immune system. So, the increased likelihood that you will be exposed to Omicron, coupled with the variant’s ability to evade immunity, places people at increased risk for breakthrough infections. However, it is important to note that breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals are typically less severe than illness among unvaccinated individuals.
Final thoughts from Dr. Klepser:
Eventually, case numbers will become less important than the fraction of infected people that develop severe disease or require hospitalization. We can manage colds, however, overcrowded hospitalizations are problematic.