Brian Williams, on his late-night program “The 11th Hour” last night interviewed Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the UCSF Medical Center. Dr. Wachter has lately been suggesting that Covid will become endemic (regular, recurring here on planet Earth). Here’s the transcript of the interview with Dr. Wachter (some bolded portions below are my emphasis):
WILLIAMS: As a steady drop in New COVID cases fuel some cautious optimism out there even though our daily death toll around 1,500, 1,600 souls. Health experts are beginning to prepare for what comes next. Our next guest is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle under the eye catching headline. This is it is the consensus among COVID experts. The article includes a recent post from one of those experts, Dr. Bob Wachter, who wrote ” … for the past 18 months my personal COVID choices, very cautious, were driven by prospects of lowered risk in the future, mostly via vaccines. My current view is that we`re nearing a new normal at least for the next few years. It drives me to choices on travel, dining, et cetera, that feel right long term.”
For more, we welcome to our broadcast the aforementioned Dr. Bob Wachter, Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF University of California, San Francisco, also one of the Bay Area`s leading experts on this virus. Doctor, thanks very much for coming on. Explain to our viewers the difference between pandemic and endemic and explain please your position that this may be our life now and how you got there.
DR. ROBERT WACHTER, CHAIR OF THE DEPT. MEDICINE UCSF: Yes, thanks, Brian. I hope not. I hope it gets better. We need to continue to work on vaccinating more people and, and being careful. But my fear is that we may be reaching a point where there are enough unvaccinated people and delta is infectious enough that we kind of reach of an equilibrium, it`s not a great equilibrium, we would want the fire to go away and bring us back to what life was like two years ago.
But the problem is 40 percent of the country is still unvaccinated. Delta is incredibly infectious. And I think we may be reaching a point where we have swings back and forth, where certain places like San Francisco where I live, 80 percent of people are vaccinated, that`s awfully good, but not high enough to make the virus go away. Other parts of the country where you have only 30 or 40 percent of people vaccinated, a lot of people been infected. They have some level of immunity, but it`s going to wane over time.
So we`re talking about needing to give people boosters, trying to get people who got immune from their cases, vaccinated in the first place. And I liken it a little bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, you sort of reach a point where you`re finished and you say you`re good. But then you`ve got to start all over again. And we may be at a point where maybe it gets 20 or 30 percent better maybe gets 20 to 30 percent worse, but unlikely to get 90 percent better than it is now. So we have to start making choices that reflect that this may be what life looks like for the next few years.
WILLIAMS: Of course there`s no good news contained in what you just said, for the people with comorbidities, preexisting conditions, they`re going to remain scared and weary and at risk. And I guess that`s going to be their lot in life. If we go forward as we are now.
WACHTER: Well, I would see a little bit of good news that if they are fully vaccinated, and if they`re eligible, if they get their boosters, they are incredibly well protected against getting super sick and dying. So, and that`s different than it was a year ago, year and a half ago. So I think that news is good. For the unvaccinated people, I think they`re very likely to get infected at some point. And hopefully they`ll do OK, but there`s obviously a chance that they won`t. As you know, there are new drugs coming down the pike that may lower the chance of getting super sick, if you do get COVID.
So things may get incrementally better. But I don`t know any COVID experts who believe that COVID is going to go away get completely out of our lives. So we`re going to be in this sort of meta stable condition for a while. And to me, the choices I was making six months ago, were — which were very careful and still are fairly careful, were predicated in part on things are going to get super better. That was before delta. And that was before I realized that perhaps a third, 40 percent of the United States will not take a vaccine. So we`re not going to get to a point where we reach that herd immunity we`ve all counted on and we have to be ready for a future where there`s still some COVID in our lives.
WILLIAMS: So is that stasis you`re talking about? Would it be the same as life during a dangerous, virulent flu season? A word I hate to invoke because we lost so much time and so many lives with a president who was bound and determined to compare COVID to the flu. But in terms of being germ aware, in terms of getting a yearly shot, could it be a flu-like member of working society?
WACHTER: Yes, I think the best projections we have out there are that it would — it might get to be like a really bad flu year 50, 60 80,000 people dying in the United States a year so we`re talking pretty terrible. And I think now that we`ve experienced a pandemic, I think it`s pretty likely that for older people who are being careful, they will be fully vaccinated, and they will choose to wear masks, for example, if you see an uptick in COVID cases. I think people are going to follow COVID reports like they follow weather reports and say, OK, you know, things are getting a little bit worse in my community, it`s time to be more careful again.
So I think we`re going to be in a world where there still is COVID as there is flu where people are going to need boosters. And but for people that are fully vaccinated, and if they are eligible, take boosters, they will be quite safe against getting very sick and dying. I worry a lot about the people who are unvaccinated. I think most of them will end up getting COVID. Most of them will survive and do OK. But they may have the illusion that they are immune. They have partial immunity, but it`s looking like their immunity is waning after a year. So they really need to get vaccinated if they don`t they will continue to be vulnerable.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for that. It`s an educated prognostication. And thank you very much for agreeing to come on with us, take our questions and explain your position to our viewers. You`ve given us a lot to think about Dr. Bob Wachter —
WACHTER: Thank you.
You can watch a portion of the interview here: