The bad news: we are more than two years into the pandemic. The good news: we’ve made unprecedented medical achievements. Even with the Omicron variant causing havoc, progress is expected to continue into 2022. Here are seven predictions about the state of COVID – 19 and what it will bring in the new year.
Clinical Trials Will Remain Critical For Detecting, Preventing and Treating COVID – 19
There are no silver bullets in medicine, but in 2021 we witnessed accelerated – and unprecedented – vaccine development for the good of humanity. Scientists had already been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years, as well as mRNA for over a decade. Fortunately, these earlier applications provided a meaningful head start for creating vaccines that were evaluated and authorized for emergency use in people ages five and older in less than one year.
The development of COVID-19 vaccines was a great example of why clinical trials are so beneficial – not just for the future of medicine, but also for each individual patient enrolling in them. Generally speaking, clinical trials give patients access to new drugs and therapies, often when patients have diseases that don’t necessarily have great outcomes and,or traditional treatment options haven’t worked. Also, with clinical trials there are many researchers involved that are experts in a particular disease; this gives patients greater access to the best of the best in medicine.
In 2022, COVID-19 studies will undoubtedly continue. Given the time it takes to bring treatments to the market, scientists will keep observing the safety and efficacy of vaccines (including boosters), oral medicines, as well as therapies for long covid. Even with the clinical research space becoming more decentralized, there will be a greater opportunity for patient recruitment and participation in trials thanks to innovative telehealth services and fewer friction points that would otherwise deter people from volunteering. The bottom line: more trials will help make it easier to identify and treat COVID-19.
COVID Vaccines Will Become Available For Kids Under Five
The last age group waiting to get the green light on COVID vaccines is children under five years of age. And for many parents, approval can’t come soon enough! This age group accounts for 2.7% of total Covid-19 cases (6% of the overall US population). Pfizer and BioNTech recently released a statement saying that they expect to submit data to regulators to support an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children six months to under five years of age in the first half of 2022. Moderna trials involving kids six months and up are also underway with an estimated timeline of early 2022.
Over 7 million children have had COVID in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. As the virus evolves over time, it will target those who don’t have a built-in antibody response that vaccines help provide. So, providing kids (of all ages) with adequate protection will be important for slowing the spread of COVID-19 next year.
We Can Expect That More Variants Will Emerge
At the end of the day, the coronavirus is doing exactly what it’s designed to: evolve to survive. With its ability to mutate quickly, and with so many hosts available to infect, we should expect to see more variants emerge. This isn’t a one-sided fight though. To date, there have been vaccine inequities in distribution and accessibility across the globe. The result: greater risk of surges in disease, hospitalizations, and death. Vaccine hesitancy has also made it difficult to get ahead of the virus because herd immunity hasn’t been established. Fully acknowledging that more variants are likely to surface, vaccinating the globe, educating communities, and providing adequate resources to be proactive rather than reactive will be essential if we want to have a real fighting chance against COVID-19.
There Will Be More Supply of COVID Vaccines, But There Will Also Be More Unknowns
Health officials and organizations are exercising a coordinated effort to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population with three doses by June 2022. It is an admirable (and necessary) goal. Still, there are a handful of obstacles and unknowns that could stand in the way of us achieving it. With certain parts of the world not getting the access and resources they need, the risk of more SARS CoV-2 variants emerging is heightened. More disease not only impacts people, but also economies.
If more variants emerge, this will raise some important questions: Will people be at greater risk of getting sick? Will the COVID-19 vaccines still work? Are there new protocols for staying safe?
Vaccines may need to be reformulated. Depending on severity and transmissibility, the pandemic response may also require new federal mandates around lockdowns, mask mandates, COVID testing and vaccines. For all of these reasons, it will be economically, epidemiologically and morally in all countries’ best interest to make COVID vaccines available to all – sooner rather than later.
COVID-19 Will Become Endemic
Given the obstacles mentioned above, it’s unlikely that we will completely eradicate COVID-19. But as more people get vaccinated and additional treatments become available, it is very likely that COVID will become endemic (if it’s not already). This means that the virus will be present with baseline case counts in certain regions or populations of people. Remember that a handful of coronaviruses that cause common colds already exist and are endemic too – including the flu, which prompts reminders for annual vaccines if and when new variants emerge. When more people in a community participate in getting vaccinated, that population is able to tolerate illnesses better without requiring lockdowns, masks, and social distancing.
At-Home Testing Will Play a Bigger Role in Slowing the Spread
With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing due to the Omicron variant and the winter holiday season, COVID test kits have become very hard to find. All over the country, people are experiencing overly long lines and empty shelves. Many pharmacies and online supplies are either completely out of stock, or they are enforcing purchase limits. In response to this, the federal government and health officials have voiced plans to distribute 500 million rapid tests to Americans starting in early 2022 – specifically rapid at-home tests. (WSJ) But it’s important for individuals to be mindful about which COVID test to take and when, as not all tests are created equal or for the same purpose.
The biggest advantages of rapid antigen tests are convenience and turnaround time with results ready in about 15 minutes. There are a couple of downsides though. Rapid tests have a shorter window for detecting COVID. In other words, if you test too early in the course of the infection there may not be enough replicating virus in your nose or throat for the test to detect it. Similarly, if you test too late after symptoms start, then the viral load may be decreasing and also be undetectable. (McGill) This is a sensitivity issue that has been shown to result in more false negatives and less accuracy than PCR tests.
Additionally, the results from rapid tests are rarely reported to public health departments, exacerbating the longstanding challenges of maintaining accurate case counts. (NYT) From a public health perspective, the pandemic response depends on surveillance to identify active infections and those at risk for spreading the virus. PCR tests not only have greater sensitivity and accuracy, but [positive] results are shared with state departments and health officials to help reduce transmissibility.
Whether you’re testing for confirmation or peace of mind, COVID tests will remain an invaluable tool throughout 2022. PCR tests will have an edge up on accuracy and public health effectiveness though. Need an at-home PCR test? Get one here, or check here to see if your state has a partnership with Vault Health that provides FREE tests to residents.
Worker Safety Will Include New Protocols for Airborne Pathogens like the Coronavirus
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted the Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) standard back in the 1990s to reduce the health risk to workers whose duties involve exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials.[6, 7] This was considered a vital protection against pathogens such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.
While there is currently no official standard for preventing worker exposure to airborne pathogens, OSHA is in the process of implementing a vaccine-or-testing mandate that will require employers to protect the health of workers by mitigating the spread of the unprecedented virus in the workplace. This Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) is set to take effect on January 10, 2022 pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Under this standard, businesses with 100 employees or more will be required to enforce a two-pronged approach to safety: workers must either be vaccinated or they must do COVID testing on a weekly basis and receive negative results before returning to work.
Vault’s Workforce COVID Solution provides employers with a robust turnkey solution for monitoring COVID test results and addressing potential outbreaks. It can also help employees feel more confident about returning to the office safely. Learn more
- CDC. (2020, March 28). COVID Data Tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report. https://www.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/
- Achieving 70% COVID-19 Immunization Coverage by Mid-2022. (2021, December 23). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news/item/23-12-2021-achieving-70-covid-19-immunization-coverage-by-mid-2022
- Strategy to Achieve Global Covid-19 Vaccination by Mid-2022. World Health Organization. https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/immunization/covid-19/strategy-to-achieve-global-covid-19-vaccination-by-mid-2022.pdf
- USA TODAY. (2021, November 18). COVID lockdown: Which states have restrictions in place in 2021? https://eu.usatoday.com/storytelling/coronavirus-reopening-america-map/
- Bloodborne Pathogens – Standards | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2002). Occupational Safety & Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/bloodborne-pathogens/standards
- Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens; Needlestick and Other Sharps Injuries; Final Rule. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2001, January 18). Occupational Safety & Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/federalregister/2001-01-18
DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be relied upon for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, dial 911 immediately.