Covid is back, and the U.S. is unprepared for the next bug. Here’s what to do.

Jan 24, 2024 | Industry News

Millions of Americans have the boxes of tissues, missed work days and hospital visits to prove it: Respiratory illnesses, including influenza, covid-19 and RSV, have surged this winter. Meanwhile, health experts warned once again last week that the world needs to prepare for a hypothetical “Disease X” perhaps far deadlier than covid-19. Yet, for all covid’s lessons, health officials, governments and the public have more to do, fighting the diseases circulating now and making the next pandemic less severe.


Extend paid sick leave

The pandemic changed many Americans’ behaviors. Many more people are reaching for face masks without being urged and staying home when feeling ill. Institutions and governments should do all they can to encourage basic hygienic practices that should be common courtesy. National paid sick leave, for example, would encourage more people to stay home — at least among the one-quarter of the workforce who now lacks it.

Get new vaccines into more people’s arms

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is still evolving rapidly. The current variant, JN. 1, appeared only in September. Fortunately, hospital admissions have not skyrocketed; the most recent booster vaccine continues to protect against hospitalization and severe illness. Still, only 21 percent of adults older than 18 years in the United States are vaccinated with the updated booster. More should get it.

During the pandemic, hopes were high that researchers would develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine that could work against all variants and provide longer protection. A road map for the research and development has been created, and research efforts are underway, including the Biden administration’s $5 billion Project NextGen. But experts say the progress is slow and the obstacles complex.

Science has yet to entirely unravel long covid, the tendency of those who are infected to experience fatigue and other debilitating symptoms in the months after. It seems that covid may cause damage throughout the body’s organs — and to the immune system. The best way to avoid long covid is to get vaccinated.

But as The Post’s Lauren Weber documented recently, lawmakers who oppose vaccine requirements are winning elections for state legislatures. Robert M. Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, which oversees vaccines, warn in a Jan. 5 article in JAMA that vaccine hesitancy has reached a tipping point: “The situation has now deteriorated to the point that population immunity against some vaccine-preventable infectious diseases is at risk.”