Ky. medical experts discuss long-range coronavirus threats

COVID-19 will always be with us, but vaccines, therapies and preventive steps mean we can live with it, experts said.

The coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease will always be with us, and may become more contagious, but probably less dangerous, while still requiring caution to keep from getting sick. That’s what Kentucky medical experts said Monday night on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight.”

“In many ways it will be like influenza,” fought with vaccines adjusted annually to keep up with mutations of the virus, said Dr. Jon Klein, vice dean of medical research at the University of Louisville.

Asked by host Renee Shaw if the virus will be with us forever, Klein said, “Probably so. we are looking at a virus that mutates very avidly.” But that may not be the threat that it once was.

Ultimately, mutations become detrimental to the life cycle of a virus, so “At some point there’s going to be an equilibrium,” said Ilhem Massaoudi, chair of immunology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine: “We’re almost there. … This virus is learning how to live with us, and we’re learning to live with it.”

Massaoudi said we will have better vaccines and therapeutics, but “This virus is not going to go away.”

Klein said the virus has mutated so much that it “has in some ways disappeared” and become a different virus. He said the new vaccines expected this fall, designed to fight the latest versions of the Omicron variant, will be “very, very different” from those in use now.

But he said people who are active in society and haven’t received all the booster shots for which they are eligible should go ahead and get them, and not wait until the fall.

Also, Klein said “Mask wearing in closed spaces with other individuals is still extremely important.” Noting the recent rash of flight cancellations due to crew shortages, he said “This sort of disruption of society is going to continue was long as people get ill and have to stay home from work.”

Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass of Pikeville Medical Center said it’s important to use the best mask possible and get a good fit, because the most common infection route is aerosols, and he said good air circulation is “very important, especially in a crowded area.” He also cautioned the audience about “long Covid,” which can stem from even a mild case.

Dr. Mark Dougherty of Baptist Health Lexington said the disease “has an incredibly wide range of presentation,” so “If you’ve got sneezes and sniffles, don’t get together with other people. … Even if you have sniffles and blow your nose a couple of times, you can pass it to other people.”

Noting that the oral treatment Paxlovid has now been now tested among vaccinated people, Dougherty recommended asking your doctor about it if you get infected, and do it early.

The one-hour “Kentucky Tonight” show will be rebroadcast several times and is available online.

Ky. medical experts discuss long-range coronavirus threats

Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.