Ashish Jha, the Covid-19-response coordinator at the White House, said it would take more than a year from now to get the disease to fade into the background with a new generation of vaccines that block the transmission of the coronavirus.
The Indian-American general internist physician said with herd immunity building up either with vaccines or from infections, it could be harder for the virus to break through.
“I do think there is a limit to how much the virus can keep evading,” Jha told Dhruv Khullar in an interview published in The New Yorker.
He said the emergence of new variants of the virus and intermittent surges in infections are not acceptable in the long run although people will have to cope with the situation for some more time.
“We have hundreds of thousands of Americans getting infected every day. We still have a few hundred people dying of covid every day. I don’t think any of this is an acceptable normal for the long run… The idea of people getting infected over and over and over again – it’s just not great,” he said.
According to the public health expert who migrated to the US from the eastern Indian state of Bihar, long covid is “a real problem” given the significant disability the virus leaves behind in infected people beyond a month.
“Long covid is a real problem. We don’t have precise assessments, but as I look at the data there’s clearly a proportion of people who get infected – probably in the single digits – who have substantial symptoms, often significant disability, well beyond thirty days. That’s a big number if you have a country where a lot of people have gotten infected.”
When Jha, who lives with his wife and three children in Newton in the eastern US state of Massachusetts, took up his White House job, he did not have much experience working with the government. But he said his conversations with policymakers have been helpful.
“I spent an enormous amount of time in Washington over the last fifteen years, talking to policymakers, understanding how they think, understanding the challenges of turning data into action. I think it’s been very helpful in this role.”
Jha, who worked as a health-policy researcher at Harvard, became the dean of Brown University School of Public Health before his current role.