Former advisers press Biden to modify COVID-19 strategy: stay with it, don’t shut it down

Former advisers press Biden to modify COVID-19 strategy: stay with it, don't shut it down

In a series of opinion articles posted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drs. Ezekiel Emanuel, Michael Osterholm, Celine Gounder, David Michaels, Rick Bright and Luciana Borio offered various suggestions for how to move forward.

“As the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 demonstrates, COVID-19 is here to stay,” Emanuel, Osterholm and Gounder wrote in a piece in which they say Biden’s national strategy for COVID-19 response must be “updated.”

“The goal for the ‘new normal’ with COVID-19 does not include eradication or elimination, eg, the ‘zero COVID’ strategy. Neither COVID-19 vaccination nor infection appear to confer lifelong immunity,” they wrote. “Current vaccines do not offer sterilizing immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Infectious diseases cannot be eradicated when there is limited long-term immunity following infection or vaccination or nonhuman reservoirs of infection.”

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel speaks at the Klick Health Ideas Exchange on June 15, 2015, in Philadelphia.
(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Klick Health)

Story Highlights

  • Six members of the advisory board that worked with President Biden during his transition period before taking office are now calling on him to take a different approach to the COVID-19 pandemic than the one he is currently using.


The “new normal,” they explained, should be “recognizing that SARS-CoV-2 is but one of several circulating respiratory viruses that include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and more.” They noted that people have been living normal lives while facing the threat of those other respiratory illnesses, and they must learn to view the threat of COVID-19 as just an additional threat alongside the others.


Still, they made clear that while this is a goal, COVID-19 is currently more serious than the other illnesses in terms of hospitalizations and fatalities.
President Biden speaks during a meeting with members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team at the White House complex in Washington, Jan. 4, 2022.
(REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

“What constitutes appropriate thresholds for hospitalizations and death, at what cost, and with what trade-offs, remains undetermined,” they said. What the Biden administration should do, they suggested, is to put in place infrastructure that “includes real-time electronic collection of comprehensive information on respiratory viral infections, hospitalizations, deaths, disease-specific outcomes, and immunizations merged with sociodemographic and other relevant variables.” This system would collect data at the national, state and local level, as well as from various academic institutions, labs and health care systems.

Additionally, they said, there should be a “permanent public health implementation workforce” to address ongoing problems and emergencies. This would include public agency workers and an increase in school nurses. They also called for creating pathways to increase telemedicine and the ability for doctors to practice and bill in different states. Finally, they said it is imperative “to rebuild trust in public health institutions and a belief in collective action in service of public health.”

“The president’s focus and objective is to save as many lives as possible,” Psaki said. “And we know what works and we know that pushing more people, getting more people vaccinated, getting more people boosted, encouraging mask wearing, making sure schools have the resources they need to stay open and do that in a safe way – these are steps that work.” An article from Emanuel, Michaels and Bright said the government’s early response to the pandemic was “seriously flawed,” and that problems continue to exist.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she had not read the articles, when asked on Thursday. But she insisted that Biden’s goal is still to “defeat the virus.” CDC DOUBLES DOWN ON ISOLATION GUIDELINES AFTER CRITICISM, SAYS PEOPLE CAN TAKE A TEST IF THEY HAVE ‘ACCESS’