President Biden's declaration that ‘pandemic is over’ divides health experts

Doctors say it will remain a leading cause of death

Biden and vaccine
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. |

President Joe Biden's recent declaration that the COVID-19 "pandemic is over" has sparked a divided reaction among health experts who say the disease is likely to remain a leading cause of death in the U.S. indefinitely.

On Sunday, during an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS News' "60 Minutes," Biden acknowledged that even though America still has a problem with the disease, "the pandemic is over."

"We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it ... but the pandemic is over," Biden told Pelley at the Detroit Auto Show held last week. "If you notice, no one's wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it's changing."

Biden also acknowledged the psychological toll the pandemic has had on the American people.

"The impact on the psyche of the American people as a consequence of the pandemic is profound," he said. "Think of how that has changed everything. You know, people's attitudes about themselves, their families, about the state of the nation, about the state of their communities. And so there's a lot of uncertainty out there, a great deal of uncertainty. And we lost a million people."

Following Biden's comments, an advisory panel of medical experts called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended Tuesday that all adult patients younger than 65 be screened for anxiety.

Biden's comments on the pandemic aired only days after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, the global body that declared the pandemic in March 2020, told reporters at a press conference that the end of the pandemic "is in sight."

"We are not there yet. But the end is in sight," Ghebreyesus said.

Health experts like Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the University of California, San Francisco's department of medicine, told NBC News that with COVID-19 still accounting for some 500 deaths in the U.S., the declaration by the president should not be viewed as the end of the pandemic as it will likely remain a leading cause of death indefinitely.

"It's likely, when we think of the causes of death in our society, that COVID's on the list probably forever," he told the news network. "Whether we call it a pandemic or not, it's still an important threat to people."

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor at George Washington University who formerly served as the president of Planned Parenthood, agrees.

"As we've figured out how we're going to live with this disease in perpetuity, it makes sense to contextualize it as another illness that Americans have to face," she said.

The doctors say regardless of how many new vaccines, boosters and treatments are introduced to combat the disease, COVID-19 will likely remain among the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.

Other medical experts like Dr. Denise Dewald raised concern that President Biden would say the "pandemic is over."

"Covid is the third leading cause of death. The pandemic is definitely not over," Dewald said in a statement on Twitter.

"Indeed, the argument could be made that Covid is the leading cause of death. Covid was the primary cause of death of 7078 souls, and a contributing cause of death of another 7898. These numbers combined exceed the 14,009 people who died of heart disease," she added, citing data from the CDC.

Some, like psychiatric physician Aaron Kheriaty, the chief of psychiatry and ethics at Doc1 Health and chief of medical ethics at The Unity Project, argue that the pandemic "has long been over."

"President Biden announced on 60 Minutes that the pandemic is over. I concur. It has long been over. But why, then, is the President continuing the national state of emergency? It is because the President gains access to an additional 136 statutory emergency powers?" Kheriaty, who is also a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Ethics & Public Policy Center, asked on Twitter.

"Or is it to support the EUA vaccine/medication gravy train? Or the Medicare payment to hospitals for every identified covid case gravy train? Or the PCR testing bonanza? Either the emergency is over or it's not. Can't have it both ways just for political maneuvering."

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