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Trump has us 'flying blind' on flu vaccines due to his boneheaded decision to leave the WHO.

4 min read

In a few months, winter will arrive, and we are woefully unprepared for the sicknesses of the flu and cold season. It may be impossible to tell who is sick with a respiratory condition and someone who has COVID, a scenario that could cripple our health care system across the country.

Trump has squandered every single opportunity to get the coronavirus under control. In July, Mr. tough guy announced that he is withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization.

Mercifully, the withdrawal would not take place until  July 6, 2021. A new administration would be able to reverse the withdrawal. As of now, this will be yet another epic disaster of Trump’s war on science. WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System along with the American people will suffer because of him.

Helen Branswell writes in Stat, U.S. withdrawal from WHO threatens to leave it ‘flying blind’ on flu vaccines:

Twice a year, influenza experts from 10 institutions around the world meet at the World Health Organization’s Geneva headquarters to pore over mounds of data. At the end of the weeklong meetings, they make decisions that affect people around the world: namely, which variants of the flu virus should be used for vaccinations the following season.

While the selections don’t always hit the mark — influenza is notoriously hard to predict — it’s the best process health officials have to keep flu vaccines up to date and try to protect people from the annual scourge.

Now, with the pending withdrawal of the United States from the WHO, the future of the process — or at least America’s involvement in it — is in question. President Trump has criticized the global health agency’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and other earlier health crises; he has cited that as his rationale for withdrawing from the WHO, which was established more than 60 years ago.

For one thing, new flu variants don’t typically emerge in the Americas; they often are first spotted in Asia. For another, countries that are reluctant to share viruses on a bilateral basis — because of fears others will profit from them — will often only share viruses with the WHO.

The risk to the U.S. wouldn’t simply relate to season flu vaccine. Participants at the meetings share important intelligence on animal flu viruses — avian and swine influenza — that could pose pandemic threats. (Viruses that jump from animals to humans are called zoonoses.)

“You won’t know what’s coming. You won’t be aware of what’s going on with respect to zoonotic flu cases,” said Cox. “It would be a really difficult position to be in at CDC as head of the influenza division and not have access to the information to be able to keep people within the U.S. informed about the global threats that exist out there.”

The sequence of a virus may show mutations that might change the way the virus behaves. But it’s only when the testing is done that one can see if the new variant appears to be able to evade the protection of the viruses selected for inclusion in the previous year’s vaccine. If a variant that is sufficiently different seems to be gaining momentum and appears poised to become the dominating variant of its strain — H1N1 or H3N2, say — the experts will recommend flu vaccine manufacturers swap out the old version and replace it with the new variant.

This process is done for four types of flu — the two influenza A viruses, H1N1 and H3N2, and the two influenza B viruses, known as B/Victoria and B/Yamagata. And it happens twice a year: the group looks for variants that are likely to cause the most problems in the coming Northern Hemisphere winter (the February meeting) and the Southern Hemisphere winter (the September meeting).

Helen Branswell writes in a separate column, Winter is coming: Why America’s window of opportunity to beat back Covid-19 is closing

Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn.

“I think November, December, January, February are going to be tough months in this country without a vaccine,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

It is possible, of course, that some vaccines could be approved by then, thanks to historically rapid scientific work. But there is little prospect that vast numbers of Americans will be vaccinated in time to forestall the grim winter Osterholm and others foresee.

Human coronaviruses, the distant cold-causing cousins of the virus that causes Covid-19, circulate year-round. Now is typically the low season for transmission. But in this summer of America’s failed Covid-19 response, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is widespread across the country, and pandemic-weary Americans seem more interested in resuming pre-Covid lifestyles than in suppressing the virus to the point where schools can be reopened, and stay open, and restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms can function with some restrictions.

A revealing quote by Dr, Fauci of the CDC, “the cases are not going to come down. They’re not. They’re just not.”

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