DENVER — Another year is putting us further from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as 2022 provided additional solutions. Chief medical officer Dr. Jaya Kumar at Denver's Swedish Medical Center has been at the forefront of this virus since its inception.
"We've seen an evolution, not just in the virus itself, but in the way we think of COVID-19 as an illness and the way we treat it, the way we diagnose it and how we look forward to the new year," Kumar said. "Now we have rapid sequencing of viral genomes. So any virus you see, you could sequence it, duplicate it, make a treatment or a vaccine against it; that is huge."
She points to some of the biggest advances made in 2022.
"We saw a new antiretroviral drug come in like paxlovid, which is a pill which you can give as an outpatient," Kumar said.
That is something Dr. Scott Joy, the chief medical officer of HealthOne's Physician Services Group, says has kept patients out of the hospital.
"On a weekly basis, we're doing, myself personally, about six to 10 prescriptions of paxlovid a week, and I have yet to see a patient who has been admitted in the last six months of 2022," Joy said.
The last year has also expanded experts' knowledge.
"For example, we are seeing an RSV or Flu surge. Things have become like a piece of cake for us. We know what to do," Kumar said. "And we had our surge protocol ready in 30 minutes while this would have taken us hours and hours of hard work two years ago."
However, while these successes are worth celebrating, both doctors say it's essential to acknowledge the hurdles.
"I think one of the challenges moving forward after the pandemic is patients' trust in the vaccines," Joy said. "I'm just a little concerned that vaccines are the tip of the iceberg and are going to start getting questions about data around cancer screenings and questioning about cholesterol medicines to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke and I think we've opened up a little bit of a pandora's box."
Health care staffing has become an issue too.
"I think the biggest challenge we have moving forward is really the workforce. I think that's going to be a big challenge for us in the next year or two," Joy said.
These experts emphasize that people are still not caught up on necessary medical exams and screenings, which could lead to more significant health complications.
"I do think we've held back, and we are still seeing people come in with advance stages of illnesses. We still see people in the hospitals who have postponed medical care," Kumar said. "I think we need to do a lot of catching up in the next few years."
We must pinpoint where we currently stand with COVID-19 to understand what is next.
"The concept of never getting COVID is something that we need to get over," Joy said.
"We could potentially enter into an endemic stage, but that'll take some time. An endemic stage is where you see predictable surges like flu," Kumar said. "But for now, I think people still need to be on their watch and make sure you are getting your vaccines."
The years to come will allow us to be more informed on the effects of the COVID-19 virus.
"We're still in the infancy stages of this pandemic. Although it seems like it's been years but long-term effects are still unknown," Kumar said. "So the next few years, we'll be building upon the technology, investing more in basic science research, and be better prepared for any more pandemics that we may see in the future."