The White House contacted about a dozen Covid-19 specialists who closely follow the evolution of coronavirus in March to ask them a simple question. What were their thoughts on the likelihood of a highly-mutated variant akin Omicron being seen by the world within the next two year?
According to Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, the experts' range of probabilities was surprisingly small, between 5%-30%. He claimed that the data was given to him over the phone, after he had estimated his own range of 15% to 20 percent.
Many people believed that the odds of winning would be in the range of 10% to 20%.
CNN reported that Dr. Dan Barouch is one of these experts. He is the director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Center for Virology and Vaccine Research.
Ashish Jha approached him for an informal telephone conversation to discuss his thoughts on immunity, variants, and the possibility of new variants. As far as I was able to tell, it wasn't an official consultation. Barouch stated that it was more like a casual discussion between colleagues.
I said there was a possibility that a new variant would be released that would represent a fundamental change, similar to what happened when Delta became Omicron. He said that he thought it was a chance that wasn't infinitesimal, but also not 80%. Jha asked him for a number and Barouch replied, "my gut feeling says it will be around 20%."
Barouch was surprised to learn that the majority of other experts had also placed the odds in the same range.
Dr. Trevor Bedford is a computational biologist working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. He did some simple modelling based on the fact there has been an Omicron-level change in the virus after about 3 1/2 years. This happened in November of 2021 when the Omicron-variant was detected for the first time in the US.
CNN reported that he believed that if we look forward to the future, the chances of another similar event occurring within the next two-year period is higher. He estimated the risk at 40%.
"40% feels instinctively high. This is because Omicron-like incidents are less likely to occur in 2020-2021 than they were in 2010. But I can't think of any obvious reason why this is the case.' Bedford wrote an email. He noted that scientists track highly mutated, cryptic lines in people who've been infected over a long period of time.
The Biden administration was preparing for the Covid-19 public health emergency to end on Thursday.
Washington Post reported on Friday that the White House is trying to gather these expert estimates.
Data collection will become less frequent and more granular. Labs won't have to provide government with testing data. The reporting of cases by the states will also be discretionary.
Topol believes that the deconstruction of data systems was a mistake. This is because it's widely believed that a new, highly disruptive version could arrive within the next few years.
He said: 'I would like to see less disappointment, as this is coming up, and it is a risk.'
Topol also expressed concern about recent efforts by Congress to recover funds dedicated to coronavirus responses, estimated to be up to $50 billion.
Topol claims that the Covid-19 vaccines are more important than ever for defending against an Omicron level event.
Topol stated that it was vital to get the next-generation vaccines - the nasal vaccines and the pan-coronavirus vaccines - as well as monoclonal antibody treatments against all forms of the virus.
CNN has contacted the White House to get a comment. A White House official confirmed that efforts to combat Covid-19 would continue, but under a new form once the public health crisis ends.
The official stated that the White House, as per the law, is establishing the Office of Pandemic Preparedness Response.
'OPPR' will work with HHS, other agencies and the Covid Response Team to continue Covid response work – including preparation for future surges - as well as being the [Executive Office of the President] lead division for future pandemic readiness.