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End of COVID Public Health Emergency brings uncertainty for immunocompromised people

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Today marks the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency in the U.S. It's a milestone that really feels symbolic in some ways.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many pandemic precautions and provisions ended a while ago in most public spaces if they were ever in place to begin with. And as White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told me this week...

ASHISH JHA: A country can't be in emergency mode forever.

KELLY: Still, he and other experts stress this point.

VIVIAN CHUNG: I hope that people will understand that the emergency over doesn't mean the virus just, like, disappear on the 11.

PFEIFFER: That's Vivian Chung, a pediatrician and research scientist from Bethesda, Md. She's at much higher risk for serious COVID symptoms or complications because she takes medication for a rare genetic condition that suppresses her immune system.

KELLY: And she is worried about what the end of COVID emergency precautions could mean for her and other immunocompromised patients.

CHUNG: On one hand, we're glad the case counts are coming down. But in some way, we're even less protected.

KELLY: And then there's the social pressure to act as if the pandemic is completely behind us. Chung says more and more, she is the only one wearing a mask in most settings.

CHUNG: I have people walk up to me just on the street to say, oh, don't you know that COVID is over?

KELLY: Some 7 million people in the U.S are immunocompromised. Another 7 million globally have died from COVID-19.

PFEIFFER: Chung says since the pandemic's onset...

CHUNG: I still haven't taken a long flight. I have been to an indoor dining once. I kind of - I would go into grocery stores at, like, 6 in the morning.

PFEIFFER: But Chung says other pandemic-era changes, like the increase in remote work, have made life more inclusive for her and others.

CHUNG: As a community of people with disability, we're still being marginalized. But I think the - that as that margin widens, in some way, that there is more acceptance.

PFEIFFER: An acceptance that she hopes will mark a permanent cultural shift, one that will keep the world safer for vulnerable populations long after the public health emergency is over. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.