The coronavirus is a highly unpredictable virus due to its novelty and constant mutation. Since the first cases were reported the U.S. in early 2020, Kaiser Permanente and the health care industry have learned a significant amount about how the virus functions, vaccine technology, COVID-19, and recommended evidence-based precautions.
With multiple parts of the country experiencing surges in COVID-19 during the 2022-23 winter flu season, it’s a good time to take a looking ahead at what can we expect in 2023.
Vincent Liu, MD, pulmonary critical care physician and researcher for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, said, “We will likely continue to experience waves of COVID-19 in the next 4 months to a year and a half.”
There are many reasons for this, Dr. Liu said, including loosened restrictions on social distancing and masking, and more in-person gatherings than in the past years.
“Several months after your last COVID-19 vaccination or diagnosis of the disease, immunity decreases, which can make you more vulnerable to infection, particularly from newer variants,” Dr. Liu added.
Future COVID-19 waves will likely be less severe and have fewer patients requiring hospitalization, according to Dr. Liu. However, the same groups of people remain at higher risk for both infection and severe illness, including those ages 65 and older, immunocompromised people, infants, and people with preexisting conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Although Dr. Liu does not foresee future mandates for the COVID-19 vaccination, he does expect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend annual vaccinations.
“We are likely to see an annual recommendation for COVID-19 vaccinations, much like for influenza, because evidence continues to show that vaccination reduces disease severity,” he said.
Despite how challenging and devastating the past few years have been, it has strengthened Kaiser Permanente’s approach to how we best treat our patients and the guidance around COVID-19. Vincent Liu, MD
There is also the possibility of an advancement in vaccination technology in 2023.
“The strategy is to have one shot that can protect against COVID-19 and influenza,” said Michael Vollmer, MD, hospital epidemiologist for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. “Needing only 1 shot instead of 2 can lessen barriers for people to get protected.”
Dr. Vollmer also hopes that through continued work on vaccines we will be able to protect against the ongoing virus mutations within the next year.
When it comes to navigating the disease in 2023, both physicians said to follow all CDC guidelines and apply what you have learned about COVID-19.
“During periods when COVID-19 is surging, it’s best for people to be cautious of the types of situations that might increase their exposure or the spread of the coronavirus, such as large gatherings,” said Dr. Vollmer. He also recommended wearing a mask and practicing social distancing when inside with more than 10 people, then taking a COVID-19 home antigen test afterward.
If you are at higher risk for both infection and severe illness from COVID-19, live with someone who is, or will be visiting with people who are, take necessary precautions to protect yourself and others.
Also, general guidance Dr. Vollmer gives is to stay healthy and manage ongoing conditions. “Get good sleep, exercise regularly, stop smoking, and eat a healthy diet,” he said.
Although COVID-19 continues to be a threat, Dr. Liu said there are many reasons to remain positive.
“Despite how challenging and devastating the past few years have been, it has strengthened Kaiser Permanente’s approach to how we best treat our patients and the guidance around COVID-19.”