How High Risk Is Biden’s COVID Infection?July 22, 2022
Infectious disease experts and White House officials downplayed the likelihood that President Biden will fall seriously ill following his positive COVID-19 test on Thursday. Although his age, 79, raises his risk of COVID complications, officials said he’s feeling fine and continuing to work through isolation.
Experts also stressed that Biden’s protection via vaccination and prompt treatment with nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (Paxlovid) greatly reduce COVID’s threat to him.
“Because the President is fully vaccinated and double boosted, his risk of serious illness is dramatically lower,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, emphasized in a press briefing Thursday. “He’s also getting treated with a very powerful antiviral, and that further reduces his risk of serious illness.”
On Friday morning, Biden’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor, DO, reported that the president had a fever of 99.4°F, which “responded favorably” to acetaminophen. Biden has a runny nose, fatigue, and an occasional cough.
“Age is something that we worry about. Individuals who are older have a higher risk for severe outcomes,” said Leanna Wen, MD, of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on a CNN segment that aired Thursday. “But President Biden is optimally protected.”
According to the CDC, people in Biden’s age group are eight times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID than the 18- to 29-year-old reference group. To date, CDC data show that 3.6% of adults ages 75 to 84 years have been hospitalized for COVID-related illness, though this doesn’t take into account factors like vaccination status or treatments. And overall, 26% of all COVID-related deaths have occurred in this age group, despite them accounting for less than 5% of the total U.S. population.
During a CNN discussion, William Schaffner, MD, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, agreed that “people of advanced age” were more likely to develop complications, or severe disease, and that “surely, we would monitor people like that much more carefully.” He added that Biden’s medical personnel are likely monitoring his blood oxygen — “and they’re watching him for the potential development of complications, which we don’t anticipate will occur.”
And being vaccinated with four shots, as President Biden is, makes a huge difference. A single booster shot, for example, was 76.5% effective at preventing hospitalization and death — and Biden has an extra booster and is on antiviral medicine.
Biden started taking nirmatrelvir-ritonavir, as prescribed by O’Connor, almost immediately following his positive PCR test, White House Officials confirmed. Because of the antivirals’s potential for drug interactions, Jha noted that Biden has paused taking certain medications during the 5-day treatment course: apixaban (a blood thinner) and rosuvastatin (to lower cholesterol).
“Stopping the blood thinner for a week entails a tiny risk of a clot, but we do it all the time (e.g., for surgery),” Robert Wachter, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, tweeted. “Holding the statin for a week is also no problem.”
In response to a question from a reporter about how likely a so-called Paxlovid rebound would be, Jha said that the rebound rate is around 5% and that these second instances of COVID have been unlikely to send people to the hospital. Wachter tweeted that he thinks the rebound risk is closer to 10%, but that it was still “the right call” to give nirmatrelvir-ritonavir. Biden’s risk for long COVID, so far, is unclear.
Biden was photographed working remotely at a desk on Thursday, and he released a video of himself, speaking outdoors following his positive COVID test. “Folks, I’m doing great,” he tweeted on Thursday.
President Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday morning. White House officials say there is no word on exactly where or when Biden was infected. On Wednesday, the President had been speaking about climate change in Somerset, Massachusetts, where he was photographed unmasked and outdoors.
The last time he tested negative was Tuesday, according to Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. She said at a press briefing that he felt tired Wednesday night after traveling, woke up with mild symptoms. Biden is isolating in the White House residence until he tests negative.