COVID-19 no longer finds itself at the top of policymakers’ priorities as governments grapple with competing health, economic and geopolitical issues. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant, as long-term pandemic-related challenges remain to be addressed and solutions will require innovative approaches by policymakers and healthcare systems.
The socioeconomic burden of the pandemic has been considerable, with healthcare systems facing overwhelming pressure due to high hospitalization rates.[i] England’s National Health Service (NHS) has acknowledged the strain COVID-19 has on health services, noting that in 2022, there were never fewer than 3,800 people hospitalized with the virus across the country each day, regardless of the time of year.[ii] Further, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the global cost to be around $13.8 trillion through 2024.[iii] Even as case rates fluctuate, it is important to remain mindful of these far-reaching impacts of the virus and plan ahead for potential new waves of infection.
Fortunately, we have made incredible progress against COVID-19. Research into treatments has led to a diverse set of therapeutics being granted full or emergency authorization across different countries.
With more treatment options available today than ever before, we have an opportunity to help support those at high risk of severe illness caused by COVID-19, reducing the burden on the individual, their healthcare system and wider society alike. [iv]
Alongside this, there are enduring benefits to adopting meaningful national and regional strategies to manage the presence of COVID-19. Policymakers are called upon to oversee plans and provisions to manage viruses like COVID-19 year-round, including enabling access to available treatment options, especially for those most vulnerable to serious symptoms. This could help reduce strain on health care systems.
These innovative options not only work well alongside vaccines, but health technology assessment bodies across Europe, such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for England and Wales, have recognized them to be cost-effective in treating severe illness from the virus resulting in fewer hospital admissions, potentially saving health care systems much-needed funds. [iv],[v]
Estimates suggest that approximately 40 percent of adults globally could be at high risk for developing severe COVID-19, with one of the most common risk factors identified as being aged 65 years or older.[vi] Policymakers and health care systems might benefit from encouraging those with high-risk factors for severe illness to make plans that can help them determine next steps and treatment options, should they become infected, without disrupting their ongoing care.
Cross-agency collaboration has proven invaluable in the fight against COVID-19, but the importance of planning is not unique to this virus nor is it exclusive to agencies and organizations. The emphasis now shifts to individuals with wide-reaching voices to encourage prevention and preparation for all those in our regions and countries. By counselling on the importance of setting proactive plans, policymakers will be able to best provide support to those who need it most in the face of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
As we continue to live alongside COVID-19, policymakers can focus on year-round education and broaden eligibility for treatments, complementing existing vaccination strategies.
[i] Fayolah Richards, et al. “Economic Burden of COVID-19: A Systemic Review”; ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research. April 28, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35509962/
[ii] “Delivery Plan for Recovering Urgent and Emergency Care Services”; National Health Services England. January 2023. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/B2034-delivery-plan-for-recovering-urgent-and-emergency-care-services.pdf
[iii] “A Global Strategy to Manage the Long-Term Risks of COVID-19”; International Monetary Fund. April 5, 2022. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2022/04/04/A-Global-Strategy-to-Manage-the-Long-Term-Risks-of-COVID-19-516079
[iv] “NICE Recommends 3 Treatments for COVID-19 in Draft Guidance”; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. November 16, 2022. https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/nice-recommends-3-treatments-for-covid-19-in-draft-guidance
[v] “Therapeutics for People with COVID-19”; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. November 2022. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-ta10936/documents/129
[vi] Clark A, Jit M, Warren-Gash C, et al. “Global, regional, and national estimates of the population at increased risk of severe COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions in 2020: A modeling study”; The Lancet Global Health. 2020;8(8):1003-1017. doi:10.1016/s2214-109x(20)30264-3