'The virus could still surprise us': Former White House COVID czar Jha

What is the state of COVID now? What does it look like moving forward? The answers: Things look better, but the country stills needs to deal with the matter of distrust when it comes to vaccines and the origins of the virus, former COVID czar Ashish Jha recently told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).

"The virus, right now, is in retreat. While it will be with us for probably forever, we now have the ability to manage this virus in a way we did not 2-3 years ago. And that makes all the difference," Jha said.

Those management methods include vaccines, treatments, and testing, as well as wastewater surveillance to check on areas where the virus may be circulating quickly. In fact, the virus has fallen dramatically in the past six months.

So where does that leave the US and the potential threat level?

"There is a temptation to say it's all over and we don't have to think about COVID anymore," he said. "The way I look at it is the virus can still surprise us," Jha added, noting that it continues to evolve.

So instead of spending time predicting the chances of a new variant, or if the virus can be disruptive again, it's better for the federal government to be prepared if the virus makes a comeback, Jha said.

That includes annual fall vaccine campaigns, just like annual flu shots.

But like all things COVID, the push to continue with vaccines has received some backlash. Outside of the elderly and other more vulnerable folks, some experts question the need for annual doses.

There's also public mistrust that has to be dealt with, Jha said.

"I think we need to own the places where we made mistakes, have honest and open conversations about how we do better. But also, we've got to work on making sure that we're providing people with good information because there's a lot of bad information out there as well," Jha said.

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Coronavirus all around the world, the spread of novel coronavirus, Covid-2019, dangerous virus, warning signals show the coronavirus spot, starting point spread to other country, pandemic (supakritpumpy via Getty Images)

COVID origin theories

One of those areas where there's mistrust — and bad information — is in the origins of the virus.

It remains unknown where the virus came from. And two main theories have taken hold and created a divide: Is COVID the result of natural spillover from animals to humans? Or a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

"It's really remarkable to me, how certain people seem to feel about what we know. What the truth is, when you look at the is unclear whether this was a natural spillover or this was a lab leak," Jha said.

He added there has been an extraordinary amount of effort — from the White House to the intelligence communities to the global public health community — to get to the bottom of the COVID origins. No conclusion has yet been reached according to the most recent report.

But that hasn't stopped it from becoming a political debate, which has fueled the mistrust.

Some experts point to a lack of data collected at the time from certain animals at the Wuhan market, even as environmental samples continue to be studied.

"The report itself really shows how little information the [intelligence communities] had on which to base their conclusions. The biggest issue is that it suggests the origins of the pandemic are an intelligence or a political matter when it’s really a scientific one, and the evidence base supports the latter," said Dr. Angie Rasmussen, a virologist and adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan, in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

Regardless of what theories people want to believe, the bottom line is there is no definitive answer.

"I think this is an open question, and I think this is one where we need a lot more transparency from the Chinese government," Jha said.

Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem

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