President Biden made an unexpected statement last week, one that most public health experts think is premature.

During an interview for 60 Minutes, the president said that the pandemic is “over.” This took many of his advisors by surprise and contradicts what the World Health Organization has said about the COVID, the variants of the virus that cause the disease, and efforts to contain it. The president was wrong, and his advisors and other administration officials are trying to walk his remarks back.

It is true progress has been made in detection, treatment, and prevention of COVID. A new bivalent vaccine was recently made available. Able to provide protection against two different strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID, it will be a valuable tool in trying to prevent any waves or surges in infection rates during the cold weather months. But advances in medical science are of no use if people do not make use of them, and the president’s remarks weaken efforts to communicate the importance of getting the latest vaccine.

There are hints the virus is preparing some surprises for the fall and winter seasons. As viruses are prone to do, often even ones that initially appeared to have relatively stable structures, the COVID virus is mutating. Some of the changes to the virus are creating variants that are more immune evasive than even the Omicron variant. Experts even think it’s possible some of these variants may also be more resistant to current treatments, pose greater threats to a victim’s health, or both. Thankfully, none of those viruses yet seem to be on the path to becoming widespread, but scientists cannot eliminate the possibility a version of the virus that is more contagious than Omicron, but as deadly as the Delta variant. In fact, some predict it will happen sooner rather than later.

Still, it is hard not to remain optimistic the worst of the pandemic is behind us. It is tragic that many tens-of-thousands of people are likely to perish before it truly ends, but technology has provided the means to blunt the impact of COVID. It has yet to provide solid answers about the “long COVID” phenomenon, but surely there will soon be gains there as well. The limiting factor in the fight against COVID is now, and perhaps always has been, the human tendency toward irrationality. Although it isn’t productive in the long run to ridicule or blame people who were opposed to wearing masks and getting vaccinated, their recalcitrance has certainly deprived us of our greatest advantage in trying to combat the disease. Our psychology sometimes sabotages our ingenuity.

President Biden’s claim that the pandemic plays into that effect. It is also just plain wrong. Things are trending in the right direction in the United States and have been for a while now. Overconfidence could jeopardize that. There may not be a need for efforts as strong and aggressive as those that were needed in 2020, most of last year, and a little of this one. That doesn’t mean some level of vigilance isn’t still warranted.

The president should come out and say so himself. He needs to admit error. It’s obvious his comment was a result of the confidence that comes with success rather than an attempt to arbitrarily declare victory. Regarding the pandemic, things are going much better than before and President Biden has contributed to that by being generally good with his messaging on and approach to the issue. He shouldn’t let this one errant response jeopardize that track record or any additional lives.

Jason Nichols is a former District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science

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