The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, January 16, 2022 on “Face the Nation”.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to check in now with former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who also sits on the Pfizer board. Hello to you, Dr.
DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Hello.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The FDA’s acting commissioner told Congress that most people will get COVID, Dr. Fauci said most people will be exposed to it at some point. I mean, these statements make people back home say, what am I doing here? Why am I trying to protect myself? At this point, what can you do?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well listen, I think the reality is that most people are going to get COVID in their lifetime, I don’t think most people need to get COVID in the next month and whatever we can do to try to protect ourselves to the extent that there are people who haven’t been exposed to this virus yet, who have come out and been vaccinated, have been able to protect themselves. You know, if they can protect themselves for the next few weeks, we’ll probably get through this Omicron wave. And then we’ll have to deal with it probably next fall when we have better tools at our disposal. I would much rather have my account with COVID after being vaccinated a number of times after there are widely accessible oral medications available to treat this infection. Then there are monoclonal antibodies, widely available to treat it. Once the diagnostic tests are stored in my house and these realities become reality this fall, certainly this summer, so I think people will be in a much better position to face this coming fall. I think we need to stay vigilant for the next few weeks, try to avoid this infection if you can.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So hang in there for the next few weeks. The CEO of Pfizer, I know you served on the company’s board, said a vaccine targeting Omicron could be ready in March. Does that mean everyone has to start planning to go out and get another fix?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think the reality is that it’s going to become an annual vaccination, at least for a while. We don’t know what the epidemiology of this infection will be in the long term, but certainly over the next couple of years you can imagine boosters becoming an annual affair, at least for some of the population; more vulnerable people. It could be that if we have an Omicron on a specific vaccine or a Delta specific vaccine, it’s still unclear what will be the most prevalent strain of this infection at the back end of this Omicron wave. I think most people assume it will be Omicron, but if you can design a vaccine specific to the variant that’s been circulating. You likely have the potential to restore much of the vaccine’s original promise. And by that I mean the ability to actually prevent transmission to reduce infection. Currently, vaccines are very effective in preventing serious illnesses and preventing hospitalizations. They also prevent symptomatic diseases. But prevention of transmission was significantly reduced in an Omicron setting. If you could design a vaccine specific to Omicron, you could restore the vaccine’s ability to potentially prevent transmission, and it becomes a public health tool again to actually control the spread.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve heard Governor Hogan, a Republican, say that the federal government is falling short of its response right now. Our poll showed confusion even among Democrats, I mean it’s not necessarily a partisan question about frustration with the pandemic response. Who is put at the foot of the president, is it his fault? Is the CDC falling short? Is it the FDA, where we still don’t have a confirmed commissioner? Where does that blame really lie?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think I think it’s in a lot of places, I think a lot of the confusion is coming from the CDC and the mixed advice they’ve been giving. Look, the administration, I think, did an admirable job with some aspects of this answer. They emphasized the deployment of vaccines. They did a good job in that 85% of adults received at least one dose of the vaccine. We need to think about the counterfactual: what if we didn’t have so many vaccines as a country? What situation would we be facing right now? I think the administration made mistakes at the macro level. The first was to accept this dominant narrative when they took office that much, if not all, of the CDC’s and federal public health agencies’ problems were due to the Trump administration and their mismanagement. of these agencies. Now, despite what the Trump administration has done, there has been no attempt to reform these agencies and interfere in their operations. The reality is that these agencies had deep flaws and it was difficult to reform the agencies once you bought into this macro narrative. I think the second challenge they bought themselves was to federalize this in a way that they didn’t have to, especially around vaccination mandates. I think once the federal government, the Biden administration, stepped in and federalized some aspects of that response, they owned it and created the perception that only they could fix it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Governor Hogan said they’re having trouble at the state level, getting tests. According to the White House, these will begin – they will take orders from January, but HHS said you may not receive these tests for weeks. Is the strategy here just for the Americans to stockpile tests for the future because it doesn’t arrive in time for Omicron?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think that’s what Americans should be doing and the administrative steps to try to provide testing directly to consumers and to try to provide payment for that testing is an important step in that direction. Last week they also extended the expiration dates of the popular BinaxNOW test and I think they will be extending the expiration dates of other tests to make it easier to store those tests. The reality is that the tests are available. They are not cheap. But if you go to Amazon right now, you can buy 10 or more tests. I tested it before–before going on this show this morning, so they’re available. I think they’re hard to get for bulk purchases, for municipal and state purchases, but consumers can access them. And now with the federal government, you know, offering a refund, most consumers can go into the market and buy these tests. Unfortunately they weren’t available when we had a peak in demand, and that’s when Omicron ran into the Christmas holidays, when a lot of people came out, wanted access to the tests and that store shelves were sold out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s true. Well, planning around the holidays fails in the biggest gatherings of the year, but more important strategy. You said there should have been drug treatments in Operation Warp Speed, not just the vaccine. Do you think the administration is putting too much emphasis on vaccinations and not talking about things like masks and ventilation?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think they talked about masks, there’s not much the feds can do to try to get consumers to wear masks, it really has to be done at the state level and at the level local. I think the administration should have revised the mask quality guidelines sooner, recognizing that higher quality masks were going to be important against variants that spread primarily through airborne transmission, like the Delta variant, like the Omicron variant. The focus was on vaccines. I think there could have been more emphasis on building capacity over the summer for the production of drugs that are not only available orally like the one made by Pfizer. Pfizer has invested a billion dollars to advance the manufacture of this product, but also monoclonal antibodies, in particular drugs that could be used as prophylaxis and treatment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, Dr. Gottlieb, it’s always nice talking to you. We will be back.
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