Dr. Gottlieb: US Can’t Declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ Yet on COVID

scott gottlieb sits in hearing

The United States can’t declare “mission accomplished” when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “we can claim a near-term victory,” for this summer, even though there is still a danger of outbreaks in locations where vaccination rates remain low, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday. 

“We will have to contend with this virus again as we enter into the late fall, probably more likely the winter,” Gottlieb said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We could see some risk of a resurgence of infection as we get into February and January. But right now for the summer, the risk should be very low. We’ll see prevalence levels continue to decline. And even in summer camps, summer camps should be able to take precautions to protect children in those environments, and as we move more activities outside, that will lower the risk as well.”

But there is still the potential for outbreaks, particularly in the southern states where vaccination rates are low and there is not as much immunity as there is in other places, warned Gottlieb.

There is also concern about variants of the disease that are popping up, but so far, there has not been a situation where the vaccine could not defeat one of those mutations, said Gottlieb. “We’ll have time to pivot and get a new vaccine into the market if something arises that really is fundamentally different,” he added. 

There is also a likelihood that some people will need booster shots, particularly among the older population, said the doctor, who is on the board of Pfizer, one of the COVID-19 vaccine makers. “There was a good Danish landmark study that looked at people who had been infected, seven to eight months after infection, and protection from reinfection was about 80% overall, but if you look at people 65 and older, it was only about 47%,” he said.

“In the older population, we saw a decline in neutralizing antibodies to the point they were vulnerable to reinfection,” Gottlieb added. “We believe the vaccines are more effective in terms of the immunity they provide, but it’s likely to be the case that the vaccines also follow the same contours as the immunity, which means that older individuals probably will see declining protection over time.”

Meanwhile, the experts believe the coronavirus causing COVID-19 “probably sits” between a seasonal event and SARS 1, which has a “very durable” immunity compared to that of a seasonal coronavirus, said Gottlieb. 

“The question is what kind of immunity do you want to induce?” he said. “Do we want to protect vulnerable people from getting infected in the first place … there are different correlates of immunity that we should look at right now. I’m talking about levels of neutralizing antibodies which protect against getting protected in the first place.”

Gottlieb said as long as the virus is circulating, there is a continued risk that it could hinder immunity produced by the virus or an infection, but he also thinks there will be more than enough vaccines to the rest of the world soon. 

“I think the challenge will be delivering it,” he said. “We’re going to have billions of doses available by the end of this year, probably, that could be made available around the world, and I think companies will be willing to step up and make that vaccine available. We’re going to have challenges distributing it.”

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.