Dr. Gottlieb sees Covid’s ‘pandemic phase’ ending when antiviral pills, kids’ vaccines available
Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Wednesday he expects the coronavirus’ “pandemic phase” to be over in the U.S. once vaccines become available for children and Merck’s antiviral pill is cleared by regulators.
The other crucial development is for the highly transmissible Covid delta variant to have “moved through the country,” which is likely to conclude around Thanksgiving, Gottlieb told CNBC’s David Faber in a “Squawk on the Street” interview from 13D Monitor’s Active-Passive Investor Summit in New York City.
“On the back end of that, we’re going to have, hopefully, a vaccine available for children and, at some point before the end of the year, we probably will have the orally available drug from Merck if things go well and that undergoes a favorable review,” said Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner who now serves on the board of Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, which is also working on an antiviral pill.
“I think those two things are going to be the bookend on the pandemic phase of this virus and we’re going to be entering the more endemic phase, when this becomes an omnipresent risk but don’t represent the extreme risk that it represents right now,” Gottlieb said.
Seasonal flu is one example of an endemic virus.
Gottlieb has previously told CNBC the U.S. is unlikely to ever fully eradicate Covid like other diseases such as polio and smallpox.
An FDA advisory panel is set to meet Oct. 26 to discuss whether use of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine should be expanded to kids ages 5 to 11. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech submitted their initial trial data focused on that age cohort to the regulatory agency last week. The FDA has already cleared the companies’ vaccine for individuals ages 12 and up, including full approval for those ages 16 and older.
On Friday, Merck said its antiviral pill, developed alongside Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by roughly 50% in trial participants who had mild to moderate cases of Covid. The companies said they planned to file for emergency use authorization with the FDA “as soon as possible.”
Gottlieb said he believes children becoming eligible for the vaccine and immunized people having the option to take an antiviral pill should they have a breakthrough infection will be “two very important psychological events,” particularly as it relates to resuming activities such as going back to the office.
“A lot of people who are vaccinated who are worried about going back into the office recognize the risk to them is low. They’re vaccinated. They’re unlikely to have a very bad outcome from Covid,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration. “What they’re worried about is bringing a mild or asymptomatic infection back into their home where they might have young kids or an older relative.”
Currently, 76% of eligible Americans — those ages 12 and up — have received at least one Covid vaccine dose, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 66% are fully vaccinated.
The overall number of new daily coronavirus infections in the U.S. has been declining in recent days, after the delta variant sparked a fresh surge of cases that hit parts of the country at different times. It began this summer, first ripping through the American South before spreading to more Western and Midwestern states.
The seven-day average of daily new U.S. Covid cases is roughly 103,000, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. That’s down 11% compared with one week ago, but it remains considerably above where infection levels stood in early summer. In June, the weekly average of new cases per day was below 15,000.