Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on “Face the Nation”, November 7, 2021
The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, November 7, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We go now to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who is also on the board of Pfizer. Good morning to you.
DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, doctor, would you see a partially vaccinated child across the table from their grandparents at Thanksgiving dinner? Is that safe now?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I think it’s safe now. Look, we have the tools right now to protect that environment, and I don’t think there’s any reason why people can’t get together for the holidays. They need to look at what the local prevalence is, what the risk is in their community, and they need to look at the risk within a setting in which they’re gathering. If you have older individuals who are very vulnerable to this virus despite vaccination or people you know who aren’t going to respond well to the vaccine because they’re immunocompromised, they might have other medical conditions. You need to try to protect that environment, but we have the tools to do that. We can use testing. Certainly, children who are partially vaccinated have some immunity and they’re going to be more protected in that environment. But I think using testing smartly in those settings can help protect that- that setting.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, there is no vaccine mandate for these elementary school children who just became eligible and are getting shot in the arm right now. At what point can schools start to lift some of the regulations, things like quarantining after exposure? When do we begin peeling some of that back?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I think after we get through this Delta wave. On the back end of this Delta wave, you’re going to see prevalence be very low across the country. You look at what’s happening in the south right now, where there’s seven eight cases per 100,000 people per day after the delta wave has swept through that part of the country, they paid a very heavy price for it in terms of high levels of infection. But I think after this Delta wave- this Delta virus moves through different parts of the country, and it’s moving through the country right now. In another month to two months, I think we’ll be on the back end of this, and prevalence will be very low, and you’ll start to see local communities lift those restrictions. Some are already lifting them. But I think the schools are probably going to be the last places that we lift some of those restrictions. The uptake on a five to 11 vaccine has been very brisk, and I suspect that uptake is going to be better than 12 to 17. There were some estimates that uptake would be less than 12 to 17. I think it could be the opposite. Right now, CVS is scheduled to deliver more than one million vaccines to kids ages five to 11 today, so I think you’re going to see broad immunity get put into a childhood- child population. Now, there won’t be mandates on vaccines for kids for a very long time. I don’t see that happening for years. But I do think a lot of parents are going to go out and vaccinate their children, and that’s going to improve the situation of safety in schools.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you vaccinated your children, I understand. How do you assess the White House rollout?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I think the White House rollout has been outstanding on a five to 11. Look how broadly available it is within a two-week period, anyone who wants to vaccinate their child will be able to do it ages five to 11. Some parents are going to have to wait a week to get an appointment. The appointments got filled up right away, but everyone’s going to be able to vaccinate their kids within seven to 10 days of the availability of this vaccine. And that owes to the work that Pfizer did, the company I’m on the board of, but also the administration making sure that this was broadly available in the community and available in different kinds of sites. It’s in pediatricians’ offices. Communities are holding mass vaccine clinics around schools. It’s available in the pharmacies. That’s a very difficult logistical feat. And I think the administration learned from some of the past challenges we had rolling out the vaccine and corrected for a lot of the problems we’ve had in the past.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you said the other day that this is the end of the pandemic as we know it. What did you mean by that?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think that that’s right, I think that we’re close to the end of the pandemic phase of this virus, and we’re going to enter a more endemic phase and as things improve, cases may pick up. You know, that’s what happened in the U.K.. In the U.K. we saw a spike in cases. But it’s like- it’s pretty much back to normal life at pre-pandemic types of levels in the U.K. right now, and cases are starting to decline again. So as this situation improves here in the U.S., people are going to go out. More cases may pick up. But that doesn’t mean that we’re entering into another wave of infection. I think we’re close to the end of this. This Delta wave is the last major wave of infection. We’ve always said that two of the events that would demarcate the end of this pandemic was being able to vaccinate our children. We’re now able to do that down to age five. And also having a widely available or orally accessible drug that could treat coronavirus at home to prevent people from being hospitalized or dying. And we now have two of those potential pills, one from Pfizer and one from Merck, and there will be more behind that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And parents of small children like me still waiting here. But for the first time in 18 months, vaccinated travelers who are our adults and their unvaccinated children will be entered- be able to enter the United States. Travel is picking up. Will this feed into the Delta wave that you’re talking about?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I don’t think the travel coming in from outside the U.S. is going to feed additional infections or a lot of additional infections, it’s really going to change the equation. A lot of people who are coming into the US, first of all, they have to show that they have been vaccinated. A lot of them will make sure that they’re not ferrying the infection with them. They’re not going to want to get caught in a foreign country with the infection. So, I suspect a lot of people are going to be cautious about coming into the U.S. with the infection. You know, what’s going to happen is this Delta virus is going to play out through the country. There’s not much we’re going to be able to do at this point to interrupt it. We’ve seen the South be engulfed with the infection and it’s recovered. The virus spread to the Midwest and the mountain states. And now we see levels coming down those parts of the country and now starting to spread into the Great Lakes region and parts of New England. And what you’ve seen nationally is a stall in the decline in cases. That’s not because we’re seeing a pickup necessarily across the country. What’s happening is that this Delta infection is moving from less populated areas, where it had engulfed those regions with infection, to more populated areas like Michigan, like Minnesota, like Wisconsin. So, it’s showing an overall stall in the decline nationally. This has to play out. The reality is this delta infection is going to capture most people who remain unvaccinated at this point. We’ve done a phenomenal job vaccinating the adult population. Almost 81% of adults over the age of 18 have had at least one dose of vaccine. But for those who aren’t getting vaccinated, they’re going to get infected with this Delta variant, and that’s going to ultimately be the end game.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Biden administration just pushed their deadline to Jan. 4 for this test or vaccinate mandate for private businesses. We’ve already seen 27 different states file lawsuits in protest of it. You’ve been warning that there would be political backlash and it would have public health implications. Is this the scenario you envisioned?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, the public health implications I worry about is that the opposition that’s forming to these COVID mandates is going to bleed into opposition to other kinds of vaccine mandates and things that we’ve long come to accept, like mandates on childhood immunizations for school, even mandates on health care workers. People are going to start to oppose. They’re not going to parse opposition to mandates on this COVID vaccine to mandates to other kinds of vaccines, and you’re going to see vaccine uptake generally start to decline. That’s what I worry about. And I think, from a public policy standpoint, we need to ask ourselves, what is our goal? We vaccinated about 81% of adults over the age of 18. Where do we need to get to and what price are we willing to pay in terms of cultural divide, acrimony challenges and also the creation of things like exemptions?–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
DR. GOTTLIEB: –So a lot of businesses right now creating exemptions as a way out of these mandates, and that creates problems for the future as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Gottlieb, always good to get your insights. We’ll be right back with–
DR. GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –the head of Federal Express, Fred Smith. Stay with us.