Transcript: Scott Gottlieb on “Face the Nation,” June 20, 2021
The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, June 20, 2021, on “Face the Nation.” See source for video.
JOHN DICKERSON: We turn now to a former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, he is on the board of Pfizer and author of an upcoming book, Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic. He joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning, Dr. Gottlieb.
DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let’s start with that goal, President Biden said 70% of American adults by July 4th. He will miss that. Is that important that he missed it? Put that in context for us.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, the administration set a stretch goal and they’re going to miss it by a little. I think as a practical matter, from a public health standpoint, it’s not going to have an impact whether we hit 68% or 70%. The reality is we are vaccinating a large portion of the American population. We have to remember where we started and where we are right now. It took us a full month to vaccinate, to fully vaccinate the 1.34 million residents of nursing homes. In the next five months, we vaccinated 300 million people. We delivered 300 million vaccines. So it’s a substantial achievement. I think we need to think about where we go next. Right now, we are on sort of 1.0 in terms of making vaccine accessible. And the goal was to open up mass vaccination sites, make it accessible in the community. For people who wanted to go get vaccinated, they can go to a point and access a vaccine. Now, we need to think about trying to push out the vaccine into community sites where people could get it delivered to them through a trusted intermediary. That’s going to mean doctors offices, schools, places of employment. We need to think about a different vaccine delivery strategy to get the people who are still reluctant or who still face challenges getting into those access sites. I think the vaccine administration is going to decline over the summer as prevalence declines. People aren’t going to be seeking out a vaccine in July and August. But as people contemplate going back to school and back to work in the fall, they will be seeking out vaccines. And I think that’s what we need to think about that 2.0 campaign and a different strategy for delivering vaccine to those who remain unvaccinated.
JOHN DICKERSON: So if the 2.0 campaign has to meet people where they are, if they’ve been reluctant, that’s one part of it. Is another part that might induce people to get a vaccination, the Delta variant, and that it appears to be hitting in areas, not surprisingly, where people have not been vaccinated?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think that that’s right. This variant is probably 40 to 60% more effective, more contagious than the 1.1.7 variant, that variant that became prevalent in the United States and caused that surge in the late spring. It doesn’t necessarily appear more pathogenic, meaning more dangerous, but it’s infecting people more easily and it’s starting to become very prevalent in the UK in communities that are unvaccinated. So kids, for example, young people seem to be the population that’s spreading it in the United Kingdom. And when we look across the United States, we see wide variance in terms of vaccination rates. Some states like Vermont or Connecticut have very high vaccination rates above 80%. Other states are struggling to get to 50%. And when you look at the modeling that’s circulating right now among epidemiologists about what we face in the fall, they are predicting that in a scenario where we only get to about 75% of the eligible population vaccinated and have a 60% more transmissible variant, which this new Delta variant may be 60% more transmissible than 1.1.7, they do show an upsurge of infection and reaching a peak of around 20% of the infection that we reached last winter. So about 20% of the peak in January, we will hit in the- in the fall at some point. I think that’s probably an aggressive estimate. I don’t think it’ll be quite that dire. But when you do look at those estimates, you see it varies widely between states. So Connecticut, for example, where I am, shows no upsurge of infection, but Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri show very substantial upsurges of infections. That’s based entirely on how much population wide immunity you have based on vaccination.
JOHN DICKERSON: So another reason to get vaccinated might be what we’re learning about the long COVID or the long-term effects of COVID. You mentioned the UK and their results with or they’re struggling with the Delta variant. There was a UK study about brain tissue. What did that show this week?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Right, so the U.K. does very good prospective studies of people. They have a biobank where they follow people over time and they take blood samples and do MRI’s and they basically do that over many years to be able to go back and look and say, were there things that we could have seen in an MRI or a blood test that could have predicted an outcome that someone developed five or 10 years later, a lot like our Framingham Heart Study. So they went back to that biobank and they looked at people who had had MRI scans of their brains in the past three years and they looked at how many developed COVID and about 300 people, a little over 300 people developed COVID. And when they compared those individuals who developed COVID against matched controls, people who were similar, who didn’t develop COVID, they saw a pretty persistent decline in certain brain tissue matter. Certain areas of their brain showed a decline in actual tissue, a shrinkage of parts of their brain. It’s not clear how the virus caused that. It’s not clear if the symptoms of the virus could have caused it or it was a direct effect on the brain. But it’s very concerning because it does suggest that the virus could be having a direct effect on certain portions of the brain. And if parts of the brain that showed the shrinkage actually are responsible for things like taste and smell and memory, the kinds of conditions, the kinds of complaints that we see COVID patients having after their recovery. They’re still complaining about difficulty with smell or taste or problems with memory. So this is concerning. And I think what it suggests is that the balance of the information that we’re accruing does indicate that COVID is a disease that could create persistent symptoms. There’s this “Long COVID” some people clearly have persistent symptoms after recovery and it does appear to affect the neurological symptom system, both the brain and perhaps the autonomic nervous system. You see people with persistent tachycardias, persistent fast heart rates, for example. That could be explained by some- in some damage to the nervous system. So this isn’t a benign disease. This is something you want to avoid. And the bottom line is we have the tools to avoid it through vaccination.
JOHN DICKERSON: In the last 40 seconds, another tool that might be online that the Biden administration announced is a $3.2 billion investment in experimental antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19. What do you think about that?
DR. GOTTLIEB: That’s right, and I think that this could be a real game changer. This is a virus that we should be able to drug. The machinery that this virus uses to replicate are things that we’ve drugged before. It’s not a- it’s not a very wily virus. It’s not a virus that should evade our drug development tools. So I think that we will have a drug that inhibits viral replication. Pfizer, the company I’m on the board of, is working on one. Merck is working on another one in advanced development. There’s a number of other companies also engaged in this pursuit. I think we will get a drug that inhibits viral replication that could be taken on an outpatient basis and is basically like a Tamiflu for coronavirus that you could take when you first have symptoms, when you first have a diagnosis to prevent the progression to disease.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, as always, we’re very grateful that you’re here. And stay with us. We’ll have a lot more FACE THE NATION.