The CDC’s updated face mask instructions are likely to induce vaccine-reluctant Americans to get a Covid shot, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday.
“This will be a pretty strong incentive for many people who may have been on the fence to get vaccinated to get vaccinated,” the former commissioner for the US Food and Drug Administration told Squawk Box.
In most indoor and outdoor areas, fully vaccinated people are currently not required to wear face covering or maintain a social distance of 6 feet from other people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Masks still need to be worn in businesses that need them, according to the CDC, as well as on airplanes and public transportation.
Still, the health department’s laid-back demeanor is a major development in America’s efforts to fight the coronavirus. According to CDC data, 36% of the US population has been fully vaccinated against Covid. Approximately 47% of Americans have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine.
The pace of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, causing government officials to look for ways to encourage more Americans to sign up for a Covid shot. This includes efforts to build trust in the vaccine, expand availability to hard-to-reach communities, and create incentives. In Ohio, for example, Governor Mike DeWine unveiled a plan that would give five state residents $ 1 million through a lottery. The recipient must be vaccinated to qualify for the prize.
According to Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, the loose guidance from the CDC alone could be enough to boost vaccinations. Today he is a board member of the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people getting vaccinated increases because now there is more value to vaccination. You can walk around in a mask in an honest way,” he said.
Gottlieb acknowledged the concerns of some public health experts who believe that unvaccinated people will use the new CDC guidelines as cover to forego a mask in businesses. However, he said, “I think people who are going to do this would have done it anyway.”
In general, Gottlieb said the CDC’s mask decision is now correct, as the country has seen a continued decline in new coronavirus infections and a significant portion of the population has been vaccinated to protect against serious illness and death.
He specifically pointed out the high vaccination rates among older Americans who are at increased risk of dying from Covid. Almost 72% of America 65+ is fully vaccinated.
“I think the worst thing you can say about the CDC’s measures is,” Well, maybe you could have waited another week, “said Gottlieb.” At some point we have to move past coronavirus and live normally again, ” he added, “We are at this point right now. We’re about to take off masks and return to normal activities. “
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNBC on Thursday that the new mask line was “really great news” for people who are fully vaccinated. However, Jha said he believes states should keep their inner mask mandates for another month. This would allow people who received their first Covid shot on April 19 – the day all U.S. citizens aged 18 and older were eligible – to get a full vaccination, he said.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, healthcare technology company Aetion, and Illumina biotech. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.