Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday that he believes there is ample protection against Covid immunity across the U.S. population that even with the highly transmissible Delta variant floating around, the country is unlikely to be anywhere near as dire will experience like previous points in the pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a raging epidemic across the country like we saw last winter. I think there will be niches of spread and the overall prevalence will increase, “the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said on” Squawk Box. ”
“But I think that in parts of the country where vaccination rates are high, and that certainly applies to the northeast, in my opinion we are largely protected – at least from the current variants that are in circulation,” added board member Gottlieb of Covid Vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.
On the other hand, Gottlieb said parts of the country are more prone to outbreaks with the Covid Delta variant. These are places where the number of people who have previously been infected or vaccinated is low. He highlighted the situation in Missouri, where health officials have expressed concerns about spikes in cases and hospital admissions, particularly in areas with lagging vaccination rates.
“If you are someone who has even been vaccinated in these parts of the country and there is a heavy epidemic of this new variant of the Delta, you are also at risk because we know the vaccines are not 100% and we know it. ” In vulnerable populations – people with compromised immune systems, people who are much older – the vaccines may not work as well over time. “
First found in India, the Delta variant has been identified in more than 90 countries, including the United States, where its prevalence doubles roughly every two weeks. In some countries, such as Israel, concerns about the Delta variant have led governments to tighten public health restrictions.
The UK postponed the final phase of its economic reopening earlier this month, spearheading the pace of new Delta variant infections and an increase in hospital admissions. Most of the cases involved unvaccinated people.
Los Angeles County officials released guidelines for inner masks this week, including those for fully vaccinated individuals, amid concerns about the Delta variant. It comes roughly two weeks after the county joins the state of California to lift mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals in most settings.
The World Health Organization on Friday also urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing face masks.
“The goal should be to try to reduce transmission as much as possible here in the United States. I think we shouldn’t be rash,” said Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019 . “But we will see that the overall impact of the virus will be greatly reduced because so many people have been vaccinated.”
In the United States, around 154.2 million people, or 46.4% of the population, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 180 million people, or 54.2% of the country’s population, have received at least one dose.
According to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, there are an average of around 12,400 new coronavirus cases per day in the United States, based on a seven-day average. That is 10% more than a week ago. The daily average of Covid deaths fell 7% to 278 per day over the same period.
Despite the increase in cases, Gottlieb said he believed US public health officials should be cautious about reintroducing pandemic restrictions right now. Daily new infections remain dramatically lower than their daily high in the US of 300,462 on Jan. 2, according to Johns Hopkins data.
“I think the right response is first and foremost to have more people vaccinated,” said Gottlieb. “We have just got to a point where our mitigation should be really reactive, not proactive,” he added. “We shouldn’t shut things up or put off masking requirements in anticipation of spread. I think we should do this when we see signs of spread, signs of outbreaks. “
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion Inc., and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.