Coronavirus developments in Europe are unlikely to be early signs of what will happen weeks later in the US, partly due to America’s advances in vaccinating its population, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner’s comments on Squawk Box come a day after White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci said the situation in Europe shows why U.S. states shouldn’t completely abandon pandemic precautions right now.
Italy is putting stricter business restrictions in certain parts of the country after a surge in new infections, including an upcoming nationwide lockdown for the Easter weekend. Health officials in Germany have also warned of an increase in Covid cases.
“I used to say that we are four to maybe six weeks behind Europe, and we were,” said Gottlieb, referring to earlier phases of the global health crisis. “Everything that happened in Europe happened here at some point. Now the tables have turned. We are ahead of Europe.”
“I don’t think that the conditions in Europe and the situation in Europe inevitably predict what will happen here, as we in our population have much more immunity, both against previous infections – which they have – and now against vaccinations” added Gottlieb, a board member at Pfizer, which makes a Covid vaccine.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, around 9.5% of the population in the member states of the EU and the European Economic Area had at least one Covid shot. About 7.5% of the Italian population and 8.5% of Germans had at least one dose of Covid vaccine, according to ECDC data.
In contrast, 21% of the American population have received at least one Covid shot, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses for complete protection of immunity. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which requires only a single shot, was recently cleared for use by the European Union. US regulators gave J & J’s vaccine emergency approval late last month after clearing Pfizer and Moderna in December.
“I think we should worry that things may turn in a direction we cannot predict,” admitted Gottlieb, who previously urged states to continue wearing face masks to prevent coronavirus transmission. In fact, he said ending mask mandates should be the last public health measure to be lifted.
However, the former FDA head of the Trump administration said newly emerging strains of Covid, such as variant B.1.1.7, first discovered in the UK, have proven to be less of a problem in the US than in other parts of the world.
“Right now, B.1.1.7 is pretty common in the US. It’s more than 50% of cases in Texas, Florida, and Southern California, and you’re not seeing the big upsurge in cases that we might have expected once this variant in has found support in the United States, “said Gottlieb, attributing it to the extent of previous infection in the country and vaccination rates.
Last week, he estimated on CNBC that about 50% of Americans have “some form of immunity” to the coronavirus.
“The fact that we haven’t seen the rise in the coronavirus … even though B.1.1.7 is becoming the predominant burden in the United States is, in my opinion, a good sign,” Gottlieb said on Monday.
New York, where researchers discovered a new strain called B.1.526, is an area of concern for Gottlieb. He said there was evidence that certain mutations of the virus in this strain “could make it more resistant to our vaccines and increase the chances of people being re-infected”.
“We really don’t understand this mutation very well, but this is cause for concern so we need to watch this pretty closely,” he said, adding that the next few weeks should give officials more responses.
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.