Washington — With the number of coronavirus cases continuing to rise as the United States heads into the fall and winter months, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, warned Sunday the country is "taking a lot of infection into a very dangerous season" for the virus.
"I think that there's a lot of concern that we could start to see a real upsurge and this is a continuation of a broader trend underway as we head into the colder months," Gottlieb said on "Face the Nation." "We were always facing heightened risk of increased spread of coronavirus as we headed into the fall and winter. Now we're there. We're starting to see that increase, and we're taking a lot of infection into a very dangerous season for this virus."
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surpassed 7 million, and more than 204,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations are also no longer declining.
Gottlieb said it remains an open question whether the rise in cases "is the beginning of an upsurge heading into the fall and the winter," or whether the bounce can be attributed to Labor Day festivities.
"Whether this is the start of a persistent trend heading into the fall, in the winter, or is just a temporary upsurge and we level off again, is unclear," he said.
While the number of coronavirus cases is rising in some states, President Trump has continued to focus on development of a vaccine and has promised one could be available to the American people by the election, November 3. But senior health officials in the Trump administration have poured cold water on that timeline and instead have warned a coronavirus vaccine likely will not be available to the general population until mid-2021.
Several pharmaceutical companies are in Phase 3 clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine candidates, which require participation from thousands of patients in each trial. Gottlieb said because trials are still underway, it's impossible to know the effectiveness of a vaccine because data is not yet available.
"The expectation is that this vaccine is going to be partially protective, a lot like the flu vaccine, where for certain people it will provide full immunity, but for other people it's not going to provide as much protection. Maybe it will lessen the severity of COVID if they contract the infection," he said. "But it's not going to provide what we call sterile immunity, which means you're not going to be able to get infected with COVID. There will be some people who still get infected with COVID. That's the expectation."