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Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation," January 16, 2022

Gottlieb says variant-specific vaccine could help reduce transmission
Gottlieb says variant-specific vaccine could help reduce transmission 06:42

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, January 16, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to check in now with former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who also serves on the board of Pfizer. Good morning to you, Dr.. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: The acting FDA commissioner told Congress most people are going to get COVID, Dr. Fauci said most people will be exposed to it at some point. I mean, these statements make people at home go, what am I doing here? Why am I trying to protect myself? At this point, what can you do?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think the reality is most people are going to get COVID in their lifetime, I don't think most people need to get COVID within the next month and anything we can do to try to protect ourselves to extent that there are people who haven't been exposed to this virus yet, who've gone out and gotten vaccinated, been able to protect themselves. You know, if they can keep themselves protected for the next several weeks, we will probably be through this Omicron wave. And then we'll have to deal with this probably next fall when we have better tools available to us. I would much rather have my reckoning with COVID after I've been vaccinated a number of times after there are orally available drugs widely accessible to treat this infection. After there's monoclonal antibodies, widely accessible to treat it. After diagnostic testing is stockpiled in my house and those- those realities will be truth come this fall, certainly come this summer, so I think people will be in a much better position to grapple with this next fall. I think we should remain vigilant for the next several weeks, try to avoid this infection if you can.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So hold strong for the next few weeks. Pfizer CEO,  I know you served on the board of the company, said a vaccine that targets Omicron could be ready in March. Does that mean everyone needs to start planning to go out and get another dose?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think the reality is that this is going to become an annual vaccination, at least for a period of time. We don't know what the epidemiology of this infection is going to be over the long run, but certainly over the next couple of years, you can envision boosters becoming an annual affair, at least for some portion of the population; people who are more vulnerable. It could be the case that if we have an Omicron on specific vaccine or Delta specific vaccine, it is still unclear what the most prevalent strain of this infection is going to be on the back end of this Omicron wave. I think most people presume it will be Omicron, but if you can fashion a vaccine that's specific to the variant that's circulating. You probably have the potential to restore a lot of the original promise of the vaccine. And by that, I mean the ability to actually prevent transmission to reduce infection. Right now, the vaccines are very effective at preventing serious disease and preventing hospitalization. They are also preventing symptomatic illness. But the prevention of transmission has been dramatically reduced in a setting of Omicron. If you could fashion a vaccine that is specific to Omicron, you can restore the ability of the vaccine potentially to prevent transmission, and it once- once again becomes a public health tool for actually controlling spread.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard Governor Hogan, a Republican, say the federal government is falling short on its response right now. Our polling has shown even confusion among Democrats, I mean this isn't necessarily a partisan issue on frustration with pandemic response. That gets laid at the foot of the president, is that his fault? Is that the CDC falling short? Is that the FDA, where we still do not have a confirmed commissioner? Where does that blame actually lie?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think I think it lies in a lot of places, I think a lot of the confusion emanates from CDC and the mixed guidance that they've- they've issued. Look, the administration, I think, has done an admirable job with certain aspects of this response. They put a big emphasis on rolling out the vaccines. They've done a good job at that 85% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. We have to think about the counterfactual: what if we didn't have that much vaccination as a country? What situation would we be facing right now? I think the administration made some mistakes at a macro level. The first was buying into this prevailing narrative when they took office that a lot of the problems, if not all the problems at CDC and from the federal public health agencies owed to the Trump's administration and their mishandling of those agencies. Now, notwithstanding what the Trump administration did, it didn't do to try to reform those agencies and interfere in their operations. The reality is those agencies had deep flaws and it made it hard to reform the agencies once you bought into that- that macro narrative. The- the second challenge I think that they bought for themselves was federalizing this in ways that they didn't have to, particularly with respect to the vaccine mandates. I think once the federal government, the Biden administration, stepped in and federalized aspects of this response, they owned it and created a perception that they alone could fix it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Governor Hogan said they were having a hard time at the state level, getting a hold of tests. According to the White House, those will start- they'll take orders starting in Jan, but HHS said you might not receive those tests for weeks afterward. Is the strategy here just to have Americans stockpile tests for the future because it's not coming in time for Omicron?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think that's what Americans ought to be doing and the administration steps to try to provide tests directly to consumers and try to provide payment for those tests is an important step in that direction. They've also in the last week extended the expiration dates in the popular BinaxNOW test and I expect they're going to extend the expiration dates on other tests so that it makes it more feasible to stockpile these tests. The reality is the tests are available. They're not cheap. But if you go to Amazon right now, you can buy 10 or more tests. I tested it before- before we got on this show this morning, so they are available. I think that they're difficult to get for bulk purchase, for purchases for municipalities and states, but consumers can get access to them. And now, with the federal government, you know, providing reimbursement, most consumers can reach into the market and buy these tests. Unfortunately, they weren't available when we had peak demand, and that was when Omicron hit up against Christmas break, when a lot of people went out, wanted access to tests and the store shelves had run out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well, failure to plan around the holiday in the largest gatherings of the year, but bigger strategy. You've said there should have been in Operation Warp Speed for drug treatments, not just the vaccine. Do you think the administration is over emphasizing vaccination and not talking about things like masks and ventilation?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think they've talked about masks, there's only so much the federal government can do to try to get consumers to wear masks, this really has to be done at the state and the local level. I think the administration should have earlier revised the guidance on the quality of the mask, recognizing that higher quality masks were going to be important against variants that spread primarily through airborne transmission, like the Delta variant, like the Omicron variant. There has been an emphasis on vaccines. I think that there could have been more emphasis on trying to get capacity in place over the summer for the production of not just the orally available drugs like the one manufactured by Pfizer. Pfizer put up a billion dollars to advance manufacture of that product, but also the monoclonal antibodies, especially the drugs that could be used as a prophylaxis and treatment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, Dr. Gottlieb, always good to talk to you. We'll be right back.

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