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Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation," December 12, 2021

Gottlieb says COVID increase driven by "dense epidemics," cold weather
Gottlieb says COVID increase driven by "dense epidemics," cold weather 05:04

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, December 12, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer. Good morning to you. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, we see certainly here in the north, in the northeast, Delta infections are picking up in New York. They're going to start requiring masks tomorrow indoors if vaccines aren't required for entry in the first place. Do you think other governors should follow suit and start requiring masks?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, we've seen the Delta wave, of course, through most parts of this country right now, we're at about 36 cases per 100,000 people per day. To put that in perspective, about six weeks ago, we were at 20. Germany, which is having a very dense epidemic right now, is about 50 cases per 100,000 people per day. Most of those cases right now are being driven by very dense epidemics in the Great Lakes region in New England. I think in those parts of the country, it is prudent to start taking steps to try to control the spread. There are certain states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where the health care systems are beginning to get pressed and mask mandates are the easiest thing we can do, a sort of collective action that put some downward pressure on spread. It would be a temporary measure just to try to preserve the health care systems at this point. Most of the country is through the Delta wave, and the reason why you're seeing cases go up so much right now is in part driven by the dense epidemics in these very populated states. But also, you're seeing some uptick even in states that have gotten through their Delta wave, in part because people are moving indoors because of the colder weather and the holidays.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you know, we looked at the data and more than one in four adults is not fully vaccinated. Only one in four adults has received a booster. Can we blame the unvaccinated for the spread? Is something else driving this?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, the unvaccinated is certainly the individuals who are showing up in the healthcare system requiring advanced care, there probably is a reasonable amount of spread even among the vaccinated individuals at this point, particularly people who only have two doses of vaccine probably are getting subclinical or mild infections and are contributing to the spread as well. But if we look at this time last year, when we were dealing with a far less transmissible strain, we had about 120,000 hospitalizations. Now, with a far more transmissible strain, perhaps a strain that's slightly more virulent, we have 60,000 hospitalizations, still tragic. But the vaccines are having an impact on reducing hospitalizations and severe disease, which is really the thesis that we held out for these vaccines all along. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were talking about another variant there, Omicron, that we've been speaking about in the past few weeks. There are projections in the U.K. that it will very soon overtake Delta. They're taking some emergency measures there in Europe. Should we expect that wave to come here and overtake Delta as well?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, look, I think it's an open question, we can't really transfer the experience from one country to another because there's different levels of immunity in different populations, different countries and also different states as you even move across the United States. The U.K. does look a lot like the US in terms of having a lot of vaccine induced immunity and a lot of immunity from prior infection, and also a lot of people who have been boosted and people who've been infected and then subsequently vaccinated. They appear to have the best immunity against this new variant. What we're seeing in South Africa right now is the potential, the indication that this may be peaking in the hard-hit Gauteng province and Johannesburg and Pretoria. If that's the case, I think modelers are going to have to reassess some of the early estimates on perhaps when this first began. It might have been spreading furtively and it was- it went unnoticed initially and we caught the peak of an epidemic or an epidemic that was well underway rather than the very beginning of an epidemic. And that might change some of the impressions about the transmissibility of this virus. The other possibility is that this coursed very quickly through a subset of the population that's excessively vulnerable to it, and we know it hit very hard people with prior Delta infection who are unvaccinated. So it may be that people who just have Delta induced immunity are excessively vulnerable to this variant. This is going to take some time to figure out if, in fact it is indeed peaking in Johannesburg. I think that's going to cause us to reflect on some of the modelling we've been doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to look at that later on in the program. Thank you. Doctor, you know, Pfizer's CEO said this week, a fourth dose of the Moderna vaccine might be needed against Omicron sooner rather than later. You know, there are so many vaccine skeptics out there for those who say this is just big pharma trying to push vaccines. What is your explanation of the science here?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, he- he's talked about the fourth those specifically in reference to immunocompromised individuals. And in fact, we know that some people who are immunocompromised organ transplant patients, for example, doctors are prescribing multiple doses for those patients because we know they don't get a good response to vaccines generally. And Israel is also looking at making a fourth dose available to a subset of the population who have immune related disorders. What he also talked about was the possibility that this is going to become an annual vaccine, and I do think that this is going to be for a period of time, something that we have to get revaccinated for– 


DR. GOTTLIEB: –on an annual basis, in part because immunity wanes.--


DR. GOTTLIEB: And in part because it's going to drift over time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doctor, I've got to take a quick break. Thank you. We'll be back in a moment.

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