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Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation", November 21, 2021

The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb that aired Sunday, November 21, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

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


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, 62 million Americans who are eligible to be vaccinated still aren't. And according to CDC, 85% of the counties in this country are in substantial or high transmission, so you've already predicted a post-Thanksgiving spike. Is it too early, in places like Washington, D.C. to lift mask requirements?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think local officials need to base the rules on what the local prevalence is, and right now in some parts of the country, prevalence is very low. When you look at the south and southeast, even parts of the tri-state region, the mid-Atlantic region, I think we need to be mindful that when we lift these restrictions, we may have to reimplement them if things worsen. Right now, we're better in this country than we were a year- year ago. There were 170,000 cases on a seven-day average a year from now- a year ago from today, we had about 77,000 people hospitalized, so we're in a better circumstance. But we're probably not as good as we should be, given all the tools we have between the vaccines and the highly effective drugs, and also how much infection we've had in this country and how much immunity is already in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last Sunday, you told us it was one of the biggest missed opportunities for the administration to not have rolled out boosters and made them eligible for all earlier on. The CDC now has said all adults may get a booster shot and that those over age 50 should get a booster. Can you interpret that language for us?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think the reluctant nature by which CDC has been stepping into this debate reflects a broader ambivalence or a broader debate happening in a public health community about whether the vaccines should be used as tools to protect people from bad outcomes from COVID, or whether they should be used as tools to try to end the pandemic and control transmission. If you're recommending boosters for people 50 and over at this point. You're recommending a booster so that you can improve their immunity, protect them from a bad COVID outcome because we see clear evidence of declining immune protection from the vaccines after six months, and that person is now at increased risk of having a severe case of COVID and having a bad outcome. If you are recommending boosters at this point for younger individuals, people who are 20 people who are in their teens, even 30s, in that case, there is a perception that you're recommending the booster not necessarily to protect that individual because they probably still have pretty good immune protection from the first two doses and they were at lower risk anyway. But you're recommending the booster as a tool to try to make them less likely to pass on the virus.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've already seen governors in Connecticut and New Mexico say three doses is fully vaccinated. Should the CDC say you need a booster to be considered fully vaccinated?

DR. GOTTLIEB: I think at some point they're going to, but not this year, I think eventually this will be considered the three dose vaccine, but I- I would be hard pressed to believe CDC is going to make that recommendation any time soon, in part because of this debate about whether or not younger people who are less risk should be receiving that third dose in states where governors are looking to do this, and I think some local communities will do it. Some businesses are probably going to do it quite soon. I think in cases where entities are going to mandate three doses for people who are six months out from the second dose, they're doing that because they're using the vaccine as a way to control transmission and try to end this pandemic. And you know, there are people in the public health committee who don't think that that's an inappropriate way to use the vaccine. But this is a debate that's going on right now in the public health community. And CDC's sort of stuttering approach to how they've embraced boosters is reflective of that debate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Labor Department's OSHA division said it's suspending enforcement of that Biden requirement to test or vaccinate business employees. We also saw Disney halt vaccine requirements in the state of Florida after the governor there said businesses can't carry out that kind of mandate. In both cases you have the government telling businesses what to do. If you're a business owner, if you're an employee, I mean, what- which should you be doing right now?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think it's not inappropriate for businesses to mandate vaccines and certain businesses absolutely should be mandating vaccination in their workplaces. Health care settings, settings where you can't protect employees with other tools other than to make sure that you can keep the infection out of that setting. So settings where you have a lot of employees working very closely together, it's hard to work in a masked environment in perpetuity. I mean, this is the unfortunate consequence of government officials getting into these private decisions. If we ultimately let these decisions to mandate vaccines up to states, local districts, private businesses, I don't think you'd see this be a political fight at a national level. Now it's become a political fight at a national level. Unfortunately, you're going to see some governors trying to position themselves on this issue, like you've seen in Florida, and you're going to see the federal government, the Biden administration now fighting those states and fighting to implement these OSHA rules. The- the end result is that I think businesses that we're going to move forward on mandates have moved forward and businesses that are reluctant to do it are probably going to wait in place and see what happens with the outcome of this litigation involving OSHA. By the time this lawsuit ends up getting resolved probably will be through the surge that we're seeing right now, this Delta surge, and maybe on the back end of the pandemic here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mmhm. But for people, it leaves a lot of confusion with them about what they actually can be expected to do and what they can expect of their coworkers when they walk into the office. Dr. Gottlieb, more to talk about with you, as always, but we got to leave it there today. Thank you for your time and have a good Thanksgiving. We'll be back in a moment.

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