Transcript: Scott Gottlieb discusses coronavirus on "Face the Nation," February 21, 2021

Gottlieb says downward virus trend "likely to continue"
Gottlieb says downward virus trend "likely to... 03:58

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


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, in just a moment. We're having some communication issues there. As you know, there are some power issues in Texas. So when we get that right back up, we will take you to the mayor of Fort Worth. But standing by, we do have former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who's joining us from Westport, Connecticut. He sits on the board of Illumina and Pfizer. Dr. Gottlieb jumping into the fire again. I want to ask you, the numbers, frankly, look good in terms of the infection rate going down, but we are about to cross this morbid milestone of half a million Americans dead. Where are we in this? And should we be optimistic, given the infection decline?

DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Look, this has taken a tragic toll on the United States, but we should be optimistic, in my view. I think we're going to continue to see infection rates decline into the spring and the summer. Right now, they're falling quite dramatically. I think these trends are likely to continue. The new variants do create new risk. I think B.1.1.7 creates some risk that we could see a resurgence of infection in certain parts of the country and higher prevalence overall in the spring and summer than we might have seen without this strain. But it's not going to be enough to reverse these trends at this point. I think it's too little, too late in most parts of the country. With rising vaccination rates and also the fact that we've infected about a third of the public, that's enough protective immunity that we're likely to see these trends continue. The risk is really to the fall. And one last point, if you look at the counties in New York and New Jersey that had greater than 45% seroprevalence, meaning that 40- more than 45% of the population was infected going into the winter, they really didn't have much of a winter surge. So once you get to about 40% of the population with some form of protective immunity, you don't have herd immunity, meaning that this won't transfer at all. It will continue to transfer, but it will transfer at a much slower rate. And that's what we have right now around the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you reach herd immunity without vaccinating children since they make up a quarter of the population?

DR. GOTTLIEB: No, you can't. But I don't really think we're ever going to reach true herd immunity. This isn't going to be like measles or smallpox where it just sort of goes away. COVID is going to continue to circulate at a low level. Hopefully we'll continue to vaccinate the vulnerable population, so we'll protect them from hospitalizations or severe illness and dying from this. But this is going to continue to spread. And I think as we get into the fall, we need to be prepared if those new variants, the P.1 and the B.1.351, the South African and the Brazilian variant, could become more prevalent here in the United States. And that's why you see the manufacturers- the vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, the company I'm on the board of, trying to reengineer those vaccines and develop boosters that cover those new variants. We have time to work this out. You see the CDC investing a lot of resources in sequencing to try to uncover these new variants. So we do have time. I think we're going to have this spring and the summer to work this out and prepare much better for the fall.

MAGARET BRENNAN: Will high schoolers be vaccinated by the fall. Will elementary school children? I mean, when do they get the shot?

DR. GOTTLIEB:  Yeah, I think it's possible that this vaccine gets moved into the high school-age population in the fall. And that- that really should be the goal because we've seen the spread happen more in the high schools then the elementary schools. And we know that high schools- high school students are probably at equivalent risk in terms of contracting this and spreading the infection. There's less risk in the grade school-age children. I don't believe that this vaccine is going to get moved to 12 and under heading into the fall. The studies are underway right now looking at that. It may be a question of trying to reformulate the vaccines at a lower dose for younger kids because they develop a more robust immune response from the vaccine. What's likely to happen is maybe it's not licensed for 12 and under, but we have it available if we have to put it in that age population, if in fact we run into trouble.  But I think students are likely to start school without being vaccinated for 12 and under and maybe in the high schools we introduce the vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And so bottom line, when will we know if the vaccine prevents you from transmitting the virus?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, there's accruing evidence right now that it does. There's evidence out today, another study out of Israel, and I think the data out of Israel is going to be the most definitive answer to this question in the near term. I think conventional wisdom right now is that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

DR. GOTTLIEB: --the vaccine does prevent infection and does prevent transmission. The question is the magnitude. We don't know the full magnitude of that effect yet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ok. Dr. Gottlieb, thank you very much for your time. We will be--

DR. GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to bring back former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb for a quick final word. Dr. Gottlieb, we've asked you in the past about what you think happened with the origins of this virus. I wonder what you took away from Mott Pottinger's insights there. He made some news.

DR. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, look, the most likely scenario here is that this came from nature, that this was bouncing back and forth between people and animals for a period of time and finally broke out. I think the lab leak theory, the fact that this could have been an accident out of that lab is never going to be fully dispelled. And the WHO shouldn't walk away from that so easily. I think the one thing that Matt said in that interview, which is interesting and I think is new, is that the Chinese military was in that institute doing experiments and doing experiments with animals. That does create increased risk that this could have jumped from animals to people inside that laboratory.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he detailed some of that. We're going to have our full interview online. I- I was pressing the current national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, on some of this. He didn't dispute the report. He also didn't address it. But the bottom line is that both administrations agree there needs to be more data shared by China. Specifically what answers are needed?

DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, they- one thing that you'd want to look at is antibody tests in people who worked in that lab to see if they have prior exposure to COVID. Now, those tests may not show antibodies at this point because it's been some period of time, but that data is available and it wasn't shared with the WHO team. And so you'd want to see that data for sure. You'd want to see some of the source strain, some of the original strains, to see how this has evolved over time and try to get closer to the source of the initial outbreak.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Important to protect us against the next time. Dr. Gottlieb, thank you for your insights. And that is it for us today. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm MARGARET BRENNAN.