Transcript: Scott Gottlieb discusses coronavirus on "Face the Nation," March 28, 2021

Gottlieb says vaccines should be "pretty big backstop" against surge
Gottlieb says vaccines should be "pretty big ... 06:30

The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that aired March 28, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, he sits on the board of Pfizer as well as Illumina, and he joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you.

DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you agree with Dr. Fauci in terms of his projections on where we are headed with this sort of stuck at about 60,000 infections a day level?

DR. GOTTLIEB: You know, we've now vaccinated 92 million Americans. It's about 28% of the public. About 50 million have been fully vaccinated, that's 15%. Israel started to see the big declines in cases when they hit about 25% of their population vaccinated. So I think that's a pretty big backstop against a true fourth surge. What we're seeing around the nation right now, which is worrisome, are outbreaks in certain states, Michigan, the metro Detroit area, Boston around Massachusetts, the tri-state region, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, are experiencing an upsurge of infection. And I think what we need to do is try to continue to vaccinate, surge vaccine into those parts of the country. So the incremental vaccine that's coming onto the market, I think the Biden administration can allocate to parts of the country that look hot right now. But if we could just get two or three more weeks of around three million vaccines a day, that's going to be a pretty big backstop, against a true fourth surge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, three- three million a day or so, the president's benchmark was 200 million by the end of April. We're already at 140. So that is, it sounds like you're saying, a very hittable target, but how do you overcome that sort of last hurdle of- of skepticism, particularly among Republicans? I mean, is the government going to be the best- best messenger in this case?

DR. GOTTLIEB: They won't be. And you need to get the vaccine into community sites that have relationships with patients and get it into more doctor's offices, get it into pharmacies. You know, the administration is starting to push a lot of vaccine out through different channels. They've given the pharmacies a big role. They'll be marketing the vaccine very aggressively. They're going to community sites, community health centers. So that's what we should be doing. They're going to start vaccinating patients who present to dialysis centers. We should be vaccinating patients on discharge from the hospital, patients who go into infusion sites. So we should be looking at every single interaction that patients have with the medical system and trying to offer a vaccination at those points of care through a provider that patients know. That's ultimately how we're going to get some people who are more hesitant about being vaccinated to take up the vaccine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: People you trust, not necessarily people you would- celebrities. 

DR. GOTTLIEB: Exactly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On the World Health Organization, I want to add — nothing against celebrity endorsements of vaccines — on the World Health Organization and what Dr. Fauci was saying, I know you must be looking at this. He said, yes, the White House is talking about it, but he has no indication of what policies there might be regarding patent protections and pharmaceutical companies who make COVID vaccines. The World Health Organization chief has endorsed this idea of- of lifting it in order to help some developing countries get access. What is the implication if that happens?

DR GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think the implication is you're going to provide disincentives to the future, but the reality is just looking at the practicality of it, the rate-limiting step here is not the intellectual property around these vaccines. These companies are producing, including Pfizer, the company I'm going to board of, as much as they can. The rate limiting factor here is the raw ingredients, the inputs to making those vaccines. There's just a limited global supply of those highly specialized inputs. If you appropriate the intellectual property and give it to a bunch of other companies to try to make these vaccines, they're not going to be able to make them efficiently. And they're not going to be able to stand up the supply because they don't have the supply chain either. If they manage to secure it is just going to come at the expense of companies like Pfizer, Moderna that are making these vaccines far more efficiently. I think what we have to be doing is trying to get more resources into expanding that manufacturing capacity. This really is an opportunity for President Biden to do what President Bush did around the PEPFAR program and create a global campaign to try to supply vaccine around the world using the U.S. intellectual property. These companies have already donated vaccine. They'd be willing to provide more to low- and middle-income countries if the US government would backstop some of the legal protections around doing that. So there are opportunities here to dramatically expand global supply. Unfortunately, I think just giving away our intellectual property is going to be an empty promise. It's not going to result in more vaccine in these countries.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when someone looks at what Liz Palmer was just describing happen in Brazil with this surge where it seems almost uncontrolled within their borders, this is not something you would point to as a solution to surge vaccine into a- a problem country.

DR. GOTTLIEB: It would be a solution. Right now, we don't have the supply to do that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Got it. 

DR. GOTTLIEB: I think we can get the supply, but not in time probably for Brazil. And Brazil has been reluctant to take up the vaccine. That's part of the problem, too, is policy failure down there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When it comes to the World Health Organization report on the origins of this, you and I have spoken about this in the past. We've had Matt Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser to President Trump on. I know Dr. Redfield has spoken to CNN, the former CDC director, about his theories on the origin of COVID. To be clear here, when it comes to this report, you said you believe the most likely scenario on the origins of COVID was that it was just bouncing back and forth between people and animals for a period of time and finally broke out. But you said the lab theory is never going to be fully dispelled and the World Health Organization shouldn't walk away from that so easily. Do you expect them to walk away from that when this report comes out?

DR. GOTTLIEB: It looks like the WHO report was an attempt to try to support the China narrative, Chinese narrative around this- this origin of the vaccine. You know, the lab leak theory doesn't seem like a plausible theory unless you aggregate the biggest collection of coronaviruses and put them in a lab, a minimum-security lab in the middle of a densely populated center and experiment on animals, which is exactly what the Wuhan Institute of Virology did. They were using these viruses in a BSL-2 lab and, we now know, infecting animals. So that creates the opportunity for a lab leak. It might not be the most likely scenario on how this virus got out, but it has to remain a scenario. And I think at the end of the day, we're never going to fully discharge that possibility. What we're going to have here is a battle of competing narratives. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhm. And we will continue to cover it. Thank you very much, Dr. Gottlieb, for your analysis. We'll be back in a moment.