Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that he believes the United States may struggle to achieve “true herd immunity” for Covid, suggesting that coronavirus infections will be around for years to come.
However, the former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner emphasized that new cases alone should not be the metric that receives the most attention, as more people are vaccinated against Covid.
“I don’t think we should think about achieving collective immunity. I don’t know if we will ever achieve true herd immunity, where this virus just stops circulating, “said Gottlieb in” Closing Bell “. “I think it will always circulate at a low level. That should be the goal, to keep the virus level low. “
Gottlieb, who serves on the board of Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, said he expects the United States to see significant progress toward that goal in the coming weeks.
“I think we are going to reach a point this summer when the circulation of this virus will be extremely low. We will probably see the cases start to collapse sometime in May, soon. We are already seeing this in some parts of the country, ”said Gottlieb.
Still, Gottlieb said, the United States could stabilize somewhere around 5,000 to 10,000 new cases of coronavirus a day this summer, in part because of how common the Covid test has become. “We are going to get a lot of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic infections,” he said.
“I think the bottom line is that the vulnerability of the American population is being drastically reduced as a result of vaccination, and that is what we really need to focus on,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration.
“We shouldn’t just focus on the cases. There will be cases, but we must focus on how many people are being hospitalized and made sick by this virus, and this will decrease dramatically as we launch vaccines, ”he said.
Public health experts emphasized during the pandemic that the more people in a population have immunity protection for a given virus, the less readily it will spread. However, while vaccines have been shown to reduce transmission, Gottlieb is not the first to suggest that achieving durable herd immunity for Covid is likely to be a challenge.
The White House chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, estimated that 75% to 85% of the population being vaccinated against Covid would create an “umbrella” of immunity. “This would be able to protect even the vulnerable who have not been vaccinated or those in whom the vaccine has not been effective,” he told CNBC in December, shortly after the FDA granted Pfizer’s emergency use authorization for the vaccine.
Approximately 41% of the US population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine and 27.5% is fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 220 million total doses have been administered, CDC data show.
Gottlieb had previously said that the United States could, in theory, reach a point where Covid was eradicated like other diseases like polio and smallpox. “It is possible. We do not seem to be prepared to do this and take the collective action it will require,” he told CNBC on April 16.
“This will require people to exercise some civic virtue to be vaccinated, even if they individually feel that they are at low risk of infection,” he said. “Because even if they have a personally low risk, they can still catch and transmit the infection, and you cannot eradicate a disease where there is a significant contingent of people who will continue to catch and transmit it.