Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that he expected the coronavirus to become an endemic virus in the US and other western countries after the recent surge in Delta variant infections settled.
“We are going from a pandemic to a more endemic virus, at least here in the United States and probably in other western markets,” said Gottlieb on “Squawk Box”. An endemic virus is one that remains relatively infrequent in the American population, such as seasonal flu.
Gottlieb – Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019 during the Trump administration and now a board member at several companies, including vaccine maker Pfizer – has previously said that “true herd immunity” for Covid in new infections may indeed be impossible for years to come .
“It’s not a binary point in time, but I think after we get through this delta wave this becomes more of an endemic disease where you see some kind of persistent infection through winter … but not at the level” we certainly do experience right now, and it doesn’t necessarily depend on the booster shots, “added Gottlieb on Friday.
Gottlieb said he anticipates the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant will remain remarkable in the coming weeks.
“You will probably see the course of the delta wave between the end of September and October,” said Gottlieb. “Hopefully we’ll be on the other side, or come the other side, sometime in November, and we won’t see a big bout of infection on the other side of this delta wave after that.”
The tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will see a spike in delta cases as rates slow in the south, Gottlieb said.
“This is a big country and the delta wave will be regionalized to sweep across the whole country,” he said. “Hopefully by September you will see the other side of that curve very clearly in the south, but falls will increase in the northeast, in the Great Lakes region, maybe in the Pacific Northwest. … It will likely coincide with a restart at school, some companies are coming back if you look at last summer too. “
Gottlieb’s comments on Friday morning came before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave final approval to begin distributing Covid vaccine booster vaccines to recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines who have weakened immune systems. The CDC’s approval followed a unanimous vote on Friday to recommend booster vaccinations for its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. It now enables the shots to reach vulnerable people such as organ transplant recipients, cancer and HIV patients.
The day before, the FDA approved booster injections for people with compromised immune systems. They make up about 2.7% of the US adult population, but account for about 44% of hospitalized breakthrough Covid cases among fully vaccinated people, according to recent data from the CDC.
Gottlieb said the ability to give these Americans booster vaccinations, which help strengthen their immunity levels, will push the US further into the “endemic phase”.
“I think this is both a political call and a public health call for US officials to continue trying to promote initial vaccinations before they move on to booster vaccinations,” Gottlieb said of the FDA’s announcement on Thursday.
Some of the people Gottlieb believes should get Covid booster vaccinations soon include nursing home residents, who tend to be older and have underlying medical conditions that make them more prone to Covid. That’s especially worrying as the Delta variant invades the northern states and continues to postpone its first round of vaccination in the rearview mirror, he said.
“I would be concerned about nursing homes entering these environments now, given that there is a patient population that is likely to have declining immunity and is more vulnerable than it was five months ago.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion, and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.