Scott Gottlieb discusses coronavirus in "Face the Nation," April 4, 2021

This Easter Week, we will take a closer look at some of the inequalities created by COVID-19.


MARGARET BRENNAN Hello and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We start with the virus itself. Last week, CDC director Drs. Rochelle Walensky spoke of her fear of "impending doom" and urged Americans to hold back. The CDC also provided vaccinated Americans with a green light to fly, but the TSA has reported the highest number of passengers since the outbreak began. 18 percent of Americans are completely vaccinated. Case numbers are still growing in 27 states and in Washington, D.C. In some of these areas, the vast majority of new cases are among children for the first time. We want to start with the former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He lives on the Pfizer board, and joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, doctor, we vaccinate four million people a day. But if you look at the levels of infection, do you see the fourth wave?

Drs. GOTTLIEB: I don't think there will be a fourth wave of truth. I think we probably delayed the point where we could get this back in the summer, but we never missed that opportunity. I think with the current vaccine rate, we are vaccinating, as you said, four million people a day. I think that will probably reach five million people a day. And the level of protection we already have for people, we have vaccinated more than 100 million Americans. It has infected about 130 million Americans. So you have somewhere around 200 million Americans with certain levels of non-infection. I think there is enough insecurity in people that you will not see a fourth wave of infection. What we are seeing are bags of infection across the country, especially for young people who have not been vaccinated and for school children. If you look at what is happening in Michigan and Minnesota and Massachusetts, for example, you see outbreaks in schools and infections in social groups that have never been seen by the virus before. Maybe we do a better job of shelter. Now they are out and about to be infected and infected. So the infection changes your appearance in terms of who you are currently suffering from.

MARGARET BRENNAN: She has been a supporter of the re-opening of inner learning. Given what you see now, do you think schools need to be closed?

Drs. GOTTLIEB: I don't. Schools are not naturally safe, but they can be made safer. I think we need to stick to tight cuts in schools, so schools that use masks, schools that can do some sort of deviation, as described by one of the disease-related diseases this week, go Harry Potter full and try to keep students within the defined cohorts community so they don’t get mixed up. If you take those steps in schools, I think schools can be made safer. And I think the benefits of being in school outweigh the risks. But we need to know that schools are dangerous, children are at risk of infection, and that schools can be places of community focus if we are not careful. I think we are seeing some of this in Massachusetts right now where the bulk of the new infection is among school-going children. You see the same kind of math in Michigan. Both provinces have recently reopened schools. And I don't think it happened by accident.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Fauci mentions the program, the first quarter of 2022 vaccination. And this week, he said, by the end of this year, we should have enough information to safely vaccinate children of any age. What do you think of this timeline? Is it moving faster than expected?

Drs. GOTTLIEB: I think it's going fast. I don't know if it's faster than we expected. We will have data, I think, that will inform the FDA's ability to make a decision on the urgent use of the 12 to 15 vaccine with the Pfizer vaccine. So Pfizer, as you know, the company on its board, as you mentioned, recently released clinical data, a clinical trial of 2,200 children aged 12 to 15 who look very encouraging. That data will be submitted to the FDA. The FDA will be in a position to issue an emergency use authorization for that age group. I think that could come in time for the vaccine to be available to 12 to 15 people before the school year. And I think the way to think about trying to vaccinate children is to vaccinate different social cohorts. Do we vaccinate school-age children? Currently, Pfizer vaccine is approved to drop to 16. So that puts you in a high school age set. Are we starting to vaccinate in middle school? ACIP will eventually need a CDC advisory committee, which is ACIP, which will eventually have to make recommendations when they think the vaccine should be used on children. And they will think about it by going on social media and meeting groups when they want to introduce a vaccine, high school being the most obvious and probably middle school. But I think we will be in a position to vaccinate 12 or more before the fall. I think less than that can take more time because you will want to test the many different doses to try to find the lowest dose that still provides the strongest immune response in children.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, I'm sure you've seen this too, in your correspondence. There are many people traveling with their children right now for spring break. People who have not celebrated Christmas are celebrating right now, although Dr Fauci in the program said it is very dangerous to enter the airport. Do you think health authorities are losing their influence at this time?

Drs. GOTTLIEB: I think you have to be careful as a public health official to come up with a guide that you know the community will follow very closely. You do not want to be frustrated if you cannot get the right pitch so invest in a good capo. You have to give direction in the context of what the community is willing to do. I think it is important that people like Dr. Fauci and the director of the CDC appeal. I think we should continue to be vigilant. We are in a very serious situation. We still have this variety of rotations that we do not fully understand. We do not know if people are re-infected with some of this new variety. We should have that knowledge, but we do not. So there is a lot we don't understand about this virus right now. And we don't want to be in a situation where we are exacerbating the epidemic because we were not smart about the steps we are currently taking. That said, people see that there is little danger in general. As people get vaccinated, they feel less vulnerable and more dependent on vaccination. And so they are determined to start getting involved in the things they have set for themselves all year long. So we need to understand that and I think I’m putting out a guide in such a way that people can go along with it, you know, their desires, i.e. they want to see the family again. They want to start having fun. They want to start moving slowly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last night, Johnson & Johnson said it would take full responsibility for producing a vaccine for this plant in Baltimore that appears to have damaged about 15 million doses of the COVID vaccine. Our Sara Cook reports that it was ordered by Biden management. Any article like this damages a person's self-esteem. How serious is the problem?

Drs. GOTTLIEB: I don't think it should damage self-confidence in people's perceptions of vaccine safety. This was eventually obtained as part of the quality assessment they did at the center. I don't think they should have produced two different antiretroviral drugs in the same area. Germs stick. Their genomic properties are easily transmitted. We have seen this with the CDC in relation to their unsuccessful discharge of their diagnostic tests because they were carrying too many viruses in one facility and there was some contamination. It appears that a portion of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was also produced at the center, went into the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


Drs. GOTTLIEB: That is a public report from management officials.


Drs. GOTTLIEB: They shouldn't have done that in the same institution. I think this emphasizes that we do not have a lot of productive energy in this country--


Drs. GOTTLIEB: - that we should have used in one institution to do these things.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Dr. Gottlieb, thank you always for your analysis. THE FACE OF THE NATION will return directly to Dr. Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Economic Advisory Council at the White House. Stay with us.