Gottlieb says pandemic in US could be over by January


Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday that he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States could be over by January, transitioning to a lower-level “endemic” presence.

“I think the bottom line though is that these mandates that are going to be put in place by Jan. 4 really are coming on the tail end of this pandemic,” Gottlieb said on CNBC, referring to President Biden’s deadline for a vaccine or test mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees. “By Jan. 4 this pandemic may well be over at least as it relates to the United States after we get through this delta wave of infection. And we'll be in more of an endemic phase of this virus.”

The coronavirus is not expected to disappear entirely, but it could settle into a lower-level, constant presence that does not cause the disruption and harm of the past year and a half. 

In addition to vaccines, Gottlieb, who is on the board of Pfizer, also pointed to results from new treatments, including a pill from Pfizer that the company said Friday was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 89 percent. 

“Once we get through this delta wave of infection over the course of the next two months, I think that this therapeutic and the other innovations that we've seen coming to market really mark the end of the pandemic in the United States,” Gottlieb said. “We need to think about how we put that victory sign on the side of the White House.”

The wave is not over yet. The surge of cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant has been waning in recent weeks, but there is still a high number of new cases per day, about 70,000, according to a New York Times tracker. And those cases have leveled off in the past few days.

There are still more than 1,000 people in the U.S. dying per day from the virus, largely those who are unvaccinated. 

As Gottlieb indicated, the pandemic could continue to rage in other countries even once it is tamed in the U.S. Advocates have been pressing wealthy countries and vaccine makers to do more to share their vaccine technology with lower-income countries. 

Experts warn that if the virus continues to circulate at high levels elsewhere, it also poses the risk of a new variant developing that could threaten countries including America by potentially evading the current vaccines. 

Gottlieb said that with the progress that the U.S. is making, the discussion about lifting mask mandates can begin as well. He said that his hometown in Connecticut is at five cases per 100,000 people per day, and it lifted its mask mandate this week.

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