Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that he believes many Americans will start holding group meetings long before President Joe Biden’s goal of Independence Day.
In an interview on “Squawk Box,” the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said he believes the timeline Biden established in his primetime address Thursday was too conservative compared to how people will behave.
“I think most Americans will meet long before July,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA during the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019. He now sits on the board of directors of Pfizer, which is one of three members of Covid vaccines approved for emergency use in the US.
Biden’s speech Thursday night on the pandemic sought to highlight the collective toll Covid has taken over the past year, while offering two forward-looking public health goals. The first: directing states to make all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccines by May 1. The second: a goal for Americans to gather safely in small groups with friends and loved ones to celebrate the 4th of July.
“I think we should give public health advice that is in line with where people are,” Gottlieb said. “[When] People feel that the risk decreases because they have been vaccinated, because they see that the levels of infection decrease in many parts of the country, they will be willing to take more risks because they feel that their vulnerability is decreasing. And you know what? They are right. “He predicted,” People will be out this summer and out long before July. “
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Gottlieb’s comments.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance saying that fully vaccinated people can safely gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people, and certain unvaccinated people, without masks or social distancing.
The guidance came as US states have lifted pandemic-era restrictions in recent weeks as vaccines are rolled out and daily coronavirus infections fall well below their January peak. However, top health officials in the Biden administration have warned that the decline in cases is beginning to stabilize, and contending states should be more cautious about removing capacity restrictions on companies and masking mandates.
Last Friday, Gottlieb said the mask mandates should be the last policies states and localities lift after Texas and Mississippi announced the end of their face-covering rules.
Overall, the United States has an average of 53,798 new cases per day, for the past seven days, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s 15% less than a week ago. New cases in the US on Thursday totaled 49,356, which was nearly 84% less than the single-day record on January 2.
A key factor helping slow the spread of the virus is rising levels of immunity in the U.S. population, Gottlieb said. He estimated that about half of the US population has some form of protective immunity to the coronavirus, taking into account diagnosed and undiagnosed infections alongside those that have been vaccinated.
Approximately 64 million Americans have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, which is equivalent to roughly 19% of the US population of 330 million people, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 10 Americans is fully vaccinated.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which Americans have been receiving since December, require two injections for full protection against developing Covid. However, studies suggest that some immunity is built after the initial dose. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the latest addition to the US market, is a single injection.
The United States has about 29.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins. The actual number is higher than that, Gottlieb said, reiterating a position he has held since the early days of the pandemic. He reasoned that not all people who became infected were tested and positive results were recorded.
“We are probably diagnosing one in four infections, maybe a little better than that right now,” said Gottlieb, who had previously estimated that about a third of Americans could have contracted Covid. “So we are above 50%” of the population with some form of immunity, he added.
“At that level, you will not get such a rapid transfer of infections. It is not a group immunity, but you will get immunity in the population,” he said.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, healthcare technology company Aetion, and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Participations‘ Y Royal Caribbean“Healthy candle panel”.