The following is a transcript of an interview with former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, which aired on February 14, 2021 on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We now turn to former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He sits on the board of directors for Pfizer and Illumina, joining us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you.
DOCTOR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you agree with the CEO of Rite Aid that the private sector should take a more direct role in more of this process. Do you think the Biden administration will finally get there?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, I think they’re doing it right now, the Biden administration. I think they are taking an all of the above approach in terms of trying to get this out and create more access sites. You know, the only recommendation I would make is no … I wouldn’t devote so much federal resources to developing these mass vaccination sites. I think the people who can go online, sign up, drive to Dodger Stadium, wait in line, take a half day off work to get vaccinated, are people who could be served by Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid. It would take federal resources and state resources and create more tailored solutions that can be used in some of the hard-to-reach settings, some of the underserved communities, whether you can move mobile vans to those communities, try to work community groups, local providers, church groups, community health centers to try to vaccinate the most difficult to reach populations. That is a very difficult endeavor. It is expensive. It is a bespoke effort. It is a practical effort. He would direct federal resources toward that kind of mission and let Walmart work with easy demand and Rite Aid.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Biden administration bought 200 million more doses. That gives them a reserve of around 600 eventually once it comes off the production line. He overheard me talking to the CDC director and I asked him when production should switch to those new variant treatments. She said that is happening now. What can you tell us about our position in terms of being prepared to protect ourselves against these new variants?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well look, I think we have a lot of time to get this right by the fall and have vaccine boosters that could cover these new variants. Development work continues at this time. So all companies are developing new vaccine variants, including Pfizer, the company of which I am a board member. The question is, when does your manufacturing start to change? And I think you will probably need to make that decision sometime in July, August at the latest. And your entire manufacturing may not change. You can shift some of your manufacturing to those new vaccine variants, because remember, clinical trials will not be completed yet. So you don’t want to dump all your eggs in that basket, but you do want to create a supply that you’ll have on hand in the fall if you need those shots. So I think that’s the point where you’re going to make that decision. The time to start the manufacturing process and get the finished vaccine off the line is approximately two months. So if you start manufacturing in July, you’ll start getting your vaccines off the line in time for fall.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard the British Prime Minister defend his decision to continue vaccinating his population with the AstraZeneca vaccine, even though it has proven not as effective in early trials against the South African variant. WHO is also standing firm. That is an error?
DR SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think if we’re going to do that, we need a plan B. I understand why they want to do this. They have made a lot of this vaccine. It is cheap. It is accessible. It could be placed in low and middle income countries due to handling requirements. It does not require complicated cold chain storage. But if you are introducing a vaccine in those markets that we know does not cover B.1.351, the South African variant, very good, if it does. You have the risk of being able to select that variant in those markets. So you need a plan B on what vaccine you are going to implement in those regions if indeed B.1.351 becomes common in those regions after getting vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. And the problem is, you can exclude the vaccine that is the most likely candidate in those markets, which is the J&J vaccine because it has very similar storage requirements. I would like to use that vaccine. But in fact, the AstraZeneca vaccine is very immunogenic against the vaccine vector. So what they are using to pass on the COVID gene sequence is a chimpanzee adenovirus. And it turns out that the adenovirus they’re using is very immunogenic. It creates antibodies that can attack other adenoviruses, including perhaps, and we don’t know for sure, but perhaps the J&J vaccine. So you could miss out on the opportunity to use that vaccine in these markets, which means you need another plan B, which could be mRNA vaccines, like the vaccine that is produced by Pfizer, the company that I am on the board for. But those vaccines are more difficult to handle in those markets because they require more complicated cold chain storage. So we have to figure this out right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s a big warning that you’re making right now. I- I-
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, I think they … I think they need to have a plan for that, yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I also want to ask you about these comments. They were pretty sharp, I thought, from … from the Biden administration’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. He said yesterday that the Biden administration has deep concern about the World Health Organization investigation, Chinese interference in it. He demanded the delivery of data. That is exactly what the Trump administration demanded as well. What does China still have here that we need to know?
DR. GOTTLIEB: A lot of data. Well, first of all, they have antibody tests on the people who worked in that Wuhan lab. They did not make it available. So you will want to know if they have antibodies to the coronavirus. That would be an indication that they may have been infected. Now those antibodies will decrease over time. But at least you want to see that data. We want to look at the sequencing data on retained samples from people who entered the hospital in October and November with viral syndromes that looked like COVID to see if this infection was spreading earlier and try to get closer to the source of the initial outbreak. Certainly that data is available, the Chinese have it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
DR. GOTTLIEB: So there is a lot of data that was not available.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Gottlieb, thank you, as always, for your time. We will be back in a moment.