Coronavirus developments in Europe are likely no longer early indications of what will happen weeks later in the US, due in part to the US’s progress in vaccinating its population, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb to CNBC on Monday.
The former Food and Drug Administration commissioner’s comments on “Squawk Box” come a day after White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the situation in Europe shows why states Americans shouldn’t completely ditch pandemic precautions at this time.
Italy is imposing tougher restrictions on business in certain parts of the country after a spike in new infections, including an upcoming national shutdown for the Easter weekend. Health officials in Germany have also warned of an increase in Covid cases.
“I said earlier that we were four to maybe six weeks behind Europe, and we practically were,” Gottlieb said, referring to earlier phases of the global health crisis. “Everything that happened in Europe finally happened here. Now I think the tables have turned. We are ahead of Europe.”
“I don’t think the conditions in Europe and the situation in Europe are necessarily more predictive of what will happen here because we have much more immunity in our population both from previous infections – which they also have – but also now from vaccination,” Gottlieb added , a board member of Pfizer, which makes a Covid vaccine.
Roughly 9.5% of the population in member states of the EU and the European Economic Area have received at least one Covid vaccine, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. About 7.5% of the Italian population and 8.5% of Germans have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, according to ECDC data.
By contrast, 21% of the US population has received at least one Covid injection, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna require two doses for total immune protection. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which requires a single injection, was recently approved by the European Union. US regulators granted emergency use authorization to J & J’s vaccine late last month after eliminating Pfizer and Moderna in December.
“I think we should be concerned that things may turn in a direction that we are not predicting,” acknowledged Gottlieb, who has previously urged states to continue to require that people wear face masks to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. In fact, he has said that ending mask mandates should be the last public health measure to be lifted.
However, the former head of the FDA in the Trump administration said that emerging strains of Covid, such as the B117 variant first discovered in the UK, have proven to be less of a problem in the United States than in other parts of the world.
“Right now, you’re seeing B117 becoming quite prevalent in the United States. It’s over 50% of the cases in Texas, Florida, and Southern California, and you’re not seeing the big spike in cases that we might have expected. once that variant claimed that it remains in the United States, “Gottlieb said, attributing it to the level of previous infection in the country along with vaccination rates.
Last week, he estimated on CNBC that about 50% of Americans have “some form of immunity” to the coronavirus.
“The fact that we haven’t seen a surge of the coronavirus … even as B117 becomes the predominant strain in the United States, I think it bodes well,” Gottlieb said Monday.
New York, where researchers discovered a new strain called B.1.526, is an area of concern for Gottlieb. He said there are indications that certain mutations of the virus in that strain “could make it more resistant to our vaccines and increase the likelihood that people will be reinfected.”
“We don’t really understand that mutation well, but that is cause for concern, so we need to monitor it very closely,” he said, adding that the next two weeks should give officials more answers.
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”.