Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday he thinks many Americans will hold group meetings long before President Joe Biden’s goal of celebrating Independence Day.
In an interview on Squawk Box, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said he believed the schedule Biden set out in his prime-time speech on Thursday is too conservative compared to how people actually behaved.
“I think the majority of Americans will meet long before July,” said Gottlieb, who headed the FDA during the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019. He is now a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, which makes one of three Covid vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States
Biden’s speech on Thursday evening on the pandemic aimed to highlight the collective toll Covid has suffered over the past year while also pointing out two forward-looking public health goals. The first: instructing states to qualify all adults for coronavirus vaccines by May 1. The second: A destination for Americans to safely gather together in small groups with friends and loved ones to celebrate July Fourth.
“I think we should give public health advice that is appropriate to where people are,” Gottlieb said. “”[When] People feel that the risk is reduced because they have been vaccinated, because they see infection rates falling in many parts of the country. They will be willing to take more risks because they feel their vulnerability is decreasing. And you know what? You’re right. “He predicted,” People will be out this summer and they will be out well before July. “
In response to Gottlieb’s remarks, the White House told CNBC that the timing of the meetings was a matter for health and medical experts at the CDC.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that allow fully vaccinated individuals to safely congregate indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals – and certain unvaccinated individuals – without masks or social distance.
The guidelines came as states in the US lifted pandemic restrictions in recent weeks as vaccinations rolled out and daily coronavirus infections fell well below their January high. However, senior health officials in the Biden administration have warned that the decline in cases is gradually easing. The competing states should be more careful about lifting capacity restrictions for companies and masking mandates.
Last Friday, Gottlieb said mask mandates should be the final guidelines states and localities repeal after Texas and Mississippi announced the end of their face-covering rules.
According to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, the US has recorded an average of 53,798 new cases per day for the past seven days. That’s 15% less than a week ago. The number of new U.S. cases on Thursday stood at 49,356, a decrease of nearly 84% from the record high on Jan. 2.
A key factor helping to slow the spread of the virus is the increasing immunity of the US population, Gottlieb said. He estimated that around half of the US population has some form of protective immunity against the coronavirus, taking into account both diagnosed and undiagnosed infections along with those who have been vaccinated.
Approximately 64 million Americans have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, which is roughly 19% of the US population of 330 million people, according to the CDC. One in ten Americans is fully vaccinated.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which Americans have been receiving since December, require two shots to provide full protection against the development of Covid. However, studies suggest that there is some immunity after the initial dose. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the youngest entrant in the US market, is just a single shot.
The US has approximately 29.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins. The real number is higher, said Gottlieb, repeating a position he has held since the beginning of the pandemic. He explains that not every infected person has been tested and their positive result recorded.
“We diagnose probably 1 in 4 infections, maybe a bit better than now,” said Gottlieb, who previously estimated that about a third of Americans could have got Covid. “So we are over 50%” of the population with some form of immunity, he added.
“At this level, you won’t spread the infections as quickly. It’s not quite herd immunity, but you will get immunity in the population,” he said.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, healthcare technology company Aetion, and Illumina biotech. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.