Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned that vaccinating Americans against Covid is more critical than ever, especially since the new South African variant seems to inhibit antibody drugs.
“The South African variant is very worrying at the moment as it appears that it obviates the need for some of our medical countermeasures, particularly antibody drugs,” said the former FDA head of the Trump administration in an interview on CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith “Tuesday night.” At the moment, this burden seems to be widespread in South America and Brazil, the two parts of the world currently in its summer but also experiencing a very dense epidemic, and that is worrying.
The South African variant is also known as 501.V2, and in mid-December, officials reported that 501.V2 had largely replaced other strains of the coronavirus as early as November. South Africa has already suffered the more than 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 30,000 deaths, most of them in the African continent.
Quoting experimental evidence from Bloom Lab, Gottlieb stated that 501.V2 appears to partially escape previous immunity. This means that some of the antibodies that people produce when they become infected with Covid, as well as the antibody drugs, may not be quite as effective.
“The new variant has mutated part of the spike protein that our antibodies bind to in order to try to kill the virus itself. So that is worrying,” said Gottlieb. “Now the vaccine can be a backlash against those variants that are really gaining a foothold here in the US, but we need to speed up the vaccination rate.”
Operation Warp Speed Director of Supply Production and Sales Ret. Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski told host Shepard Smith on December 3 that anyone who wants a vaccine can get one by June. However, the forecasts are currently insufficient. More than 17 million doses of Covid have been distributed to states, but only 4.8 million Americans received their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gottlieb suggested working through prioritized categories of people faster, increasing the number of vaccination sites, and keeping a lower percentage of the dosages in order to vaccinate more Americans.
“It is really a race against time trying to get more vaccines into people’s arms before these new varieties become more common here in the US,” said Gottlieb.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, the genetic testing startup Tempus, and the biotech company Illumina. Pfizer has signed a manufacturing agreement with Gilead to manufacture Remdesivir. Gottlieb is also co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Panel.