Ex-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb says fourth surge and lockdown unlikely as US vaccine program kicks in

The United States is unlikely to require a new mass lockdown or see a fourth wave of infections, as is currently happening in parts of Europe, because the U.S. vaccination program is further advanced, the former FDA chief has said.

Dr Scott Gottlieb served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2017 until 2019.

On Monday he told CNBC that he was optimistic that the U.S. would not need to follow Italy‘s lead and reimpose lockdown.

‘Earlier I said we were sort of four to maybe six weeks behind Europe, and we pretty much were,’ Gottlieb said, referring to previous phases of the global health crisis.

‘Everything that happened in Europe eventually happened here. Now I think the tables have turned. We’re ahead of Europe.’

Scott Gottlieb said on Monday that he hoped the U.S. would not need another lockdown

Gottlieb, who is on the board of pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, one of the main producers of the COVID-19 vaccine, said that Europe no longer served as a predictive model for the United States.

‘I don’t think the conditions in Europe and the situation in Europe is necessarily predictive any more of what’s going to happen here because we have much more immunity in our population both from prior infection — which they have as well — but also now from vaccination,’ he said.

About 9.5 per cent of the vaccine-eligible population across EU member states have had at least one of their injections, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

That figure falls to 7.5 per cent of Italians aged 18 and up, and 8.5 per cent of Germans.

In the United States, the figure is 27 per cent.

The U.S. has registered 29,494,312 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, and 535,609 deaths.

There were 56,305 new cases reported on Monday, and 729 new deaths.

The number of new COVID-19 cases being reported each week has dropped for nine straight weeks, falling 10 per cent to just under 378,000 in the seven days ended March 14, Reuters reported on Sunday.

Deaths linked to COVID-19 dropped below 10,000 last week, the lowest since mid-November.

Gottlieb said that, despite the positive signs, now was not the time to abandon social distancing and face masks.

Air travel on Friday hit its highest level since the pandemic started as warmer weather prompted many people to go on spring break.

‘I think we should be concerned that things can turn in a direction that we’re not predicting,’ he said, warning that mutant strains such as B.1.1.7, known as the U.K. strain, were becoming widespread.

Substitute teacher Oscar Gardner, 76, receives his first dose of the vaccine in Seattle on Monday

Substitute teacher Oscar Gardner, 76, receives his first dose of the vaccine in Seattle on Monday

People are seen receiving the vaccine in Pittsburgh on Monday at a clinic

People are seen receiving the vaccine in Pittsburgh on Monday at a clinic 

The British strain is more infectious, but not believed to be more dangerous, and the vaccine is thought to be effective against it.

‘Right now you’re seeing B.1.1.7 become pretty prevalent across the United States,’ said Gottlieb.

‘It’s more than 50 per cent of cases in Texas and Florida and Southern California, and you’re not seeing the big upswing in cases that we might have expected once that variant claimed hold in the United States.’

Last week, he estimated on CNBC that about 50 per cent of Americans have ‘some form of immunity’ to the coronavirus.

New York, where researchers discovered a new strain called B.1.526, is one worrisome area for Gottlieb.

‘We really don’t understand that mutation well, but that is a cause for concern, so we need to watch that pretty closely,’ he said, adding the next couple of weeks should give officials more answers.

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