America’s bans on travel from countries including the United Kingdom, India and China ‘don’t make sense’ for blocking the spread of COVID-19 variants, according to a former head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner from 2017 to 2019 and sits on the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, appeared on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning to share his view on where the US stands in the fight against coronavirus.
Asked about the Biden administration’s recent restrictions on travel from India, which is experiencing a deadly second wave due to a variant called B.1.617, Gottlieb said he doesn’t see them having much of an impact.
‘I’m not sure what we’re hoping to accomplish if the goal is to try to prevent introduction of virus into the United States,’ he said.
‘There’s plenty of virus here already if the goal is to try to prevent introduction of that new variant, B.1.617 that’s circulating in India, I assure you it’s here already.’
‘These travel restrictions could serve a purpose, but we need to be clear about what that purpose is right now,’ he continued.
‘We still have restrictions in place against travel from China and the UK. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m not really sure what the overall strategy is around these continued travel restrictions that we have in place.’
Gottlieb said the best way to protect Americans from virus variants – wherever they may come from – is by increasing vaccination rates here at home.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb (pictured) on Sunday said America’s restrictions on travel from countries including India, China and the United Kingdom ‘don’t make sense’
The US, to date, has not banned flights from countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic but has restricted travel for non-citizens from places where the virus, or its variants, are spreading at concerning rates.
The ban prohibits foreigners who have been in a restricted country in the 14 days prior from coming to the US. The restrictions do not apply to American citizens returning to the US.
COUNTRIES ON THE US RESTRICTED LIST
India was added to the restricted list last week as it weathers a second wave where medics say 30,000 people are dying every single day, bodies are piling up in the streets and three different types of its homegrown variant are ravaging the country.
Other countries on the restricted list include the UK, Brazil, Ireland, China and 26 European countries that are part of the border-free Schengen zone.
They include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Gottlieb acknowledged that viral mutations are ‘blooming’ in all different parts of the world but argued that limiting travel won’t do much to stop their spread.
‘The more that this virus continues to circulate, the more it’s going to continue to mutate,’ he said.
‘But the reality is that these variants aren’t just cropping up in one market and in migrating around the world. That cropping up simultaneously in every market.
‘You’re getting what we call convergent evolution with the same mutations that are arising in other parts of the world are also arising here spontaneously.
‘There’s probably a finite number of ways that this virus is going to try to mutate to evade our immunity. And it’s testing us everywhere in the world.
‘The same mutations that are arising in other parts of the world are arising here as well. They just haven’t gotten a foothold here, in part because we’ve been vaccinating our public.’
The State Department put out its Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, urging all Americans in India to leave as soon as possible. Passengers arriving on flights from India on Thursday and Friday told DailyMail.com that the majority of their flights were full
India is in deep crisis, with hospitals and morgues overwhelmed, medicines and oxygen in short supply and strict curbs on movement in its biggest cities. Pictured: Relatives perform the last rites for COVID-19 victims during their funeral at a cremation ground in New Delhi
Gottlieb called America’s vaccination record thus far a ‘monumental achievement’ and predicted that coronavirus cases will continue to decline dramatically in the coming months as a result.
As of Sunday more than 146.2 million US adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 103.4 million are fully vaccinated, representing 44 percent and 31.2 percent of the total population, respectively.
Gottlieb pointed to San Francisco as a ‘harbinger’ of how effective vaccinations can be in limiting the virus.
‘About 71 percent of people in San Francisco have had at least one dose of vaccine, 47 percent have been fully vaccinated [and they’re] recording about 20 cases a day,’ he said.
‘They’ve dramatically reduced COVID in that city, and it’s largely a result of vaccination.
‘I think that right now the gains that we’re seeing across the country are locked in. We’re entering warm months when this is going to create a backstop against continued spread of the coronavirus. And so we’re locking in these gains.’
As of Sunday more than 146.2 million US adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 103.4 million are fully vaccinated, representing 44 percent and 31.2 percent of the total population, respectively
Gottlieb continued: ‘I think as we look out into the summer, we’re going to be able to resume normal activity or something resembling normal activity is still going to be a layer of protection on top of what we do, I think people are still going to be cautious.
‘But this is going to be a relatively quiescent summer when it comes to coronavirus spread.’
Asked about when vaccines will become available to younger age groups including children aged 12 to 16, Gottlieb said he is hopeful that the FDA will give approval ‘in a very short time period’.
‘Once that gets authorized, I think you’ll pick up probably five million kids will get immediately vaccinated,’ he said.
Gottlieb said plans for how the vaccine should be distributed to children are still in the works, but that he thinks providing them through pediatricians would be the best option.