In an interview with “Closing Bell,” the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said additional factors contributing to the drop in infection levels include global warming and the fact that part of the population unvaccinated. has already been infected with Covid.
Gottlieb’s comments on Friday came as the country’s seven-day average of new daily coronavirus infections fell below 30,000 for the first time in nearly a year; at the end of March, that figure was around 66,000 people.
The decline in cases has coincided with an increase in vaccine availability. As of Friday, nearly 50% of the American population had received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the end of March, that number was just under 30%.
However, the percentage of Americans who have some immunity to the coronavirus is higher than vaccination rates, Gottlieb said, estimating that at least a third of the population has been infected. The United States has recorded around 33 million confirmed Covid cases in total, but Gottlieb has repeatedly said the official tally is an undercount.
“We don’t have data on this, but I’m guessing the level of infection among the unvaccinated population is probably higher because a lot of people probably don’t get the vaccine because they knew they had. already been infected, ”Gottlieb said.
People who have recovered from Covid have natural antibodies, but the CDC and other experts recommend getting the vaccine as well. In fact, people with the disease and receiving the Covid vaccine may develop stronger protection against variants of the virus.
People who have not yet been vaccinated could have been less concerned about the virus during the pandemic and spent less time at home as a result, Gottlieb added.
“So if you assume that the percentage of previous infection among the unvaccinated population is greater than that third, and it probably is, and you assume that we gave at least one dose to about half of the population Right now we’re approaching pretty high immunity levels, ”said Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration. He now sits on the board of directors of vaccine maker Pfizer.
And while states lift many pandemic-era restrictions, such as capacity limits at restaurants, Gottlieb said, some people have not returned to their pre-Covid behavior, which is contributing to the reduction of cases.
“People are generally more careful even as we start to take off the masks and go out,” Gottlieb said. “People are more careful about their interactions, so part of that always has a downward effect on transmission. “
Gottlieb predicted that the number of cases in the country will continue to decline in the coming weeks, while warning that the pandemic is unlikely to be declared “over.” He added: “I think we’re going to have a very calm summer in terms of the spread of the coronavirus and then have to deal with it again as we head into winter. “
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a contributor to CNBC and is a board member of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health tech company Aetion, and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.