Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on “Face the Nation,” Dec. 18, 2022
Below is a transcript from a Dr. Scott Gottlieb interview that aired Sunday, December 18. 2022, on Face the Nation.
MARGARET BRENAN: Americans are also watching the surge in viruses that has hit us this holiday season. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner and member of the Pfizer board, is back and we are grateful.
SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.
MARGARET BRENNAN – The White House claims that this is the deadliest flu epidemic in a decade. They’re soaring in RSV and COVID 77% of the country’s ICU beds are currently full. What are the next few weeks like?
GOTTLIEB – It’s going be a tough few weeks. We’re in the thick of respiratory disease season. This is the worst time in recent memory. Flu is the main reason. This is a historic flu year, and probably the worst in the past decade, as you pointed out. COVID is exacerbated by this. There is also an epidemic of respiratory syndrome virus, which appears to be subsiding right now. Flu seems to be at its peak in certain areas of the country, but it’s also rising in other parts. It is decreasing in the South and rising in the North. COVID is a contributing factor to this. It’s a pressing issue for families and hospitals, as you pointed out. Hospital beds are currently full at 80%. This is the highest level of hospital capacity since the Omicron wave peak last winter. The difference is that 25% of those hospital beds were filled last winter with COVID admissions. Only 6% of those hospital beds are currently filled with COVID admissions. Many of these are influenza admissions. Other respiratory pathogens such as parainfluenza and adenovirus are returning with a vengeance.
MARGARET BRENAN: There are many bugs. Why is it that so many Americans are getting sick from the flu vaccine, which, as you have said, is a great match to this strain?
GOTTLIEB – Well, the vaccine isn’t being given to everyone. We know that the vaccine doesn’t protect against all infections. The vaccine reduces your chances of getting symptomatic flu and lowers your chance of suffering a severe outcome, much like how it works with COVID. H3N2 is the predominant flu strain currently in circulation. As you mentioned, the vaccine is a good match for this strain, possibly 60 to 70% protection. The H1N1 strain is the other one that’s currently in circulation. About 20% of all infections are H1N1. This strain is also compatible with the vaccine. The difference between these two strains is that H3N2 usually peaks earlier in winter. H1N1 might peak later. It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. People will be protected if they get their flu vaccine now. We could also see the same situation as in previous winters, where the predominant strain of H3N2 starts to decline. Then H1N1 infection takes over.
MARGARET BRENNAN : The shortage of antibiotics is another thing that frustrates parents of young children like mine. Why isn’t there enough?
GOTTLIEB – It is really demand driven. Distributors made estimates about the demand for this year. They have seen a lower demand in the past two years due to fewer bacterial infections. This is because everyone was taking steps to prevent disease spread. They expected some increase in demand this year, but not as much and not at this time of the season. Demand rose this year. It’s not a disruption in supply. This is not like the situation with baby formula, where some manufacturers were removed from the market. This is a complex supply chain, all manufacturers are present in the market. They didn’t anticipate the demand so early in the season. The supply should catch up to the demand. There are alternatives for things in short supply, such as amoxicillin, which is an oral suspension of Tamiflu. The capsules can be compounded by pharmacies and doctors. There are other options. Families will find it difficult to access these alternatives in certain cases.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes. You know, I know, I know that you think things are better than they were. Dr. Fauci was present on the program a few weeks back and said that he was monitoring new COVID variants which evade protection of monoclonal antibody that are used for prevention and treatment. There have been studies that have also shown the same thing about vaccines. What protection level is there against these new variants of the vaccine?
GOTTLIEB – Well, data from the CDC was out Friday showing that the vaccines provide good protection, especially for older people. The new vaccine. This is the new bivalent booster that was developed from the new strain. It’s based upon BA.5. We are seeing that 40% of all infections are BQ. 1.1 is a derivative from BA.5, the strain on which the vaccine is based. BQ.1 is responsible for about 30% of all infections. The vaccine should still provide adequate protection against these new variants. We are most concerned about XBB, which is a variant of the virus. It has not spread in the U.S. so far. It is estimated to cause about 5% of all infections. It has remained stable for approximately four weeks. While it was very popular in Asia, the strain didn’t do well in Europe. It is possible that BQ.1 or 1.1 will crowd out XBB. However, if XBB persists, there could be a second wave of XBB this spring. Although we don’t believe that will happen, it is possible. People will still be protected by the current vaccines and the updated vaccine against the strains currently in circulation. The CDC study showed that over 65-year-olds are protected from hospitalization by about 80 to 70%. This is in addition to the protection they received from the old vaccine. It’s very meaningful for many people.
MARGARET BRENNAN – I have a question about Title 42. This was put in place by the CDC director in March 2020. It is a public health law that allows migrants to be expelled to stop the spread disease. That was the premise. Is it in the public health interest to keep it in effect?
GOTTLIEB – Well, I believe that as a matter public health, we should end many of the emergency measures we have in place. Not just Title 42 but also the national emergency we created. Many of these are being extended to meet other policy and political goals, which I believe is what’s happening. This will ultimately affect our ability to implement public health measures in the future. If we have to expedite the removal of illegal immigrants crossing the border, it should be considered in the context of broader immigration reform. However, it should not be considered as a public health measure at the moment. All of the public health emergency measures we have put in place should be canceled.
MARGARET BRENAN: Dr. Gottlieb. I am so grateful and hope you are well this holiday season.
GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.
MARGARET BRENAN: We’ll be right there.
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