The end of the pandemic could be in sight according to former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., but it won't be due to vaccine mandates from President Biden. Gottlieb says those mandates are likely counterproductive, undermining efforts to build confidence in the vaccines.
When it comes to adults, Dr. Gottlieb said the heads of private business should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to require their workers to get the jab, adding that President Biden's federal vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees may not survive the many legal challenges that are already being mounted against it, despite it not having been written yet.
In fact, he said the threat of the sweeping mandate may have led to fewer businesses ultimately requiring their workers to get vaccinated.
"A lot of businesses that were considering mandates now might wait because they're going to wait and see what the federal government does," he explained, "And it's going to take the federal government months to implement this mandate if they're ever able to, and so they might have actually slowed down the rate of decision-making in the private community."
Dr. Gottlieb, who led the FDA under President Trump, says the agency will likely approve COVID-19 vaccines for children ages five to eleven sometime before Thanksgiving. "The vaccine for kids age five to eleven is basically the same formulation as the current vaccine just in a lower dose," he told CBN News.
He said an even lower dose will likely be available around the first of the new year for children between six months and four years of age. About half of children over the age of 12 have already been vaccinated.
He said in addition to taking the vaccine, another way to achieve immunity is through natural means.
"I think we need to recognize that people who have immunity that's acquired through infection, that immunity is durable, and it appears it is quite robust," he said. "I think the question from a clinical standpoint is how long it's going to last."
Pandemic May End Soon
When it comes to how long the pandemic will last, Dr. Gottlieb said the end may be in sight. He believes the current delta surge may be the last one. After it runs its course, Dr. Gottlieb says in the U.S. the pandemic will transition from a pandemic to an endemic, where the virus becomes a persistent risk like the flu, where it comes back, but settles into a more seasonal pattern.
"I think this might be the last major wave of infection," he said, "The idea that this is going to continue to mutate very quickly and all these mutations are going to evade our tools and this is going to be an endless crisis, I just don't see that."
Football fans have returned to stadiums in droves as the pandemic winds down. In the photo, Kentucky fans celebrate a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Chattanooga in Lexington, KY. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
However, Gottlieb says the U.S. must take action to stop the next pandemic, which could hit at any time.
"It's unknown," he said, "We always feared that there would be a pandemic with a novel strain of influenza and we still face the same risk, if not greater risk, that there's going to be a novel strain of flu that could cause, that could trigger, a global pandemic. So we need to improve how we prepare against these kinds of threats."
In his book Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic, Dr. Gottlieb recommends fixing mistakes that were made during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as not being able to quickly deploy large scale diagnostic testing which he said led to unnecessary closures in areas of the country where the virus wasn't overly present.
Dr. Gottlieb also said the lack of testing led to the false belief that the virus was being transmitted on surfaces when the real source of transmission was people with asymptomatic infections.
"You know, you'd see a situation where 30 people would be in a room. Everyone would be fine," he explained, "And then 25 people would get the infection. And so the assumption was there must have been a contaminated surface that 25 people came in contact with. But what was actually happening is there was someone who was asymptomatic in that setting who infected the other people."
Change the CDC
Dr. Gottlieb said another mistake that needs fixing is the CDC's ability to collect data in real-time, quickly decipher it, and present clear guidance to the American people. He says the CDC effectively collects, analyzes, and disseminates information to the public, but at a very slow pace. He says the process usually takes many months. Therefore, the agency was ill-prepared when it came to the need for speed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When they issued guidance to try to advise us to how we should be taking steps to reduce our individual risk, and how businesses should be taking steps to reduce their risk, the guidance wasn't often very well informed or well-articulated where it could be actionable by consumers," he said.
Another problem with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic involves the country's inability to domestically produce first line of defense drugs such as antibody treatments. More lives could have been saved if we had plenty of these treatments on hand, according to Gottlieb.
"We really didn't have the adequate manufacturing capacity we need to prepare those at the scale that was required," he said, "And even now we have shortages of those. They're starting to be rationed again."
Enlist Spy Agencies
Finally, Dr. Gottlieb said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been significantly mitigated if we hadn't relied on China to provide critical information related to the virus. Therefore, he said moving forward the U.S. needs to stop trusting other countries to admit the emergence of new diseases within their borders.
"We've seen time and again in a time of crisis, countries don't share information," he said, "We've been fooled many times."
Dr. Gottlieb says U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA and the NSA should expand their fundamental missions to include surveillance of suspicious foreign outbreaks of disease.