Former FDA Chief and Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that he is “hopeful” there will be adequate vaccine supply in 2021, on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that Pfizer had to cut its original estimates for the amount of vaccine doses this year because of supply-chain problems.
“The supply ramps very quickly as you move out and the more you push out that timeframe into 2021 by a week or two weeks, you have less supply in 2020,” Gottlieb said. “I’m hopeful that we’re going to have adequate supply in 2021 and it’s going to ramp very quickly, but hopefully these do get into the market this year.”
One American died about every 30 seconds from Covid on Wednesday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data. The virus has killed more than 275,000 Americans, and the United States reported more than 2,800 deaths, the most in a single day since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins. Hospitalizations have doubled over the past month. More than 100,000 people were in hospitals sick with Covid on Wednesday, an all-time high according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Dr. Bruce Becker, adjunct professor of behavioral medicine and social science at Brown University’s School of Public Health, warned about the increasing death toll in the coming months.
“I expect the death rate to continue at this level or increase, maybe even double in the next month,” Becker said. “Every winter we see significant death rates from influenza, other respiratory viruses, and bacterial pneumonia, especially in the population most susceptible to severe Covid-19 infection. Expect this population to suffer severe Covid-19 disease and mortality in the next three to four months.”
Gottlieb told host Shepard Smith that he thinks the “U.K. is a good regulatory authority.” The vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech will be rolled out in the U.K. next week after British regulators cleared it for emergency use Wednesday.
“I worked closely with them. A lot of the people who are there now are from the European regulatory authority and went back to the U.K. after Brexit. So, I think that they did a good job looking through this data,” said Gottlieb.
The CNBC contributor explained that the FDA’s process is different from the British system, specifically because of the FDA’s commitment to having a public advisory committee and a public airing of information. That process, in turn, will add a couple of weeks to the vaccine approval process.
“We think that there’s public health dividends to having a public airing of this information, having that public advisory committee meeting, having the FDA’s external advisors, independent advisors validate the process, and provide objective opinions in an open setting,” said Gottlieb in a Thursday evening interview on “The News with Shepard Smith”. “I think that that’s going to go a long way to building public confidence, so it might be worth the time it takes to do that.”
So far, the virus has killed more than 100,000 people in nursing homes. Nationwide, people who work and live in long-term care facilities make up less than 6% of all Covid cases, but they account for nearly 40% of virus-related deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
On Tuesday, a panel of medical experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voted to put elderly people in care homes and medical workers first when a vaccine gets approval. Gottlieb said that the vaccines will be distributed to special sites and rationed for a period of time to those populations.
“There’s going to be an inflection point where I think there’s going to be sufficient supply in the market that we’re going to see this rationing system start to erode and it’s going to be more widely available to larger groups of people,” Gottlieb said. “My guess is that’s going to be in the March timeframe.”
The vaccines due to be released from Pfizer and Moderna appear to be more than 90% effective in preventing coronavirus, but only after patients receive two doses at least 20 days apart. Smith raised concern about Americans taking two doses of the vaccine. Gottlieb said that while there is some protection after the first dose, both doses should be taken for 95% efficacy. Becker echoed Gottlieb’s sentiments and highlighted the importance of getting both doses to be fully protected.
“Do not skip out on the second dose because the first dose gave you a headache or a low fever or achy muscles,” Becker said. “These symptoms are not Covid! They happen with most vaccinations from tetanus to flu, that’s just the way that your body makes antibodies to protect you.”