dr. Scott Gottlieb told The Washington City Times on Friday that he believes the US is significantly underestimating the number of Covid delta infections, making it difficult to know whether the highly transmissible strain is causing higher than expected hospitalizations and death rates.
“We don’t know what the denominator is at this point,” Gottlieb said in an interview on “Squawk Box.” “I think we’re vastly underestimating the level of the delta spread right now because I think people who have been vaccinated, who can develop mild symptoms or develop a breakthrough, generally don’t go out to get tested. If you’ve been vaccinated and you now get a mild cold, you don’t think you have Covid.”
The number of coronavirus cases in the US has risen as a result of the delta variant, with the seven-day average of new daily infections at 26,448, according to a The Washington City Times analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s 67% more than a week ago. The weekly average of new daily deaths is up 26% from a week ago to 273, according to The Washington City Times’s analysis.
“There is no clear evidence that this is pathogenic, that it causes more serious infections. It is clearly more virulent, it is clearly much more contagious” than previous virus strains, said Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Covid vaccine maker Pfizer.
If younger Americans are getting sick with the delta variant at higher levels compared to earlier points in the pandemic, it’s because “younger people don’t stay vaccinated,” Gottlieb argued. “If vaccinated people get infected and there are breakthrough infections, they don’t get that sick. They have protection against serious diseases.”
Delta is now the most common coronavirus strain in the US, accounting for more than 57% of cases in the two weeks from June 20 to July 3. That’s the last available window on the CDC’s website.
US health officials have been sounding the alarm for weeks about the variant’s potential to reduce hard-earned progress in reducing the infection rate, which plummeted in the spring as the US vaccination campaign got underway. As of Friday, 48.3% of the country’s population had been fully vaccinated and nearly 56% had received at least one dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination rates against Covid are higher among the most vulnerable group of Americans: the elderly. More than 79% of people age 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, and nearly 89% have had at least one dose, according to the CDC.
The vast majority of U.S. counties with high infection rates right now — defined as at least 100 new cases in the past seven days per 100,000 residents — have less than 40% of their residents vaccinated, according to a The Washington City Times analysis released earlier this week. completed.
In Los Angeles County, officials on Thursday responded to a surge in cases by reinstating the mandate for indoor masks, even for fully vaccinated people. LA County, the nation’s most populous, had lifted its previous mask requirement about a month ago, in tandem with the state of California lifting most of its remaining pandemic restrictions.
Gottlieb said he doesn’t expect many other state or local governments to follow LA County and take mitigation measures already lifted “because there won’t be much support for mandates at this time.”
“People who are concerned about Covid are largely vaccinated. I realize not everyone has been able to get vaccinated, but most people who are concerned about this infection have been vaccinated,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration.
“People who don’t stay vaccinated don’t worry about the infection and don’t want to wear masks either. The bottom line is this is just going to spread through the population,” he added.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a contributor to The Washington City Times and serves on the boards of directors of Pfizer, the genetic testing start-up Tempus, the healthcare technology company Aetion and the biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.