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Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says he is “optimistic” that Americans will gradually return to a normal level of activity as more people receive coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations and the infection rate drops among the most vulnerable segments of the population.
“I think the summer is going to be back to doing what we want to do,” says Gottlieb. He addressed the 2021 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference on Wednesday.
Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019, contributed to a phased roadmap for navigating COVID-19 and has been a frequent media resource on pandemic-related topics.
“With a better therapeutic toolbox,” Americans can relieve much of the pent-up demand for activity as the weather becomes warmer throughout the country.
About 20 million doses of the vaccine will enter the market in the next three weeks, which will translate into about 12 million new people vaccinated every week. “By the end of March, we will have vaccinated about 120 million Americans,” he says.
Americans will try to return to normal activity quicker than public health officials advise, especially as more people receive vaccinations. “That’s what we do here,” he says.
However, if guidance is overly conservative for the public’s taste, there is a risk that it will be ignored.
“You need to give guidance that’s practical within the context of what the public is willing to do and maybe push them a little bit, but not too much,” Gottlieb says. “There’s a risk that if the guidance is overly conservative it becomes irrelevant. That’s the risk we face—that the policymakers lag where the public’s sentiment is.”
The prevalence of the virus can be viewed differently as more vulnerable populations are vaccinated. “The proportion of the population that is very vulnerable to this infection has declined significantly and will continue to decline,” he says. “We can’t look at prevalence of the disease as the only metric that we use to gauge risk.”
While there is uncertainty about new variants of the virus, drug manufacturers are working diligently to contain their spread. Gottlieb says there is a possibility for a “booster” vaccine in the future.
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