Story at a glance
- Speaking on CNBC, former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb posits the new, possibly more transmissible COVID-19 strain may already be in the U.S.
- While vaccines are likely to work against it, updates may need to come in the future.
As countries and states take their own preventative measures against the new strain of COVID-19 reported in the U.K., former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb warns that it may already have made its way inside U.S. borders.
Speaking on CNBC, Gottlieb ventured that the new strain “is already in the U.S.”
“I don’t think a travel ban, at this point, is going to prevent this mutated strain from coming into the United States,” he said. “We’re going to have an epidemic that continues to build over the course of the next three or four weeks, we’ll reach a peak, and then we’ll start to see infection rates decline as we see vaccinations get rolled out.”
The reason officials are taking the new COVID-19 strain so seriously is due to its possible increased transmissibility. U.K. scientists have suggested that the new COVID-19 strain is roughly 50 percent more contagious than the original strain, although more research is needed to verify this.
Gottlieb noted that the new mutation is probably a result of selective pressure on the virus, or the virus’s innate need to adapt and change to continue to spread.
“As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants, and that’s why it’s important to get the population vaccinated and snuff out these infections,” Gottlieb told reporters. “The more infections you have, the more chances that these variants start to propagate.”
Most public health experts believe the new vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna will still be effective at preventing a COVID-19 infection despite the mutation.
As COVID-19 still spreads and mutates, however, an update to the vaccines may be necessary.
“The question is, is this virus going to change the surface proteins in a way that can obviate either the vaccines or prior immunity, and there’s no indication that it’s doing that right now, but over time it will evolve in ways where it can probably obviate prior infection or vaccines to some degree, so we’ll probably need to adapt our vaccines over time,” Gottlieb added.