Dr. Gottlieb: COVID-19 Moving Into Endemic Stage in United States Then-FDA Commissioner-designate Scott Gottlieb testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 5, 2017, at on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
By Sandy Fitzgerald | Friday, 13 August 2021 11:45 AM
COVID-19 will move to become more of an endemic virus in the United States rather than a pandemic once the country moves past the current wave of infections caused by the virus' delta variation, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gotlieb said Friday.
"It is still a pandemic in a lot of parts of the world where you don't have high vaccination rates, but we're now going through the process," Gottlieb, also a member of the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "It's not a binary point in time but after we get through the delta wave this will be more endemic."
That means that there will be "persistent infection through the winter months" that will be "pervasive but not at the levels we experience now," he explained.
The difference between a pandemic and endemic is that the word pandemic is used for a disease that spreads across continents and around the world, while endemic describes a disease that is restricted to a particular location, region, or population such as with malaria, which is endemic to tropical regions, according to dictionary.com.
The shift to the endemic phase won't necessarily depend on booster shots but by the delta wave, which is "coursing thorough the U.S. population while getting to the other side of this," said the doctor.
He added that the South is showing an indication that COVID cases are starting to come down as the delta wave sweeps across the country in a regionalized manner.
"The south is looking better in September," he said."I think there are already indications cases are declining even though the pressure on hospital systems is getting worse. The situation from the patient standpoint is going to continue to get worse before it gets better even as new cases start to decline on the day over days basis. By September, hopefully, you'll see the other side of the curve in the south very clearly."
However, cases will then be picking up in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, and maybe the Pacific Northwest, said Gottlieb.
Meanwhile, the FDA's guidelines approved Thursday for booster shots are a "little bit more narrow" than they may have been, so it's up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to interpret and define the decision, said Gottlieb.
"This could be implemented right away," he said. "Doctors could prescribe based on this emergency use authorization. A lot of patients who have undergone organ transplantation have (already) gotten third doses. Doctors have been doing that in protocols. But there are some patients probably who have not received a third dose who will be more eligible for it."
The doctor added that he doesn't think booster shots will be needed every six months.
"I think what we said from the outset is this could become an annual inoculation much like the flu shot," he said, but even healthy people might need subsequent booster shots.
"It might be every other year," he said. "Once you space them out longer you might drive a more durable response for some cohort of patients, those immunocompromised more frequent, but annually for the rest of the people. We don't know how durable the response will be after the third dose."
Gottlieb also commented on a new documentary in which a World Health Organization official involved in the COVID origins investigation said Chinese officials pushed investigators to drop the hypothesis that the virus began in a lab.
"Look, I don't think we can definitively conclude where it came from right now," said Gottlieb.
"The side of the ledger points towards to a zoonotic source is stagnant. We haven't found a species it could have come from, haven't pieced together a good thesis how this came out of nature."