The restrictions recently announced by the Biden government on travelers from India are unlikely to play a significant role in limiting new coronavirus cases in the US, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday.
“Will it have an impact? Perhaps a minor impact on margins in terms of reducing introductions. This will not affect our trajectory dramatically at this point,” the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration told Closing Bell. “It will probably do more harm to India than any good it attributes to us.”
Gottlieb, who sits on the board of directors at Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, believes the White House’s main reasons for restricting travel from India are concerns about the variant of coronavirus known as B.1.617. It was first discovered in the country and is considered highly contagious.
“But that variant is here anyway, and frankly the best way to reduce the risk of this variant is to get more Americans vaccinated,” said Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, the best Backstop against the spread of this variant without restricting travel at this point. “
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced the travel restrictions on Friday, which will go into effect on Tuesday. India has seen a sharp spike in Covid cases in the past few weeks and weighs heavily on its health system as the daily death toll hit new records.
According to someone familiar with the matter, the travel order is likely to be for non-US citizens or permanent residents who have recently been to India. This means that the restrictions will have a similar format to those put in place on many trips to the US from China, Brazil and the European Union, effectively excluding most of the visitors from India to the US
“There are some studies that show that implementing travel restrictions can delay the introduction of a virus to a new area – and most of the studies that have been done have looked at pandemic influenza-related introduction and perhaps reduction the height of the epidemic that another country will experience, “said Gottlieb.
If the US had introduced travel restrictions earlier in the pandemic, “which weren’t that leaky,” Gottlieb said, it would be possible that the coronavirus would have taken longer to penetrate the country and limit the severity of the outbreak.
“But at this point we have enough viruses here in the US not to prevent the virus from being brought in from India,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to comment on Gottlieb’s comments.
Coronavirus cases in the US have continued to decline as more Americans are vaccinated against Covid. On Friday, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that more than 100 million Americans were fully vaccinated.
However, the pace of daily re-vaccinations has slowed, and states are working to find ways to target Americans who are not particularly eager to get a Covid shot.
“I think we can keep working on it,” said Gottlieb, suggesting that a decrease in the average number of shots per day “doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job.” He added, “I think it’s inevitable that it slows down when you get into weaker demand.”
“Things like vaccination buses, where they just drive up to communities and people can show up on site without waiting and get vaccinated. That way, more people are vaccinated,” added Gottlieb. “Delivering vaccines through construction sites will also help.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion Inc., and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.