The U.S. should expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to ensure more Americans receive shots in the coming weeks, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday.
“At the moment every shot in an arm is a win,” said Gottlieb on “Squawk Box”.
The United States fell far short of its target of vaccinating 20 million people against Covid-19 by the end of 2020. While about 13.1 million doses were given to states on Jan. 2, only about 4.23 million Americans actually received their starting dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only emergency vaccines approved in the United States, require two doses every few weeks.
Gottlieb, a former appointee for the Food and Drug Administration and current board member of Pfizer, said the federal government should store fewer doses rather than the current policy of withholding about half of the available supply to ensure people get their second shots .
Given the intensity of the current Covid-19 outbreak, with some hospital systems overloaded and thousands of Americans dying from the disease every week, Gottlieb said the priority should be getting as many starting doses as possible. “We know that vaccines in weapons can be a partial setback against further spread,” he added.
“I think people should get the second dose. They should get the second dose largely on time, but we can get more first doses out now and use the future offering that will hit the market in January to give some of them those second doses, “he said, referring to vaccine makers’ plans to continuously increase supply in 2021.
“You have to stockpile if you want to make sure that there is a smooth transition to the second doses. If you take away 50% of all doses, however, I think more people will be denied access to a vaccine,” said Gottlieb, who is in charge held FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019.
At the same time, he conceded that one possible reason fewer Americans were vaccinated than expected is that the group of people who were given priority, such as: B. Long-term care worker reluctant to get the shot. For example, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine said last week that around 60% of nursing home workers in the state have turned down the vaccination.
In addition to those who live and work in long-term care facilities, priority was also given to healthcare workers when they were first introduced. A CDC advisory panel last month recommended that Frontline Essential Workers and those aged 75 and over should take turns when the offering becomes more available.
However, states have the option to define who is eligible to receive the vaccine, and some like Texas and Florida have already announced that they will change CDC guidelines for the second group. For example, in Texas, priority is given to people 65 years of age and older and people with certain underlying medical conditions.
Gottlieb said he believes states should be ready to expand eligibility, including making the vaccine available in retail pharmacies, because it is important that high-risk Americans have access to what he says is “the worst part of this epidemic right now” is called.
“When we have a group of Americans who we know they want the vaccine very badly and would take it quickly and also happen to be at the highest risk of a bad Covid result – and I am thinking of seniors in this country in particular – I would just give it to them, “said Gottlieb.
“I would make it widely available to them as much as possible while we focus on these prioritized groups. I am not saying to ignore this mission,” he said. “This is a very important public health mission, but we shouldn’t spend three weeks hugging the vaccines when you know those vaccines are on the shelf and on the shelf.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, the genetic testing startup Tempus, and the biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.