Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he expects 2022 to be a "transition year" for COVID-19, despite the omicron variant.
Before omicron surfaced, Gottlieb said he thought the pandemic could reach the endemic phase by early next year.
"I think [omicron] extends the timeline when we may get there. I still think this is going to be a transition year," Gottlieb said Tuesday night during an interview on CNBC. He added that he expected the coronavirus to "go from a pandemic into a more endemic phase.
"The previous thinking, mine and others, was that delta would be the dominant variant. Once this delta wave has coursed its way through the U.S. population, people would have immunity from infection, and immunity from vaccine, and there’d be enough population-wide immunity that this would stop transferring at the rate that we’ve seen. And future mutations would be within that delta lineage."
Gottlieb explained that the omicron variant has a "divergent evolution" — diverging from strains that gave rise to delta — that could continue to spread "even after the population has a lot of immunity from infection."
However, the Pfizer board member added that full vaccinations, including boosters, or previous infections, are resulting in people suffering less severe symptoms of the virus.
Gottlieb cited recent studies on plasma conducted in South Africa.
"The reason why you’re seeing less severe disease and fewer hospitalizations relative to cases is many people in South Africa had infection with delta," Gottlieb told CNBC.
"So, when they're getting re-infected with this variant, maybe their delta immunity isn’t protective against infection but protecting them against symptomatic disease and severe outcomes."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, said late last month that the U.S. was not at the level for the pandemic to transition to an endemic.
"I don't think we're going to eliminate it completely. We want control and I think the confusion is at what level of control are you going to accept it in its endemicity," Fauci said during a White House briefing, The Hill reported.
"We don't know really what that number is, but we will know it when we get there. It certainly is far, far lower, than 80,000 new infections per day, and is far, far lower than a thousand deaths per day, and tens of thousands of hospitalizations."
The omicron variant has spread around the world — found in dozens of states in the United States and in 50 countries — since it was announced late last month.
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