Health and Science

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Pfizer director and ex-FDA chief, cautions Covid vaccine won't help right away

Key Points
  • The U.S. will have to get through the ‘hardest stretch’ of the coronavirus pandemic without a vaccine, Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC. 
  • Pfizer announced earlier Monday its vaccine is more than 90% in preventing Covid-19 in people who have not been previously infected.
  • "The vaccine is really a 2021 event in terms of when it's going to provide protective immunity to that initial tranche" of recipients, Gottlieb said.
Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb: '2021 will look very different from 2020'

Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday the U.S. will still have to experience "the hardest stretch" of the coronavirus pandemic without the benefits of a vaccine, despite news from Pfizer that its candidate is more than 90% effective.

"The vaccine is really a 2021 event in terms of when it's going to provide protective immunity to that initial tranche" of recipients, Gottlieb said on "Squawk Box," shortly after the Pfizer announcement. "Then in terms of when it would be widely available, I think the hope still is ... you could have a vaccine broadly maybe the end of the second quarter, maybe into the third quarter. You're looking at having the vaccine available in time for the fall 2021 Covid season."

Earlier Monday, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that the vaccine it's developing with German firm BioNTech is more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 for those who had no evidence of previously being infected.

With the U.S. setting daily all-time highs for new daily Covid cases, Gottlieb said: "I think we need to remember that we have perhaps a brief, but very hard stretch, ahead of us."

On Friday, the Pfizer board member and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner told CNBC he believes infections may "explode in several weeks."

On Monday, he said: "We ought to take this positive news and recognize there may be a much better future ahead of us. ...

"We may be available to have a vaccine broadly available at some point in 2021 and do everything we can to continue to protect people who are vulnerable to this virus over this period of time, recognizing it may be a brief of time."

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to have up to 50 million doses of their vaccine produced this year and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. It requires two doses per person.

Gottlieb said the initial group of recipients, should it be granted emergency use authorization by the FDA, are likely to be "a selection portion of the elderly population because they're at most risk from Covid."

There are about 50.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally and more than 1.2 million people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 10 million of those infections and over 237,500 fatalities have been in the U.S.

Since the coronavirus emerged late last year in China, it has spread rapidly across the world. Drugmakers have accelerated their vaccine developments in hopes of ending the pandemic, which upended daily life and brought about an accompanying economic crisis.

"I think what this does is affirm that a vaccine does seem possible," Gottlieb said. "This is a meaningful result, a very meaningful result, exceeds the expectations based on the interim analysis. And if the data does hold up on the final read out from the full clinical trial, I think it's light at the end of the tunnel."

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel." 

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