Health and Science

‘We could effectively end this pandemic in 2021' with Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines

Key Points
  • The combination of at least two effective coronavirus vaccines and the number of people who previously had Covid-19 could help end the pandemic next year, Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday.
  • Gottlieb's comments came after Moderna said preliminary data showed its vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19.
  • "If these full data sets hold, when the full data comes out, we may have two highly effective vaccines against Covid," the former FDA chief said, referring to Pfizer's candidate as the other one.
Gottlieb on Moderna vaccine: We can effectively end Covid pandemic in 2021

Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday that the devastating coronavirus pandemic could "effectively" be ended next year, following promising developments around Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine.

The Massachusetts-based biotech company on Monday announced that its coronavirus vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19, based on preliminary data from its phase three trial. The news comes one week after Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said an interim analysis showed their vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 among trial participants who had not previously been infected.

"If these full data sets hold, when the full data comes out, we may have two highly effective vaccines against Covid," Gottlieb, a board member of Pfizer, said on "Squawk Box." 

"Once we get these vaccines in sufficient qualities heading in 2021, the combination of the fact that a lot of the population will have already had Covid, combined with the fact that we'll be vaccinating the public with a highly effective vaccine, we could effectively end this pandemic in 2021 with our technology," added Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration.

Since the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year, there has been nearly 55 million confirmed global cases and at least 1,318,884 deaths from Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Total infections in the U.S. just topped 11 million, with more than 1 million of those cases coming in less than a week.

Preventing Covid vs. preventing infection

In its interim analysis, Moderna saw 95 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in its trial of 30,000 participants. There were 90 cases in the placebo group, compared with five cases in the group of people who received the company's two-dose messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna are using mRNA-based vaccines, a new technology that uses genetic material to generate an immune response.

Gottlieb said it's critical to remember the early data is shedding light on whether the vaccines prevent people from getting Covid-19, which is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. These interim results from both Pfizer and Moderna do not explicitly show that the vaccines prevent people from ever becoming infected with the coronavirus, he cautioned. However, Gottlieb said there are reasons to be optimistic because the vaccines appear to be highly capable of preventing Covid-19.

"You have to presume, at these levels of efficacy that we're seeing from these vaccines, the vaccines aren't just reducing signs and symptoms of Covid disease but they're actually probably preventing some people from getting infected or maybe reducing the likelihood of people [shedding] the virus," Gottlieb said.

"If we do demonstrate that these vaccines actually reduce the rate of infection, these become very public health tools for preventing transmission," not just helping keep people alive, Gottlieb said. "Hopefully, the data will show that. You have to believe that it will based on these levels of efficacy, but obviously we need to see the full datasets."

Moderna CEO on its 94.5% effective Covid vaccine: We hope to get it to market soon

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."