'Life We Treasure' Will Soon Return but Americans Must 'Remain Vigilant,' Former FDA Chief Says

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Chief Scott Gottlieb has said life may soon return to something resembling normality, but urged Americans to stay "vigilant" as a third wave of COVID-19 infections ravages the U.S.

"We'll turn the corner on COVID in 2021 with the help of our technology; but we must remain vigilant as this last uncontrolled wave sweeps the nation. This is the most dangerous phase and we're tired. But stay firm, stay safe. We'll soon get back the life and leisures we treasure," Gottlieb, who served as 23rd commissioner of the FDA, wrote on Twitter.

Last week, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech submitted an Emergency Use Authorization application for their COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA.

A vaccine advisory committee from the agency is scheduled to meet on December 10 in order to discuss whether or not to approve the vaccine, which the developers say has an efficacy of 95 percent and has no serious side effects.

If the vaccine is approved at the meeting, it could be rolled out within days, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of the White House's coronavirus vaccine effort, has said. high-risk groups such as the elderly and health care workers would likely be first in line to receive it.

This month, American pharmaceutical company Moderna also announced that its coronavirus vaccine has an efficacy of 95 percent. The firm is expected to follow in the footsteps of Pfizer and seek regulatory approval in the coming weeks.

With these vaccines, the U.S. could reach "true herd immunity" in May with 70 percent of the population vaccinated, Slaoui told CNN, although overcoming people's doubts would be key to this process, he said.

"I really hope and look forward to seeing that the level of negative perception of the vaccine decreases and people's acceptance increases. That is going to be critical to help us. Most people need to be immunized before we can go back to a normal life."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, told CBS News that herd immunity could be reached "reasonably quickly" next year if a sufficient number of Americans received the vaccine.

But some experts have warned that even with the arrival and roll out of these vaccines, life will likely not return to normal for some time because it is not yet clear whether these jabs prevent disease transmission and for how long they provide immunity.

"We don't have the data yet to know whether these vaccines actually prevent people from getting the virus," Lisa Lee, a public health expert from Virginia Tech, told Fast Company. "We only know that they prevent people from getting really sick from the virus. These data have been released very early because they're so promising. But we still have a lot of analysis to do and a lot of work to do to make sure that we understand what the vaccines are preventing."

This means public health measures such as mask wearing will still be important over the coming months. Furthermore, vaccinating sufficient numbers to reach herd immunity of people will be a long process.

We’ll turn the corner on Covid in 2021 with the help of our technology; but we must remain vigilant as this last uncontrolled wave sweeps the nation. This is the most dangerous phase and we’re tired. But stay firm, stay safe. We’ll soon get back the life and leisures we treasure. https://t.co/3BAhEVmazN

— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) November 26, 2020

"It's going to take time to manufacture and get enough vaccine. Probably realistically a journey of six to 12 months, in terms of getting the vaccine made, stored, distributed, allocated, and then into the population itself," Lee said. "Each of these are two-dose vaccines, between three and four weeks apart. So even if a person gets vaccinated immediately, we still have another month to wait until the full vaccination takes effect. So it's going to take some time."

In addition, other experts have warned that the virus may never go away entirely, even with a vaccine, although it could become no more serious than a common cold within a few years, Vineet Menachery, from the University of Texas Medical Branch, told NPR.

Gottlieb's comments that Americans should "remain vigilant" came as millions of people across the country traveled ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, The Associated Press reported, despite the warnings of public health authorities not to do so,

More than 90,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. due to COVID-19 on Thursday as people celebrated Thanksgiving—a record for the pandemic.

While the number of new daily cases and deaths dropped significantly on Thursday compared to Wednesday, this is likely due to holiday disruption with 20 states not reporting data, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

On Wednesday, 2,284 COVID-19 deaths were recorded—the highest figure since May 7—according to the Project, while more than 182,000 new cases were reported.

In total, the U.S. is nearing 13 million confirmed COVID-19 infections, while around 260,000 people have died from the disease in the country.

Scott Gottlieb
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb speaks at the Newseum on March 6, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images