Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has stated that he believes that the United States could be undercounting the number of infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant, which is making it harder to fully know whether it is leading to increased hospitalizations and deaths.
“We don’t know what the denominator is right now,” Gottlieb, a physician who worked at the FDA under former Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush, said in a recent interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
“I think we’re vastly underestimating the level of Delta spread right now because I think people who are vaccinated, who might develop some mild symptoms or might develop a breakthrough case, by and large are not going out and getting tested. If you’ve been vaccinated and you develop a mild cold right now, you don’t think you have COVID. … There’s no clear evidence that this is more pathogenic, that it’s causing more serious infections. It’s clearly more virulent, it’s clearly far more contagious,” he continued.
Due to the new Delta variant, coronavirus cases in the United States have surged in recent weeks, with the seven-day average of daily infections now sitting at roughly twenty-six thousand five hundred, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The figure represents a massive 67 percent jump from just a week ago.
Many U.S. health officials, including Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been sounding the alarm for weeks about the Delta variant’s potential to undo the hard-fought progress made in battling the pandemic over the past several months.
Vaccination Is Key
Current estimates by the CDC indicate that about 48 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, while 56 percent have had at least one vaccine dose. However, the majority of U.S. counties with high infection rates currently have less than 40 percent of their respective residents inoculated, with many of them located in the Southeast and Midwest.
“There is a message that is crystal clear: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky told reporters in a news briefing on Friday.
“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk,” she added.
Walensky then warned that the Delta variant will likely continue to spread quickly in counties and states with low vaccination rates. “If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk,” she said, adding that health officials are worried that “we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.