Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Tuesday that Covid vaccine rollout in the US may be slowing down because not enough people want to get the shot.
While the future government in Biden will initially focus on improving access to vaccines, Gottlieb said public health efforts must also address the concerns of some Americans.
“I think we also have to work … on the demand side of this equation. We can’t lose sight of that and assume that everyone wants this vaccine,” said the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “Squawk Box.”
President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on Wednesday, has pledged to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days. Last week, Biden revealed more details about his plan, including building coronavirus vaccination clinics by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US National Guard. Biden also intends to speed up the schedule for when Covid vaccines might be available in pharmacies.
Biden’s plan to tackle the slower-than-expected vaccine rollout is an “all-encompassing approach, and then see what works,” said Gottlieb, who headed the FDA from 2017-2019 under President Donald Trump. Gottlieb is now a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, which makes one of two vaccines for which the FDA receives emergency approval. The other is made by Moderna.
“We talked about the fact that access is currently the real challenge, and now we are talking about the supply because we are gradually reaching a stable state of supply and it is difficult to increase the supply in the short term,” said Gottlieb. “At some point, demand will be a problem.”
Right now, demand for coronavirus vaccines remains high as older Americans are eligible for shots, Gottlieb said. Since age is a major risk that makes people more susceptible to hospitalization or potentially dying from Covid-19, these Americans seem more willing to take the vaccine.
“Even in younger cohorts there will be very strong demand, but I think once we get to 100 million, maybe 120 million vaccines, demand will be weak,” said Gottlieb, basing his forecast on the number of US adults who received a flu shot in the past year.
“These were people who were concerned about going out with Covid and getting flu vaccines. This could be the universe of people who really have significant demand for a Covid vaccine,” he added.
Biden has tried to reassure Americans about the safety and effectiveness of Covid vaccines in an effort to increase the number of people willing to get the shot. In December, after receiving his first two-dose shot of the Pfizer vaccine on live television, Biden said there was “nothing to worry about”.
According to the latest available data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12.3 million Americans received their starting vaccine dose as of Friday morning. About 31.2 million cans were distributed.
Covid vaccines are playing a vital role in fighting the devastating pandemic in the US and the world. In the United States alone, there have been nearly 24.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 399,008 deaths from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The virus has also caused significant economic damage as millions of people have lost their jobs and closed businesses in the United States. Widespread vaccination against Covid is seen as critical to a more robust economic recovery and the stock market. For example, JPMorgan analysts wrote in a weekly communication to customers: “In the future, the greatest macro risk appears to be the delivery, distribution and intake of vaccines.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, the genetic testing startup Tempus, and the biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.