Dr. Scott Gottlieb says omicron may extend pandemic, but still sees 2022 as a ‘transition year’

CNBC Health Science

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Gottlieb told Shepard Smith he made that prediction when it was assumed delta was the variant to worry about most. However, the doctor said that omicron represents a “divergent evolution” of Covid and that could alert the trajectory of spread in the U.S. and around the world “even after the population has a lot of immunity from infection.”

That might be what’s happening right now in South Africa, said Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration during former President Donald Trump‘s time in office.

“The reason why you’re seeing less severe disease and fewer hospitalizations relative to cases is many people in South Africa had infection with delta,” he said. “So when they’re getting reinfected with this variant, maybe their delta immunity isn’t protective against infection but protecting them against symptomatic disease and severe outcomes.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday that omicron appears to be milder, but it might also spread faster, which leaves more opportunity for variants to later develop.

The South African Medical Research Council said Saturday that most hospitalized patients with the new variant didn’t require supplemental oxygen. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the White House, said preliminary data like this was “a bit encouraging.”

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