Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Americans should be “confident” about taking the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, with millions of doses set to join the fight against the coronavirus in the coming days.
“There is more and more evidence that these vaccines are preventing transmission of infection, which makes them an even more important public health tool,” Gottlieb said in an interview on “Face the Nation.” “I think people should be confident about taking it. And it will be in the market this week.”
The FDA authorized Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Saturday. It is the third vaccine to be approved in the U.S., joining those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and the first that requires only one shot.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has been shown to provide 85% protection against severe COVID-19 by 28 days after vaccination. Among people who got the vaccine in clinical trials, there were no COVID-related deaths.
“I think this is a good vaccine. The vaccine was very effective at preventing severe disease, 85% effective at preventing severe and critical disease,” Gottlieb said. “Also, interestingly, if you look at the clinical data, it was 74% effective at preventing asymptomatic infection, which is a suggestion that it is preventing transmission as well.”
Earlier on “Face the Nation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said variants of the virus detected in New York and California may be part of the reason why there has been a stall in the downward trajectory of new infections, which have fallen in recent weeks but appear to have leveled off.
Gottlieb said the plateauing of cases could also be explained by Americans increasing their mobility. The so-called B.1.526 variant only represents about 9% of the infections in New York City, and is not “really having much of an impact yet,” Gottlieb said. The strain was first introduced during the summer, and there are two different lineages, one of which has the same mutation as a variant first identified in South Africa.
“We’re more worried about the New York strain because it may pierce prior immunity and vaccines may be less effective against that,” Gottlieb said.
The former FDA director said the California strain is likely less concerning, since it doesn’t have the mutation in the South African variant that “seems to make vaccines a little less effective and seems to allow people who’ve been infected before to get reinfected.”
Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer, predicted that Americans who are getting vaccinated will be able to get a booster shot to protect themselves against the new variants sometime in the fall.