One would be hard-pressed to find a more influential figure in the ongoing coronavirus crisis than Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In late March, Gottlieb, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, authored a lengthy report detailing how the country could get back to normal after the 15-day “Flatten the Curve/Stop the Spread” order. (Remember that?)
“A Road Map to Reopening” established the phased-in process most public officials are following as America struggles to recapture the daily life we abruptly abandoned more than four months ago. Much of the report fixated on the need to develop a widely-available vaccine to fight COVID-19; only then, according to Gottlieb, could the country return to some sense of “normal.”
The media, Democratic and Republican governors, and the White House have embraced Gottlieb’s report as the gold standard. Trump’s ex-FDA commissioner is a fixture on CNBC and the Sunday morning talk shows, where he often touts the need for a vaccine. “Life’s never going to be perfectly normal until we get to a vaccine,” he said March 22 on “Face the Nation.”
It looks like Gottlieb is getting his wish. On Wednesday morning, the federal government announced plans to purchase and distribute 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine; this is the first step in fulfilling the goal of “Operation Warp Speed,” a public-private partnership committed to delivering 300 million doses of a “safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021.”
The initial order, paid for by the U.S. government but nonetheless advertised as “free” to Americans, will cost $1.95 billion.
In a joint statement, Pfizer and BioNTech, the two companies providing the vaccines, confirmed that two trial vaccines have received fast-track approval from the FDA; pending further testing, the companies will seek emergency regulatory approval “as early as October.” The companies plan to have 1.3 billion vaccines available by the end of 2021. Gottlieb should be thrilled.
But there is more than one reason why Gottlieb should cheer this news: He sits on the board of directors for Pfizer. Less than three months after resigning his post at the FDA in April 2019, Gottlieb was elected to Pfizer’s board. (The doctor also has joined the boards of Illumina, Tempus, and Aetion, all companies in the health care sector.)
Just hours before the Pfizer vaccine news became public, Gottlieb appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box to explain that any vaccine will need to be administered on an annual basis.
“With this coronavirus, it seems more like a seasonal coronavirus,” Gottlieb said. “With respect to a vaccine, it means you’re going to need a seasonal vaccine in all likelihood this will become like the flu vaccine where you’ll get it in advance of every coronavirus season.”
Neither Gottlieb nor CNBC disclosed to viewers that Gottlieb is a Pfizer board member.
Pfizer’s stock price rose 4 percent on Wednesday.