Ex-FDA chief thinks the new coronavirus strain ‘is already in the US’ and a travel ban on the UK won’t make a difference

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FDA Commissioner-designate Scott Gottlieb. Zach Gibson/Getty Images
  • The new, potentially more transmissible coronavirus strain, found in the UK “is already in the US,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration chief, on Monday.
  • Despite more than 40 countries imposing a UK travel ban after the news, Gottlieb said it won’t prevent the mutated strain from seeping into the US.
  • “As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants,” he said in an interview with CNBC.
  • Gottlieb said the new mutation could evolve over time “so we’ll probably need to adapt our vaccines.”
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The FDA’s former chief believes a new coronavirus strain found in the UK is already in the US.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who headed up the FDA between 2017 and 2019, told CNBC in an interview on Monday: “I think this is already in the US.

“I don’t think a travel ban at this point is going to prevent this mutated strain from coming into the US.”

More than 40 countries, including France, India, and Hong Kong, have suspended flights from the UK over concerns of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

The mutant coronavirus is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain, which has killed more than 1.7 million people according to the World Health Organisation COVID-19 dashboard.

There is no evidence yet to suggest the new coronavirus strain is more dangerous or resistant to existing vaccines.

The new coronavirus mutation is most likely a result of selective pressure on the virus itself, according to Gottlieb.

“As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants, and that’s why it’s important to get the population vaccinated and snuff out these infections,” Gottlieb said. “The more infections you have, the more chances that these variants start to propagate.”

Gottlieb, who is a Pfizer board member, said the mutated strain is unlikely to create a second wave.

“We’re going to have an epidemic that continues to build over the course of the next three or four weeks, we’ll reach a peak, and then we’ll start to see infection rates decline as we see vaccinations get rolled out,” he said.

The former FDA boss said there’s no indication at the moment that the new strain is going to have an effect on the efficacy of the current crop of vaccines, “but over time it will evolve in ways where it can probably obviate prior infection or vaccines to some degree, so we’ll probably need to adapt our vaccines over time.”

Anthony fauci
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. GRAEME JENNINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease expert, also said Monday in an interview on PBS Newshour that he “would not be surprised if [the mutated strain] is already here,” adding that imposing a travel ban between the UK and the US is “premature” and a “draconian approach.”


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After discovering a new, potentially more transmissible strain of the novel coronavirus, the UK government announced Saturday that London and parts of the South East and East of England would enter into ‘Tier 4’ lockdown restrictions from Sunday morning.

This has put millions of people in the UK under stricter lockdown measures for Christmas. Those in Tier 4 are advised to stay at home and to avoid leaving their local area.