Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Tuesday that he believes the U.S. this spring will avoid a “national wave” of infection related to the more contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant.
However, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said on “Squawk Box” that he thinks cases are being “dramatically” underreported in some parts of the country. Given the reliance on at-home testing now, he estimated that in the Northeast, as few as one in seven or one in eight infections are actually showing up in official case counts.
“I think we’re further into this than we perceive,” Gottlieb said, pointing to Germany and the U.K., where cases have started to decline quickly from their recent, BA.2-related peak.
In the U.S., BA.2 is the dominant version of Covid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some expect that within two weeks, it may displace the earlier version of omicron, which caused a surge in cases and hospitalizations late last year and into 2022.
Both Covid infections and hospitalizations have retreated more than 90% since their January highs during the omicron wave.
“It’s probably not going to be a national wave of infection” from BA.2, predicted Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration and now serves on the board of Covid vaccine maker Pfizer. “It’s probably going to be centered in the Northeast, maybe Florida. I think by the time it starts to spread nationally, we’ll already be deep into the summer, and that’ll provide a seasonal backstop.”
The picture may change once fall rolls around for a few reasons, Gottlieb said. “We’ll have to contend with this in the fall,” he said. “If [BA.2] is still the dominant variant in places in the country that it really didn’t get in right now, it’ll start to spread in the fall as people’s immunity starts to wane, they get further out from their vaccination and their prior infection from omicron.”
Disclosure: Dr. 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.”