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Omicron could extend pandemic, still sees ‘year of transition’ ahead

Dr Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that the omicron variant “extends the timeline” of when Covid will transition from a health emergency to something the world will learn to live with.

“I still think it will be a year of transition,” Gottlieb said Tuesday night in “The News with Shepard Smith.” It is likely that we “move from a pandemic to a more endemic phase” but later.

On November 5, the former chief of the FDA and current member of the Pfizer board of directors told CNBC that the pandemic phase of Covid could be over in the United States by early January.

Recent studies in South Africa have indicated that omicron significantly reduces antibody protection in people infected with the Pfizer / BioNTech Covid vaccine.

However, on Wednesday morning, Pfizer said its own research showed that a third shot of its Covid vaccine neutralized the omicron.

Prior to this news, Gottlieb said the best thing to do was get the vaccine and boost, “I hope three doses of the vaccine are protective enough” because the booster “works like an infection.”

Gottlieb, a current board member of vaccine maker Covid Pfizer, told Shepard Smith he made the prediction when it was speculated that the Delta was the variant to be most worried about. However, the doctor said that omicron represents a “divergent evolution” of Covid and which could alert on the trajectory of the spread in the United States and around the world “even after the population has a lot of immunity to the infection” .

That may be what’s happening in South Africa right now, said Gottlieb, who headed the Food and Drug Administration during the tenure of former President Donald Trump.

“The reason you are seeing less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations compared to cases is that many people in South Africa have been infected with the delta,” he said. “So when they are re-infected with this variant, maybe their delta immunity does not protect against infection but protects them against symptomatic illnesses and serious consequences.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Tuesday that omicron appears to be milder, but it could also spread faster, leaving more scope for variants to develop later.

The South African Medical Research Council said on Saturday that most patients hospitalized with the new variant did not need supplemental oxygen. Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said preliminary data like this was “a little encouraging.”

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and serves on the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion, and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings‘ and Royal Caribbean‘s “Healthy sail panel.”

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