The Covid-19 pandemic could be over in the U.S. by the time President Biden’s workplace vaccine mandates take effect in early January, Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Friday.
The vaccine requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration begin on Jan. 4 for any company with at least 100 employees. Some 84 million private sector workers must get either their second Moderna or Pfizer shot or one dose from Johnson & Johnson by that date or face regular testing for the virus.
“These mandates that are going to be put in place by Jan. 4 really are coming on the tail end of this pandemic,” said Gottlieb, who’s also a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “By Jan. 4, this pandemic may well be over, at least as it relates to the United States after we get through this delta wave of infection. And we’ll be in a more endemic phase of this virus.”
All companies complying with OSHA’s new rules must also start enforcing indoor mask mandates for unvaccinated employees starting Dec. 5. Those personnel must also start submitting weekly negative Covid tests after Jan. 4 to remain employed, and anyone who tests positive must quarantine away from work.
The federal mandate contains exemptions for religious and medical reasons. Employees who work outdoors, at home or in settings where others aren’t present are also exempt from the rules.
OSHA’s guidance doesn’t mandate that businesses pay for their employees’ Covid tests or masks, but any company caught dodging the rules will face fines of anywhere between $13,653 to $136,532 for intentional noncompliance.
Gottlieb’s comments came in the wake of data from Pfizer that indicated its Covid antiviral pill, when paired with an HIV medication, slashed the potential for hospitalization or death by 89% in adults at risk for severe complications. Combining the pill with an HIV medication slowed the metabolism, allowing the Covid antiviral to work longer in the body.
CEO Albert Bourla said the company will submit data on the therapeutic to the FDA before Thanksgiving in an interview with “Squawk Box” Friday morning.
Gottlieb said Pfizer’s new drug shouldn’t be considered a substitute for vaccinating more Americans against the virus, adding that he thought periodic Covid vaccinations and changes to the vaccines could be necessary moving forward. But he noted that antivirals could help treat cases in a range of high-risk individuals.
“When you have therapeutics that are this effective, that can be a backstop for people for whom vaccines don’t work, people who have breakthrough infections – there’s pills being studied in that setting,” Gottlieb said. “It really is a backstop against death and disease from this infection.”
Pfizer’s announcement arrives a month after Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said they created an antiviral that cut Covid hospitalizations and deaths by 50% in patients with up to moderate cases. The United Kingdom cleared Merck’s treatment Thursday.
Disclosure: 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.”