Dr. Scott Gottlieb sees vaccines for kids as a key to turning the tide in the Covid pandemic

Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday he believes vaccinating children against Covid is a crucial step in changing the way many Americans view the coronavirus going forward.

“I think the reason why a lot of people are overestimating the risk of coronavirus, or are still worried about it even if they’re vaccinated … is because the kids are still vulnerable,” the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said on “Squawk Box.”

“Once adults are able to vaccinate their kids, the anxiety about getting a breakthrough infection — knowing that you’re probably not going to get very sick, your odds of getting very sick are very low if you’re vaccinated, but you could bring it back into the house — I think that’s going to start to resolve,” he added.

Gottlieb, who now serves on the board of Covid vaccine maker Pfizer, acknowledged the process will be a “slow evolution,” especially after the highly transmissible delta variant has caused a surge in new Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths in recent months.

“We’ve just spent a year, year and a half, trying to prevent every single infection. We’re going to evolve to a place where this is an endemic virus where this becomes a way of life, or a fact of life, if you will. It’s going to be an evolution. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Gottlieb said, stressing that simply vaccinating U.S. adults is not enough for the psychological transition to fully occur.

“It’s going to be when we can vaccinate the children, when the prevalence declines, when the hospitalizations and deaths start to decline, and they will. They will on the back end of this delta wave,” he said.

Pfizer’s vaccine could be available to kids ages 5 to 11 by Halloween, after the company said last week it generated a “robust” immune response in trials involving that cohort of children and planned to submit its data to regulators. The company’s shot is currently available for kids ages 12 to 15 under an emergency use authorization, while it is fully approved for those ages 16 and up.

Moderna, which has received emergency clearance for its Covid vaccine in people ages 18 and up, is also conducting trials in younger kids.

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New Covid cases are starting to fall again in the U.S., with the seven-day average of new daily infections sitting at 119,598, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That’s down 19% compared with one week ago. However, the seven-day average of new daily deaths is holding steady at roughly 1,987, according to CNBC’s analysis. Deaths tend to lag infections by a few weeks.

“We’re still really in the throes of this,” said Gottlieb, who led the FDA from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump administration.

While consistently touting the crucial role vaccines play in protecting against Covid, the Pfizer director has also emphasized coronavirus drug treatments, particularly if it becomes endemic like seasonal influenza.

Existing therapeutic options include antibody treatments from the likes of Regeneron and Eli Lilly, as well as Gilead Sciences‘ antiviral drug remdesivir, which is administered through an IV. Pfizer and Merck are currently studying their own oral antiviral treatments for Covid.

“Roche has a drug that’s also in advanced development, a little further behind, but looks very promising, and then there are a whole host of drugs that are in earlier development that were engineered to target specifically this SARS-CoV-2,” the scientific name for the novel coronavirus, Gottlieb said. “I do believe we’re going to have an antiviral.” He added, “This isn’t a hard virus to drug in terms of how it replicates.”

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.”