Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb: ‘I Take My Mask Off While We’re Flying’

Travelers wait to board a plane at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, on April 22, 2022. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Travelers wait to board a plane at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, on April 22, 2022. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he plans to continue to wear a mask when he’s boarding or exiting a plane, because there’s poor ventilation, but once he’s in the air, he takes his mask off.

“I wear a mask when I get on a plane while I’m boarding and also while I’m getting off the plane. I think those are the two points where you’re in a congregate setting where there’s poor air circulation. Those really are the risky venues. Those are the risky points in your journey,” Gottlieb said.

“When you’re up in the air, when you’re at 10,000 feet, there’s pretty good air filtration on a plane. So I don’t feel at risk at that moment. So I take my mask off while we’re flying. That’s been my practice since this mandate got lifted. That’s probably what I’m going to continue to do, so long as prevalence remains where it is right now,” he said.

When asked to clarify whether that means he wears an N95 mask, the Pfizer CEO said, “Yes, look, I wear a high-quality mask. I wear a KN95 mask.

“I think, if you’re wearing a poorer-quality mask, a cloth mask or a procedure mask that’s not a level three procedure mask, you’re probably deriving a lot less protection than what you perceive. Omicron is an airborne pathogen at this point. It’s spreading through airborne transmission,” Gottlieb said.

“A cloth mask isn’t providing a measurable degree of protection. So if you yourself want to protect yourself from this pathogen, you really need to wear a well-fitted higher-quality mask,” he said.

“What are parents of the youngest Americans supposed to do, not travel?” CBS host Margaret Brennan asked.

“Look, this is a really difficult situation because we’re effectively saying that people need to take matters into their own hands in terms of protecting themselves,” the former FDA commissioner said.

“We’re no longer applying mandates on the entire population but asking people to individually assess their own risk, but not giving everyone the tools they need to do that, particularly young kids who now are going to be made vulnerable in these public settings, but there’s no vaccine available for these kids, and I know a lot of parents have been waiting a very long time,” he said.

“There’s kids with health conditions that can’t get the benefit of a vaccine that could provide them some baseline immunity that could protect them from severe disease, and I think we need to try to make a vaccine available to those children very soon,” Gottieb said.

“In terms of where this stands right now, you know, I’ll take each application in turn. Pfizer, as you know, submitted about four months ago the data on their two-month vaccine. The FDA has had that data for about four months and has had the benefit of reviewing it. They deferred making a decision on that vaccine,” he said.

“They didn’t feel it was — it reached the level of efficacy that they had prescribed, which was a threshold of 50 percent effectiveness of preventing symptomatic disease, and so Pfizer is now testing a third dose to see if that will boost the effectiveness of the overall regimen, and the data from that should be available very soon,” Gottlieb said.

“Moderna released top line data on their vaccine, on March 23rd. Their two- dose vaccine, and the reports are — the public reports are they’re going to file this week. My expectation is that FDA is going to hold an advisory committee in early June to discuss one or both of these applications,” Pfizer CEO said.

“That gives the agency about six weeks to review the Moderna application, which is consistent with how long the agency has taken to review these applications. It took them five weeks to review Pfizer’s 5 to 11 application, and I’m hoping that Pfizer will have all their data in, in time to also be considered at that advisory committee,” he said.

Asked whether we are at an endemic phase of the pandemic, Gottlieb said, “No, I don’t — I think this year is really a transition year. I think this is going to be the year when this becomes more — more of an endemic illness. There’s not going to be a defined point in time when that happens, but what’s going to happen is, this is going to settle into more of a seasonal pattern.

“I do expect prevalence levels to start to decline. We may be peaking right now, if you look at the wastewater data. Hopefully, over the summer, through the summer, we have pretty low prevalence of this infection, and then we’re going to see it reemerge in the fall. The question is, what reemerges? Is it a new strain of Omicron? And that’s going to drive decisions around the vaccine,” he said.

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