Health experts do not know the long term effects of COVID-19, and former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he is concerned they could be serious.
“I’m worried about it. I don’t think we fully understand what these syndromes are,” Gottlieb said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute.
Gottlieb said the coronavirus is so widespread in the U.S. it’s hard to tell if there are more incidences of post-viral complications than other diseases like the flu. The virus itself is also so new, so there hasn’t been enough time to fully study what long-term post-virus syndromes, if there are any, could look like.
“We’ve infected millions, tens of millions of people now with COVID in the United States. So, we don’t know the answers to these questions. It does appear that there is a higher incidence of the serious post-viral syndromes associated with this virus, but we don’t know that for sure,” Gottlieb said.
“I think we’re not going to know that for some time, because, quite frankly, we haven’t even really accurately characterized what these post-viral syndromes are at this point,” Gottlieb added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to learn more about the whole range of short- and long-term health effects associated with COVID-19. The agency has said there’s a range of symptoms under investigation, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological.
Gottlieb on Monday also defended the White House’s slow response to the pandemic, saying the U.S.’s broad initial failure was not the fault of “just one person.”
Gottlieb said the issue was largely a failure of public health agencies to ramp up diagnostic testing.
“The big failing here was the inability to deploy a diagnostic early, so we knew where [the disease] was spreading,” Gottlieb said.
He specifically said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn should have acted more quickly to involve private clinical labs.
“The FDA Commissioner made a deliberate decision not to get the clinical labs in the game early. We should have spun up LabCorp and Quest back in January. And then we would have had massive, well, much more massive testing capacity available by the end of February,” Gottlieb said.
Testing issues continue to plague the country to this day, and other public health experts have acknowledged that while CDC and FDA deserve their share, larger institutional failures also helped to slow the U.S. response.
“You need agencies to execute, make independent decisions … People in the White House who are generalists aren’t going to know that what we really should be doing is getting LabCorp and Quest and BioReference labs working on a diagnostic test to backstop ourselves. That has to come from the people who know that. That’s the FDA chief and maybe CDC,” Gottlieb said.