The following Dr. A transcript of an interview with Scott Gottlieb that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, March 5, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re back now with former FDA Commissioner Advisory Board member, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. Good morning. Welcome back. Nice to see you.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Good morning.
Margaret Brennan: Dr. Gottlieb. I wanted you to give us some context here, because I know you’ve said in the past on this program that we’ll probably never know the source of COVID-19, the exact animal carrying the virus or a smoking gun, proving that it accidentally leaked out of the lab. . You said both theories are plausible. Has anything changed that makes you more confident now?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think there’s enough information in the public domain to make an assumption that it could come out of the lab, probably a strong assumption. We’ve seen some growing reports, there’s classified information that hasn’t been made public, you’ve heard congressmen refer to even classified information that even Congress hasn’t seen in this instance. And I think based on that premise, you know, there’s a possibility that it came from a lab. We may never be able to prove for sure. We should start treating it like it came out of a lab and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. A lot has happened around China’s labs, especially Wuhan’s WIV, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has created a messy situation. They were doing high-risk research in a low-level, low-security lab. They were doing risky research. You heard the congressman talk about the benefits of the function research going on in that lab. We know the Chinese military was working in that lab at the same time. So we have to look at those things. I’m going to focus on the activities in and around those labs, and what steps we need to take to make sure that we can have better security around high-risk research that comes out of that — it’s going to happen again if it gets out of a lab. No.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we spoke on this program with Matt Pottinger, who served in the Trump administration who said, intelligence needs to be a stronger part of pandemic protection. And I know you agree with that. You know, David Wallace Wells had a piece in The New York Times, an opinion piece that said, “We’ve been talking all wrong about the lab leak theory.” And the logic is to turn to lab theory and see how to prevent lab leaks. He also called for things like a national registry on research based on risks and benefits, new safety standards, global governance to go along with it. Why doesn’t that exist? And why is it not being made?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: Yes, I think it should. I mean, we’re three years into it, there are some recommendations that are on the president’s desk. I think we should start getting serious and see what steps need to be taken. You know, we’re still stuck in a debate about whether it was a lab leak or not. I don’t think we’re going to prove it. I think we should work on the assumption that this is likely a lab leak and start putting the necessary safeguards in place. The congressman spoke about the benefits of function research. He makes the point that there is no real commercial merit to doing such research. I agree with him. We need to see if such research is illegal. And of course, if that’s going to happen, conduct it in BSL-4 labs, high security labs under very strict conditions, where we know what’s going on, and don’t outsource it to labs in China. Sometimes the highest risk tests are outsourced to the worst labs around the world, because they are willing to perform those tests. And so if we’re going to do high risk research, because we think it’s important from a national security perspective, and that’s the only context in which it would make sense, there’s really no commercial context in which it would make sense. ; We need to get better control over it. And to Matt’s point, Matt Pottinger’s point, we need to engage our intelligence agencies as national security—as part of their national security mission, and look at public health preparedness through a national security lens. I think we are doing that now. But we need to be very clear about this. And that means monitoring around certain high-risk activities that might pose such risks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So—but that’s the White House, and that’s the intelligence agency, rather than the congressional mandate.
Dr. Gottlieb: Look, there’s certainly a role for Congress. I think Congress can start coming up with a list of recommendations to the administration. The administration has recommendations from independent agencies. Ultimately, it is going to be federal regulations that are imposed on research that is funded by the federal government, as well as what we try to do through international conventions, working with the WHO and the World Health Council to try to get international agreements. Space on what countries are willing and not going to do. Now you can not prevent the rogue regime from such research. That’s where intelligence agencies come in to monitor, to find that rogue regimes are conducting high-risk research that could inadvertently or intentionally create conditions for lab leaks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Biden administration has called on China to release more information and they haven’t provided it. Dr. Fauci spoke about that on the program in November. I also want to ask you about what we just learned about President Biden’s health. He removed this skin cancer diagnosis basal cell carcinoma lesion. Given his age, is there any cause for concern?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: There’s no reason to be concerned about this particular wound. It is a slow-growing cancer, usually confined to the surface of the skin that can be completely removed with a minor surgical procedure. Sounds like the president was completely moved by this. It should not be repeated, it usually does not spread. These types of lesions usually occur on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. It’s related to UV light exposure, so you usually see it on a neck or face. Just for awareness, this is not like melanoma where it appears as a very dark, irregular lesion. Usually it will appear as a clear and waxy lesion, maybe scaly, so it has a different appearance. But the president should make a full recovery with a minor surgery to remove it.
Margaret Brennan: Dr. Gottlieb, it’s always a pleasure talking to you.