▶ Watch Video: Gottlieb warns Delta variant will be “most serious virus” unvaccinated get in their lifetime

Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, warned Sunday that for Americans who are unvaccinated and become infected with the Delta variant, the virus will be the “most serious” they get in their lifetime.

“This virus is so contagious, this variant is so contagious that it’s going to infect the majority — that most people will either get vaccinated or have been previously infected or they will get this Delta variant,” Gottlieb said in an interview on “Face the Nation.” “And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital.”

The Delta variant has fueled a rise in coronavirus cases, the number of new infections rising in all 50 states. Hospitalizations have also increased 36%, and deaths are up 26%. On Friday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as nearly all people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been inoculated.

Even as the number of coronavirus cases spikes, Gottlieb said the U.S. is likely undercounting infections, as Americans who are younger and healthier, or those who are asymptomatic or have mild cases, may not get tested for COVID-19.

“We’re not doing a lot of routine screening right now,” he said. “Unless you work for the New York Yankees, you’re not getting tested on a regular basis. So I think that this Delta wave could be far more advanced than what we’re detecting right now in our ascertainment.”

Gottlieb estimated the U.S. is picking up roughly 1-in-10 or 1-in-20 infections, and those who get tested for COVID-19 are either sicker or have “telltale” symptoms of the coronavirus, such as loss of taste or smell.

To mitigate the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, some areas of the country have reimposed mask mandates for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people indoors. But Gottlieb said to protect against the variant, it’s important for people to invest in high-quality face coverings, such as N95 masks. 

“Quality of mask is going to make a difference with a variant that spreads more aggressively like Delta does, where people are more contagious and exude more virus,” he said “Trying to get N95 masks into the hands of vulnerable individuals in places where this is really epidemic I think is going to be important, even in cases where they’re vaccinated, if they want to add another layer of protection.”

As the number of new coronavirus cases grows and vaccination rates flatten, the Biden administration has issued warnings about misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines that has proliferated on social media, which Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called a “serious threat to public health.”

Gottlieb said the most “pervasive” piece of misinformation related to the vaccine is that it will impact fertility, which he said is discouraging many young women from getting their shots.

But Gottlieb it’s not the vaccines, but contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy that can be dangerous.

“I think every woman who’s an expectant mom or a prospective mom should be talking to their doctor about getting vaccinated,” he said.