Pfizer’s encouraging news about the effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine came nearly a week after Election Day. But Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says the timing had nothing to do with politics.
Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, Bourla said he first learned about the results of the trial Sunday and he has yet to see the data, throwing cold water on the idea that there was any political motivation behind releasing the news after voters in the United States chose their candidate for president.
Pfizer took several interim looks at the data during its vaccine trial, but it did not have enough infections in its test group to gain any meaningful data — until Sunday, Gupta reported. If anything, the data came earlier than expected: In October, Bourla made a comment in an open letter on Pfizer’s website, saying, ”Based on our current trial enrollment and dosing pace, we estimate we will reach this milestone in the third week of November.”
The Trump administration was quick to take credit for Pfizer’s promising news. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Pfizer’s development was “thanks to the public-private partnership forged by President Donald Trump.”
President Trump, however, lashed out at Pfizer and the FDA over the drug company’s announcement.
“As I have long said, @Pfizer and the others would only announce a Vaccine after the Election, because they didn’t have the courage to do it before,” Trump tweeted Monday evening. “Likewise, the @US_FDA should have announced it earlier, not for political purposes, but for saving lives!” he tweeted.
Moments later, Trump wrote in another tweet if President-elect Biden were president, “you wouldn’t have the Vaccine for another four years.”
Not warp speed
Yet Pfizer was not part of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” which provided incentives to pharmaceutical companies to ramp up their development of a coronavirus vaccine.
The US federal government promised $1.95 billion to Pfizer (PFE) and partner BioNTech (BNTX) to assist with the distribution of the vaccine once it’s ready — but the government is not directly working to help its development.
Trump had called drug companies, pressuring them for new developments before Election Day. He explicitly told the companies’ CEOs that he’d like to see a vaccine move quicker than some of his health advisers said was reasonable.
On Monday morning, President-elect Joe Biden issued a statement welcoming the “excellent news” and congratulating the “brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough.”
He added that “it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against Covid-19 is still months away” and “it will be many more months before there is a widespread vaccination” in the United States.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Pfizer’s vaccine news bodes well for other Covid-19 vaccines in development and added that Pfizer was able to get results quickly due to the severity of the pandemic.
Making the vaccine
Although the vaccine is not set to be widely administered soon, Pfizer said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration soon after volunteers have been monitored for two months following their second dose of the vaccine.
Pfizer has at least three vaccine manufacturing sites in the United States, Gupta said. At the Kalamazoo, Michigan, facility, there are several refrigerators — that span about the length of a football field — that are used to store the vaccine.
For months companies have been racing to develop, and eventually distribute, an effective coronavirus vaccine. The race shows no signs of slowing as companies continue to move their vaccine candidates through clinical trials, growing closer to determining which will be considered safe and effective.
Vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna utilize new technology that has never been used in vaccines before, and experts say that in itself is a reason to be cautious.
While the developments mean that progress is being made, they will do little to mitigate the coronavirus winter surge in the short term given that it will be well into 2021 before the dose is available to all Americans.