The CEO of Pfizer — one of the frontrunners in the coronavirus vaccine race — said in a staff memo Thursday that the company wouldn’t cave to political pressure to rush its vaccine to market, while at the same time decrying "those who argue for delay."
“Tuesday night I joined the millions of Americans who tuned in to the Presidential debate. Once more, I was disappointed that the prevention for a deadly disease was discussed in political terms rather than scientific facts,” Albert Bourla said in an internal memo obtained by POLITICO.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday during the first 2020 presidential debate that the country is “weeks away from a vaccine” contradicting federal health officials who project a shot will be available at the end of the year or early 2021. Democratic candidate Joe Biden countered that on “the whole notion of a vaccine — I don’t trust him at all, you don’t either.”
Bourla has repeatedly said that Pfizer could apply for emergency authorization from the FDA sometime in October, the most ambitious target laid out by any of the vaccine developers whose shots are now in late-stage U.S trials.
His memo to staff Thursday sticks to that goal while also asserting Pfizer's independence in the face of strong pressure from the White House to deliver a shot before Election Day.
"Now, we are approaching our goal and despite not having any political considerations with our pre-announced date, we find ourselves in the crucible of the U.S. Presidential election," Bourla wrote, later adding "we would never succumb to political pressure."
Trump last week said he might block FDA's proposal to strengthen its standards for allowing emergency use of Covid-19 vaccines — standards that would almost certainly rule out having a vaccine ready for use by early November. The president also accused FDA of acting based on political considerations, rather than science, without offering any evidence to support the claim.
The plan for Pfizer's ongoing Phase III vaccine trial allows the company to take its first look at data when just 32 participants, out of a planned 44,000, have reported Covid-19 infections.
The CEO of another coronavirus vaccine frontrunner, Moderna, said this week that the company would not file for authorization before late November; AstraZeneca’s U.S. trials are still stalled pending FDA investigation of a serious side effect. Other shots are still in early trials or just entered the final, monthslong phase recently.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech contracted with the U.S. government in July to provider 100 million doses of their shot to Health and Human Services and the Pentagon for $1.95 billion and an option to buy 500 million more doses.