The head of Pfizer, one of the drug companies busy developing a coronavirus vaccine, told staff he was disappointed that his work had been politicized during the presidential debate this week and tried to reassure U.S. workers that the company will not bow to pressure to move faster.
Board chairman Albert Bourla told employees Thursday that the company is moving “at the speed of science” and not at any political time, according to an employee letter received from The Associated Press.
“The only pressure we feel – and it weighs heavily – is on the billions of people, millions of companies and hundreds of government officials who depend on us,” wrote Bourla.
Although senior U.S. federal health officials have repeatedly stated that a vaccine is unlikely to be widely available until 2021, President Donald Trump has insisted that a vaccine be ready before election day.
During Tuesday’s debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump said he spoke to the companies whose experimental vaccines are most advanced in testing.
“I’ve talked to Pfizer, I’ve talked to all of the people you need to talk to, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others. You can go a lot faster,” Trump claimed. “It’s gotten very political.”
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Pfizer expects to have data from the ongoing late-stage test by October that could demonstrate whether the vaccine is safe and effective. In his letter to employees, Bourla wrote that the company hopes “to deliver a hundred million cans by the end of the year”.
These doses could not be distributed until the Food and Drug Administration reviews Pfizer’s data and decides whether to issue a so-called emergency permit. This would allow for limited spread of the vaccine, with initial shots going to medical and other frontline workers, nursing homes, and those at greatest risk of contracting the virus or getting seriously ill.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the UK Financial Times on Wednesday that Moderna would not be ready to seek emergency use approval from the FDA for its vaccine candidate until November 25th.
Johnson & Johnson started the late and definitive patient study of its vaccine last week.
And AstraZeneca, which has a worldwide candidate for late-stage studies, has suspended its US study while the FDA is investigating a potential safety issue.
Bourla and top executives at eight other companies developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments pledged in early September not to even seek emergency approval, let alone full approval, of their products until they were safe and have proven effective.