Report: Trump Admin Turned Down Chance for More Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccines, Scrambles to Secure Now
President Donald Trump has repeatedly assured U.S. citizens that his administration would secure enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to protect the nation. However, a new report shows his government failed to act in securing additional doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine this summer.
On Monday, The New York Times reported the Trump administration passed on the opportunity to acquire additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine frontrunner beyond the 100 million doses the government purchased in July's $1.95 billion deal. Given that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is a two-dose treatment, that means about 50 million Americans will initially receive the vaccine. Those doses are expected to go to frontline healthcare workers and people living in long-term care facilities. According to the report, Pfizer and BioNTech approached the U.S. government over the summer with the option of 100 million to 500 million additional doses, but the government turned down the offer.
In November, BioNTech and Pfizer announced they reached an agreement with the European Commission to supply 200 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to deliver 100 million more doses.
Pfizer issued a statement noting that any additional doses beyond the 100 million initially agreed to by the United States are “subject to a separate and mutually acceptable agreement.” The company declined to comment regarding any potential ongoing discussions it may have with the U.S. government.
The Times reported that Pfizer will not likely have a new batch of doses to offer the U.S. government until the summer of 2021. The number of doses it currently has available for use has all been acquired by other governments, including those in the European Union and the United Kingdom. On Monday, the first doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine began to be administered to U.K. citizens following authorization in that country last week.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is set to review the safety and efficacy data for the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday. It’s likely the regulatory agency could issue an Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine by the end of the week, and the first doses could roll out across the country within 24 hours. Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, BNT162b2, demonstrated a 95% efficacy in clinical trials.
After Pfizer and BioNTech announced the high efficacy of the vaccine, Trump attempted to take credit for the success of the vaccine. He linked the success to the efforts of Operation Warp Speed. However, Pfizer and BioNTech developed the vaccine candidate on their own, without federal financial assistance. The only Warp Speed money the companies accepted was the $1.95 billion for the 100 million doses. Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, the original developer of the vaccine candidate, in March.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services noted the government could acquire other vaccine doses from the likes of Moderna, which will see a review of its vaccine candidate on Dec. 17, as well as candidates developed by Novavax, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the Times said. An administration official told The Hill that the U.S, government has contracts for a combined guarantee of 3 billion doses as well as the option for more, from those other companies. The official was critical of Pfizer's attempts to secure additional financing for doses while the vaccine candidate was still in clinical testing.
“We have continued to negotiate with all of the vaccine manufacturers, particularly the ones who now have good data, those who are in the window for an EUA authorization. We're not going to talk about those because those negotiations are underway," the official said, according to The Hill.
As the president faces criticism for this misstep, the Times said Trump plans to issue an executive order that claims no other country can receive the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine until Americans have been inoculated. However, this is mostly cage-rattling. There does not appear to be any power the government has to secure those doses that have been sold to other countries.
The United States leads the world in the number of reported COVID-19 cases. According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard, there are 14,955,947 reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with 283,746 related deaths.
In addition to the missed opportunity to acquire additional doses of the vaccine from Pfizer, the pharma giant is expected to be absent from a hastily assembled vaccine summit expected to take place at the White House today. Moderna has also declined to participate. STAT News reported Monday that both companies declined to participate, but other companies involved in vaccine distribution, such as FedEx and CVS, are expected to join.