Just as thousands of Brits were lining up to get Pfizer’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine yesterday, a troubling question emerged in the U.S.: Did the United States government fail to lock in enough doses of the vaccine to ensure a broad and quick rollout here?
The short answer appears to be yes.
Pfizer struck a deal with the U.S. government for 100 million doses of its COVID vaccine over the summer, but when the company offered more, President Donald Trump’s administration declined, according to anonymous sources who spoke to the New York Times.
Pfizer had offered 200 million doses in its first contract with the U.S.—enough to vaccinate 100 million people—but Operation Warp Speed opted for half that amount, added the Washington Post, which also cited anonymous sources. The company would not be able to supply additional doses until the summer, the sources said.
The U.S. contract includes an option to buy as many as 500 million more doses of the Pfizer shot. But as a Pfizer spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Fierce Pharma, the two sides need to strike a separate contract for any of those additional COVID-19 shots. She said she could not comment on confidential discussions with Warp Speed.
Meanwhile, Trump is scheduled to hold a vaccine “summit” at the White House Tuesday to congratulate Warp Speed officials for “the most spectacular mobilization since World War II” to speed a vaccine to market, an administration official said in a press call Monday, as quoted by several news outlets. Pfizer declined an invitation to the event, the spokesperson confirmed.
It’s the latest twist in the alliance between the Trump administration and Pfizer. Last week, shares of Pfizer and its vaccine partner BioNTech dipped on news that they had scaled back their distribution plans for the mRNA vaccine from 100 million doses by the end of the year to 50 million. In fact, the revised plan had been issued a month earlier.
Pfizer’s original $1.95 million deal with the U.S. included an option for the government to buy an additional 100 million to 500 million doses of the COVID vaccine. Neither the cost nor the timing of those add-on doses was spelled out, and when Pfizer suggested to Trump administration officials that they pre-order those shots sooner rather than later, the company was rebuffed on the grounds that it did not yet have proof the vaccine worked, according to the press reports.
Pfizer and BioNTech went on to lock up supply pacts with other countries. They struck a deal with the U.K. government for 30 million doses in July, and in November nabbed a contract with the European Union for 300 million doses, promising the first deliveries by the end of the year.
“Recognizing the urgency of the need, our manufacturing teams have been working around the clock so we can bring the vaccine to the world as quickly, efficiently and equitably as possible,” the Pfizer spokesperson said.
The FDA released detailed data from Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials Tuesday morning in advance of a Thursday meeting of its vaccine advisory board. If that committee recommends approval, the FDA could grant emergency use authorization within days.
Pfizer said in November that its COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective in a phase 3 clinical trial. The advisory committee documents will be scoured for additional details, particularly about side effects reported by the more than 40,000 participants in the trial.