Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said politics won’t influence his company’s push to produce a coronavirus vaccine after President Trump claimed a shot could be ready in weeks.
In an open letter to Pfizer employees, Bourla said the New York-based drugmaker is moving at “the speed of science” to develop a vaccine but expressed concern that “amplified political rhetoric” was undermining public confidence in the process.
“We would never succumb to political pressure,” Bourla wrote in the Thursday note. “The only pressure we feel — and it weighs heavy — are the billions of people, millions of businesses and hundreds of government officials that are depending on us.”
Bourla’s statement came two days after Trump name-checked Pfizer during Tuesday’s presidential debate as he argued the nation was “weeks away from a vaccine” — a claim that doesn’t jive with drugmakers’ own statements.
Asked whether top health officials in his administration were wrong to say a vaccine wouldn’t be widely available until next summer, Trump asserted that “we can have it a lot sooner.”
“It is a very political thing,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Pfizer, I’ve spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and others. They can go faster than that by a lot.”
Bourla has said that Pfizer may know by the end of October whether the vaccine it’s developing with German firm BioNTech works. Moderna, however, doesn’t expect sufficient results from its late-stage clinical trial until November, and Johnson & Johnson just started its Phase 3 study last week.
Bourla said he can’t make any guarantees about the timeline as Pfizer’s vaccine goes through its own Phase 3 trial because the US Food and Drug Administration will have to approve it.
“I can’t predict exactly when, or even if our vaccine will be approved by the FDA for distribution to the public,” Bourla wrote. “But I do know that the world will be safer if we stop talking about the vaccines’ delivery in political terms and focus instead on a rigorous independent scientific evaluation and a robust independent approval process.”
Pfizer and eight other companies working on COVID-19 vaccines also issued a statement last month pledging to make safety their top priority and follow “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles.”