Health and Human Resources Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday he wanted to achieve “greater visibility” in Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine production, adding that the U.S. pharmaceutical company had kept the federal government “at arm’s length” throughout the process.
Unlike other pharmaceutical manufacturers, Pfizer has not accepted federal funding to help develop or manufacture the vaccine. Pfizer has entered into an agreement with the United States to supply 100 million doses of vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed, enough to vaccinate 50 million Americans, as the vaccine requires two doses, three weeks apart. Pfizer is currently in talks with the United States to administer an additional 100 million doses.
“They are part of Operation Warp Speed, but … it’s a different relationship,” than the government’s deal with Moderna and other pharmaceutical companies that demanded federal funding, Azar told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in a Thursday morning interview. . “We make a contract, we give a guaranteed purchase to (Pfizer) that allows them to make capital investments, a predictable buyer, but they don’t have full overview of their production because it’s kept within a little more arm.”
But Azar said he wants the federal government’s relationship with Pfizer to change.
“We are working with Pfizer. We are very confident that we will provide additional quantities in the second quarter, but they will need help from us during production,” he said. Azar also noted that Pfizer originally said it would produce 100 million servings by the end of the year, but “it had to halve that to 50 million.”
Pfizer did not respond immediately to CNBC’s comments.
Vaccination with Pfizer was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday for emergency use. The first batches of Pfizer vaccine began shipping to the United States over the weekend, and the Americans began receiving shots on Monday.
The initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine is limited as production accelerates, with officials predicting it will take months to immunize everyone in the U.S. who wants to be vaccinated. The U.S. delivered 2.9 million doses of the vaccine this week, with an additional 2 million expected next week, said Army General Gustave Perna, who oversees the logistics of Operation Warp Speed. The United States hopes to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the goal of introducing the Pfizer vaccine is to deliver 50 million doses worldwide by the end of the year, only half of what was originally planned. Pfizer said in a statement that a number of factors have influenced the number of estimated doses, including increasing the vaccine at an “unprecedented” rate.
Azar said on Thursday why Pfizer is unable to produce more doses, the United States offers to help them “achieve higher returns if they are willing to use our help.”
He said the issue was not a cost issue and added: “We are working with them.
“These are very fruitful debates,” he said. “We are using the full power of the US government to help and maximize production, as we have always been willing to. I am very confident that we will get to a good place there.”