Covid vaccine: Delivery problems prevent Pfizer from providing supplemental vaccine more quickly

Officials from the Trump administration and Pfizer confirmed that the two sides are negotiating with the government to purchase the additional doses for distribution between April and June 2021. But the timing has been a sticking point as the US is screaming to deliver as soon as possible. . Pfizer juggles with global demand.

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that a complicating factor in the negotiations is that Pfizer has a number of supply chain issues that will make it more challenging for the company to produce an additional 100 million doses in the spring. The federal government is negotiating with Pfizer to see how it can help with those manufacturing issues to get the extra 100 million doses, he said.

“We are in active discussions with Pfizer about exercising options under our contract,” Azar said during a newsletter on Operation Warp Speed. “We’ve worked with them to find out what kind of help is right for us to provide additional doses.”

Options on the table include using the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of some of the raw materials Pfizer needs to develop the vaccine, Azar said in an interview with CNBC’s Shepard Smith on Tuesday.

“They’re more secretive with us about their manufacturing capabilities, their needs. So we can’t know they have a resource problem until they tell us they have a resource problem,” Azar said on CNBC. And at that point, I can assure you that, like the President, we will use every power of the US government to make sure they have what they need to fulfill the contracts we need for the American people . ‘

During Wednesday’s briefing, Azar suggested that Pfizer – which did not receive funding from Operation Warp Speed ​​to develop its vaccine – had not been as forthright about manufacturing issues and the manufacturing process as other Operation Warp Speed ​​vaccine partner companies, such as Moderna, Johnson. & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
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“The other five we are more involved in supporting their product development and manufacturing on an ongoing basis, while the relationship Pfizer wanted with Operation Warp Speed ​​was the guaranteed purchase of a vaccine, if approved by the FDA, and that means we have had less visibility into their manufacturing processes so far, ”said Azar.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday it would be “very positive” if the US decided to use the Defense Production Act to help the company produce more vaccines faster.

“It will allow us to maximize what we can do,” Bourla said in an interview with CNBC. “We ask them, and I hope they will do it very soon as we face critical supply constraints for some components.”

Pfizer had not responded to CNN’s request for comment on ongoing negotiations and supply issues at the time of publication.

Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientific advisor, described the relationship between Operation Warp Speed ​​and the companies producing vaccine candidates as some of them keeping the government more at bay, while others were “more involved.”

Bourla confirmed ongoing negotiations between the federal government and Pfizer during an interview with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Monday.

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“The US government is asking for more. They have now asked for an additional 100 million doses from us,” said Bourla. “We can give them the extra 100 million doses, but right now we can provide most of it in the third quarter. The US government wants them in the second quarter, so we’re working closely with them to make sure we can. find ways to produce more or allocate the doses in the second quarter. ”

The Trump administration was criticized after The New York Times reported that the U.S. administration had failed to secure an additional 100 million doses when Pfizer offered that option this summer. The administration has denied reports that it rejected this offer from Pfizer.

Frustrated by that criticism, Slaoui defended the government’s plans to buy doses from all six companies with Covid-19 vaccine candidates during Wednesday’s Operation Warp Speed ​​call with reporters.

“I think any reasonable person would understand that we have built and developed a portfolio of vaccines to ensure that a) one of them actually makes it to the finish line and b) if more than one make it to the finish line. that we can build up and accumulate vaccine doses faster than if we relied on one supplier, “he said during the conversation. “So to be honest, I hope that once and for all it wouldn’t make sense to book more with one manufacturer than with any other.”

CNN’s Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.