HHS Secretary Azar says Pfizer is keeping the US at bay on manufacturing

Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said on Thursday that he would like “more visibility” in the production of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, adding that the US drug company has kept the federal government at bay throughout the process.

Unlike other drug makers, Pfizer did not accept federal funding to help develop or manufacture its vaccine. Pfizer has a deal with the US to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed, enough to inoculate 50 million Americans, as the vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart. Pfizer is also negotiating with the US for an additional 100 million doses.

“They’re part of Operation Warp Speed, but … it’s a different relationship” than the government’s agreements with Moderna and other drug companies that have accepted federal funding, Azar told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” during an interview Thursday. . “We contract, give [Pfizer] a guaranteed purchase, which allows them to make capital investments, have a predictable buyer, but we don’t have a full view of their manufacturing because they kept that a little more poor. “

But Azar said he would like the federal government’s relationship with Pfizer to change.

“We are partnering with Pfizer. We are very optimistic that we will provide additional volumes in the second quarter, but they will need help from us in their production,” he said. Azar also noted that Pfizer initially said it would produce 100 million doses by the end of the year, but “had to cut that in half to 50 million.”

Later Thursday, Pfizer released a statement saying the company “has no manufacturing problems with our COVID-19 vaccine, and that no shipments of the vaccine have been suspended or delayed.”

It said the company has also “continuously” shared information during weekly meetings with HHS and Operation Warp Speed ​​about “every aspect of our manufacturing and distribution capabilities.”

“They visited our facilities, walked the production lines, and updated our production schedule as soon as information became available,” said Pfizer.

The vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use on Friday. The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were shipped from the US over the weekend, and the Americans received injections on Monday.

Initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine are limited as production increases, and officials predict it will take months to immunize anyone in the US who wants to be vaccinated. The US shipped 2.9 million doses of the vaccine this week, with a further 2 million expected next week, Army General Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, told reporters on Wednesday. The US hopes to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer’s vaccination target of 50 million doses worldwide by the end of the year was only half of what it originally planned. In a statement, Pfizer said there were several factors influencing the number of estimated doses, including scaling a vaccine at an “unprecedented” rate.

When asked Thursday why Pfizer is unable to produce more doses, Azar said the US would offer to “help them get a higher yield if they are willing to ask for our help.”

He said it was not a matter of cost, adding, “We’re working with them.”

“They are very productive discussions,” he said. “We will use the full strength of the US government to help and maximize production, as we have always wanted to do. I am very optimistic that we will find a good place there.”