Officials from Trump and Pfizer have confirmed that both parties are in talks to purchase additional doses from the government for distribution between April and June 2021. But time was limited because the United States has to deliver the goods at short notice while Pfizer juggles with global demand.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that a complicating factor in the negotiations is that Pfizer is experiencing supply chain problems that will make it more difficult for the company to produce an additional 100 million doses in the spring. The federal government is in talks with Pfizer about how it can help solve these production problems to get an extra 100 million doses, he said.
We are in active talks with Pfizer to exercise options on our contract, Mr. Azar said during a press briefing on the Warp Speed transaction. We are working with them on how we can help them to get extra doses.
Options include using the Defense Production Act to accelerate the production of some of the Pfizer raw materials to develop the vaccine, tell CNBC’s Azar Shepard Smith on Tuesday.
They are rather discreet about their production capacity and 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 this point, I can assure you that, as President, we will use all the means at the disposal of the United States Government to ensure that it has everything it needs to fulfil the contracts we need for the people of the United States.
In a briefing Wednesday, Azar suggested that Pfizer, which did not receive Warp Speed funding for the development of its vaccine, was not as ready to address production and manufacturing issues as other Warp Speed vaccine partners such as Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
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With the other five, we are more involved in continuously supporting the development and production of their products, while the relationship Pfizer wanted to have with the Warp Speed transaction was a guaranteed purchase of the vaccine if it had been approved by the FDA, which means we have become less visible in their manufacturing processes to date, Mr. Azar said.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday that it would be very positive if the United States used the Defense Production Act to help the company produce more vaccine faster.
This will allow us to maximize our chances, Burla told CNBC. We ask them to do that, and I hope they will do so soon, because for some parts we are working with critical supply shortages.
At the time of publication, Pfizer had not responded to CNN’s request for comments on ongoing negotiations and procurement issues.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Chief Scientific Advisor to Operation Warp Speed, described the relationship between Operation Warp Speed and vaccine companies, how some remain independent of government while others play a more active role.
Burla confirmed ongoing discussions between the federal government and Pfizer in a meeting with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Monday.
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The U.S. government is asking for more. They asked us for another 100 million cans, Burla said. We can give them an extra 100 million doses, but at the moment we can deliver most of them in the third quarter. The U.S. government wants them for the second quarter, so we are working closely with them to find ways to produce or distribute more boxes in the second quarter.
The Trump administration was criticized after the New York Times reported that the U.S. government had failed to secure an additional 100 million doses when Pfizer offered the option during the summer. The administration denied reports that it had rejected Pfizer’s proposal.
Slaoui, frustrated by the criticism, defended the administration’s plans to buy doses of the six candidate companies for the Covid 19 vaccine in a telephone conversation with journalists on Wednesday as part of the Warp Speed operation.
I think any reasonable person would understand that we have created and developed a portfolio of vaccines so that (a) one actually reached the finish line and (b) if more than one reached the finish line, we could accumulate and store doses of vaccine faster than if we rely on a single supplier, he said over the phone. So I really hope that once and for all it doesn’t make sense to order more from one manufacturer than another.
Nadia Kunang of CNN contributed to this report.