Was the Pfizer Vaccine Part of Trump’s Warp Speed Plan? It’s Complicated.

President-elect Joe Biden is shown speaking on a monitor about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the briefing room of the White House on November 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. The drug maker Pfizer announced that a coronavirus vaccine trial suggested their vaccine was up to ninety percent effective in preventing Covid-19. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

By Elle Meyers

November 9, 2020

Early data shows the COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective at preventing the virus, beating early expectations.

Pfizer announced promising early results from their coronavirus vaccine trial, with data suggesting their vaccine is 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. That would make it far better at preventing the spread of the coronavirus than scientists had predicted at the start of a hunt for a vaccine.

The Trump administration tried to claim credit for the success, but Pfizer was not part of any White House efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine. 

“We have never taken any money from the US government, or from anyone,” Kathrin Jansen told the New York Times. Jansen serves as the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer. 

The company’s only connection to Operation Warp Speed was an agreement to give the government 100 million doses of the vaccine, assuming it passes FDA approval, for $1.95 billion. The goal of the agreement was to get the vaccine to the public for free, according to Newsweek.

After pressure from the White House, Sharon Castillo, a Pfizer spokesperson, clarified to CNN that the company is part of Warp Speed as a supplier of the vaccine, but did not take money for the research process.

“Pfizer is one of various vaccine manufacturers participating in Operation Warp Speed as a supplier of a potential COVID-19 vaccine,” Castillo said in an email to CNN. “While Pfizer did reach an advanced purchase agreement with the U.S. government, the company did not accept (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) funding for the research and development process. All the investment for R&D was made by Pfizer at risk. Dr. Jansen was emphasizing that last point.”

The Pfizer announcement also prompted unsubstantiated speculations that the company was withholding promising news until after the election. 

“The timing of this [news] is pretty amazing. Nothing nefarious about the timing of this at all right?” Donald Trump Jr. asked his Twitter followers on Monday. 

But Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla debunked that claim in an interview with CNN. 

“We announced it the moment we learned about it, and I said multiple times the election for us is an artificial timeline. This is when science brought it to us,” Bourla said.

The encouraging data puts Pfizer on track to apply for emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later this month. The news came as the United States is grappling with a renewed surge of the virus that has already killed more than 200,000 Americans. 

The data released Monday was based on the first formal review conducted by an outside panel of experts. Pfizer, who developed the vaccine alongside German drugmaker BioNTech, had not yet released extensive information about their trial.

If the results hold up to scrutiny, that would put the vaccine in line with other highly effective vaccines administered in early childhood. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said the results were “just extraordinary.” He added that “not very many people expected it would be as high as that.” 

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” he said.

Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be pleased to see a vaccine that was 60% effective at preventing the virus. For months, scientists have warned that any available COVID-19 vaccine could only be as effective as the flu shot, which is typically 50% effective and requires yearly shots.  

Assuming Pfizer’s vaccine is approved by the FDA the two-dose system could begin to be administered before the end of the year. However, short supply as drug makers ramp up their manufacturing, at least initially, could mean doses must be rationed. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

UPDATE Nov. 13, 2020, 5:05 p.m.: This story was updated on Nov. 13, 2020, to include additional comments from Pfizer on the company’s status in Operation Warp Speed.


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