HHS Secretary Azar says Pfizer retains U.S. at ‘arm’s size’ on manufacturing


Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Thursday he wanted “more insight” into how the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is made. The US drug manufacturer kept the federal government on a “customary market basis” throughout the process.

Unlike other drug companies, Pfizer did not accept federal funding to develop or manufacture its vaccine. Pfizer has signed a contract with the United States to supply 100 million doses of its vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed. This is enough to vaccinate 50 million Americans, as the vaccine takes two doses three weeks apart. Pfizer is currently negotiating an additional 100 million doses with the US.

“You’re part of Operation Warp Speed, but … it’s a different relationship” than the government deals with Moderna and other federal drug companies that have received federal funding, Azar told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” during an interview Thursday morning. “We’re entering into a contract, giving (Pfizer) a guaranteed purchase that allows them to make capital investments, having a predictable buyer, but we don’t have a full view of their manufacturing because they kept it a little more in line with the market.”

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

“We are working with Pfizer. We are very optimistic that we will be securing additional volumes in the second quarter, but they will need our help making them,” he said. Azar also noted that Pfizer originally said it would produce 100 million cans by the end of the year but “had to cut that in half to 50 million”.

Pfizer did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Pfizer’s vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use on Friday. The first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were shipped to the United States over the weekend and the Americans received gunfire on Monday.

The initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine are limited as production begins. Officials predict it will be months before everyone in the US who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated. The US shipped 2.9 million doses of the vaccine this week with an additional 2 million expected next week, 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 target for vaccine launch 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 increasing the size of a vaccine at an “unprecedented” pace.

When asked on Thursday why Pfizer is unable to produce more cans, the US would offer to “help them get higher yields if they are willing to enlist our help.”

He said the problem is not a question of cost, adding, “We are working with them.

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