Pfizer CEO ‘disappointed’ vaccine discussed ‘in political terms’ during presidential debate

The CEO of Pfizer wrote in a memo to employees on Thursday that he was “disappointed” that a coronavirus vaccine was “discussed in political terms” at the presidential debate on Tuesday, and pledged that his company would not be pressured politically.  

“Tuesday night I joined the millions of Americans who tuned in to the Presidential debate,” CEO Albert Bourla wrote in the memo. “Once more, I was disappointed that the prevention for a deadly disease was discussed in political terms rather than scientific facts.”

The memo comes amid widespread fears among public health experts that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE, seeking a boost ahead of the election, will put political pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a vaccine before one is ready.

Bourla has said that his company could be ready to apply for authorization as soon as October, a faster timeline than other companies and one that has raised further concerns about a pre-election approval. 

Bourla wrote in the memo Thursday that he would let science determine the timeline and neither speed up nor slow down because of politics. 

“In this hyper-partisan year, there are some who would like us to move more quickly and others who argue for delay,” he wrote. “Neither of those options are acceptable to me.”

Trump said at the debate Tuesday night that “we’re weeks away from a vaccine,” even though if development is following the scientific process, there is no way to know for sure when one will be ready until there is sufficient data from ongoing clinical trials. 

Moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceMichelle Obama sympathizes with viewers ‘turned off’ by Trump’s debate behavior It’s time to kill the presidential debates — they no longer serve their purpose Presidential debate raises the specter of election violence MORE noted to Trump that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and head of “Operation Warp Speed” Moncef Slaoui have both said that a vaccine will not be available widely to the general public until the middle of 2021. 

Trump pushed back on that timeline, saying “Well I’ve spoken to the companies, and we can have it a lot sooner.”

Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenPrivacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus Trump crowd chants ‘lock her up’ about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota MORE on Tuesday raised concerns with Trump overseeing a vaccine.

“We prefer a vaccine, but I don’t trust him at all, and neither do you, I know you don’t,” he said. “What we trust is a scientist.”  

There is a distinction between when a vaccine is shown to be safe and effective, and when it is available to the general public, given that the first doses will go to high risk groups like the elderly.  

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci calls for racial and ethnic diversity in coronavirus vaccine trials Fauci says his mask stance was ‘taken out of context’ by Trump Ocasio-Cortez, Warren pull out of New Yorker Festival amid labor dispute MORE, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, has said a vaccine could be shown to work in November or December, but experts say the timeline for widespread availability is likely the middle of next year. 

“We would never succumb to political pressure,” Bourla wrote in the memo. “The only pressure we feel—and it weighs heavy—are the billions of people, millions of businesses and hundreds of government officials that are depending on us. We’ve engaged with many elected leaders around the globe through this health crisis, but Pfizer took no investment money from any government. Our independence is a precious asset.” 

Trump raised further concerns about political pressure when he said at the end of September that he might not approve guidance from the FDA giving standards for the emergency approval of a vaccine, guidance that was intended to reassure the public about the rigorous standards for safety and efficacy. 

In another extraordinary move given Trump’s pressure, nine drug companies, including Pfizer, issued a joint pledge in early September not to seek approval for a vaccine until phase three clinical trials show it is safe and effective.  

In contrast to Pfizer’s timeline, though, the CEO of Moderna, another company working on a vaccine, told the Financial Times on Wednesday that his company would not apply for approval until Nov. 25 at the earliest.

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