The following is a transcript of an interview with Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla that aired Sunday, September 13, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the companies hard at work on developing a vaccine for COVID-19 is Pfizer, and CEO Albert Bourla joins us now from Westchester, New York. Good morning to you.
PFIZER CEO DOCTOR ALBERT BOURLA: Good morning, MARGARET.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you still expect to know by next month if your vaccine is effective?
DR. BOURLA: Yes, in our base case, we have quite the good- it’s more than 60% that we will know if the product works or not by the end of October. But of course that doesn’t mean that it works. It means that we will know if it works.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And then the time clock starts on government approval, which is a key factor there. I want to ask you about an announcement from Pfizer yesterday, which was that you’re going to expand your vaccine trial to increase diversity. You’re going to go from 30,000 people up to 44,000. What do you mean by diversity and what does it do for you?
DR. BOURLA: Yes, this study has recruited very quickly. So volunteers from all over the country raised their hands to participate. So we are al- almost done with 30,000 people. Now, we feel quite comfortable with the safety of the product. So we want to expand to more vulnerable populations. For example, we go to younger people. Right now, the study recruits from 18 to 85. Now we will go to 16 years old. Also, we will go to people with special conditions, chronic conditions like H- HIV patients, but also we will try to use it to increase the diversity of the population.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And by diversity, I know in your current study, about a quarter of the participants are racial minorities. We know that when it comes to the infections from COVID-19, it is Black and brown America that is disproportionately being hit. Is it hard to recruit racial minorities for your test? And- and should there be more in this next phase? If you’re going from a quarter, what’s your goal for the percentage this time?
DR. BOURLA: Yeah, I think we should strive to have as- as more diverse population as possible, but right now we are not bad. Actually, we have a population that globally only 60% are Caucasians, 40% approximately are minorities. Also, 44% are older people. And we try, of course, to- to increase with particular emphasis on African-Americans and Latinos.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Those specific racial minorities- minorities are who you’re targeting. Why is it hard to recruit them in the first place?
DR. BOURLA: I think it’s not more hard than the other people, but it is also the focus of our vaccine’s efforts are in places where there is a lot of disease right now. And that reflects, I think, also the diversity of the population where our clinical sites are, not necessarily the nation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Pfizer and a handful of the other big pharma companies came out with this letter earlier in the week pledging not to cut corners on safety. A number of prominent scientists at the FDA, the agency that will have to say whether your vaccine is safe, also came out with a public letter pledging the same. Can you say to our viewers, though, very clearly here on the science and on the protocols that it- just they’re going to have to wait until 2021 to get that shot in the arm?
DR. BOURLA: I don’t know if they have to wait until 2021, because, as I said, our studies, we have a good chance that we will know if the product works by the end of October. And then, of course, it is regulator’s job to issue a license or not. But what I know is we have to go out and–
MARGARET BRERNNAN: So you think you could get the FDA to approve it as safe and distribute it across to Americans before the end of the year?
DR. BOURLA: I cannot say what the FDA will do. But I think it’s a likely scenario, and we are preparing for it. For example, we started already manufacturing and we have already manufactured hundreds of thousands of doses, so just in case we have a good study readout, conclusive and FDA plus the advisory committee feels comfortable that we will be ready.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are six US pharmaceutical companies that have taken money from U.S. taxpayers as part of this investment to- to jump start a vaccine. Your company chose not to take that taxpayer money as part of your research, which means if you fail, that comes at a loss to Pfizer and your own pocketbook. So why do you think that’s worth the risk? And what is it actually buy you? How much faster do things work?
DR. BOURLA: You’re right, if it fails, it goes to our pocket. And at the end of the day, it’s only money. That will not break the company, although it is going to be painful because we are investing one billion and a half at least in COVID right now. But the reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone that always comes with strings. They want to see how we are going to progress, what type of moves you are going to do. They want reports. I didn’t want to have any of that. I wanted them- basically I gave them an open checkbook so that they can worry only about scientific challenges, not anything else. And also, I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics, by the way.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, on- out of politics, it’s interesting because we’re talking, of course, about people being concerned of political influence to try to expedite a vaccine. I know you’re saying that you won’t cut corners to do that. But, backing up, to the question of when this is available to American people, what do you think is the best way to distribute it to the American people? Should the government be doing that?
DR. BOURLA: If you are speaking about who should get it or not, I do think that the healthcare authorities of every–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Not just who but how.
DR. BOURLA: The how I think is going to be very difficult for the government to do it. Likely they will collaborate with us because shipping medicines, it is complex and particularly when you want special storage conditions. But we know how to do it very well. So I think it’s going to be a collaboration between the government of each country and us. But to who will get the vaccine, I think it’s something that the authorities should decide. In the U.S., for example, the CDC.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Bourla, good luck to your scientists. Thank you for your time today. And we’ll be right back with more FACE THE NATION. So stay with us.