Last week, President Trump sparred with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that reported positive results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. After reporting early results from its vaccine trial, Pfizer’s communications team was quick to point out that it did not receive funding from the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine-development program.
“Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing costs have been entirely self-funded,” Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said this week. “We decided to self-fund our efforts so we could move as fast as possible.”
True, but the federal government did agree to purchase 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at a price tag of nearly $2 billion if it proved to be effective. Pfizer should thank its lucky stars that it inked that deal, because the vaccine developed by Cambridge-based biotech firm Moderna appears to have two key advantages:
(1) It can be stored in regular refrigerators for up to 30 days, whereas the Pfizer candidate must be kept in industrial freezers at -70° C.
(2) It showed efficacy in preventing severe infections, which the Pfizer candidate has yet to demonstrate.
Until trials are completed and peer-reviewed, we won’t know which vaccine is superior. Other factors, such as the duration of efficacy and effects on different populations (age, medical background, etc.), are still unknown.
But by guaranteeing a massive purchase order, the U.S. government reduced the risk of competition to vaccine developers. That allowed Pfizer to develop its vaccine candidate irrespective of the possibility that it would be outdone by a different company, and it was the right decision.
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