Full transcript: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on "Face the Nation," March 13, 2022
The following is a full transcript of an interview with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla that aired Sunday, March 13, 2022, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: Here now is the Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla. Welcome to Face the Nation.
PFIZER CEO DOCTOR ALBERT BOURLA: Thank you very much for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And it's good to have you in person for this conversation. You know, just this past week, the global death toll from COVID hit six million people. And yet here in the United States, the last state is lifting its mask requirement. Where do you think we are in this recovery?
DR. BOURLA: You know, I think we have done way better than while things could have been done, but clearly we are not where we would all like to be, which is COVID is behind us. I think that right now we have very significant tools in our hands so that we can go gradually, I think, back to our normal lives. But we need to understand that the COVID will not go away in the years to come. We will have to live- to learn how to live with it, and we can, as we are living with many- so many other viruses.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Learning to live with it also means sort of preparing for what's next. And Omicron was the first variant to really pierce the immunity that the vaccine offered. Do you think that we will every fall have to prepare ourselves for a booster shot with COVID, just like we get a flu shot?
DR. BOURLA: I think so. And I think this is what we are trying now to make. First of all, we try very diligently to stay ahead of the virus because, as you said, many variants are coming and Omicron was the first one that was able to evade in a skillful way, the immune protection that we're giving. But also, we know that the duration of the protection doesn't last very long. Not only of the vaccine, but also the people that are getting sick. They are not getting very durable immune protection. If you get sick, you can get sick again next year with the same--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --like four months or something like that--
DR. BOURLA: Exactly, exactly. So what we are trying to do, and we are working very diligently right now, it is to make not only a vaccine that will protect against all variants, including Omicron, but also something that can protect for at least a year. And if we be able to achieve that, then I think it is very easy to follow and remember so that we can go back to really the way used to live.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you've seen some of that data on a- on a fourth dose, a second booster shot. You think it will be necessary.
DR. BOURLA: Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary, a fourth booster right now. The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths. It's not that good against infections, but doesn't last very long. But we are just submitting those data to the FDA and then we will see what the experts also will say outside Pfizer.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And last time you submitted to the FDA on booster shots, there was this confusing back and forth with the public, with the FDA saying, no, it's not needed, and they changed their minds and said it was needed. Can you avoid that kind of confusion this time around?
DR. BOURLA: I think so. I think so. And I think right now we need to be very well-coordinated, CDC, FDA and the industry so that we are all providing to the American people and to the world a cohesive picture rather than confusion.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the question that was number one on my list and I think for so many parents, is when will the vaccine be available for those children, five and under? This is the last part of the population that doesn't have any kind of protection from a vaccine.
DR. BOURLA: You're right, and I hope that we will have those data next month.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Next month?
DR. BOURLA: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which would put us on track for potentially a May availability--
DR. BOURLA: Potentially May if it works, if the answer will do their utmost to review them fast. So and we will be ready with manufacturing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, if you look at the effect of Omicron, this was the first variant that really hit kids in a measurable way, in a significant way, and we saw hospitalizations really climb there. And I wonder, because it was the one variant that really impacted kids. It hit when a vaccine could have been available. A two-dose vaccine could have been available, but the FDA slowed that down, said, let's wait for a data on three doses. Do you think that having made that vaccine available, it would have saved lives and helped kids stay out of the hospital?
DR. BOURLA: First of all, I think I need to correct something. FDA was very keen to submit. Actually, they were the ones who asked us to submit on two doses. We were a little bit reluctant to submit to two doses because we felt that the three dose is what kids will need. Eventually, in reviewing the situation with them, we all agreed that it's better if we wait for the three doses to come out because it's one thing it is to have a vaccine out there, and the other thing it is to have a clear picture for the parents by all scientists that they all agree, CDC, FDA, the industry, academia, that it is the right thing to do for the kids. And I think the three doses likely will provide the very strong set of evidence, so everybody will agree.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you had a back and forth there. I mean, it was whiplash for parents. That was very frustrating. Was it frustrating for you?
DR. BOURLA: It- it- not frustrating for me, but I understand the parents, what was very frustrating and it was a frustration that was caused by good intent. Everybody was trying to see if we can save lives by submitting earlier data, eventually concluded that the best thing to do for the kids, it is the way to have a full set of data that provides full, transparent proof about what the vaccine can do to the kids.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't think that should have happened differently?
DR. BOURLA: I think we could have managed it differently, but eventually we are in the right place as to what the situation is.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So now that we're talking about a vaccine being available to kids five and up, it's readily available. But then in the state of Florida, for example, you have their surgeon general saying healthy kids in that age group shouldn't be vaccinated. That contradicts what the CDC is recommending. When you hear recommendations like that, what do you think?
DR. BOURLA: I'm sad. I don't agree with this recommendation, clearly, uh, you know, authorities are the ones that they have the duty to recommend, but I don't agree with this recommendation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean, the specific statement was based on the data. Healthy children five to 17 may not benefit. The Florida health authorities are only recommending kids with underlying conditions. You know this vaccine.
DR. BOURLA: I know.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For healthy children, do they need to be protected?
DR. BOURLA: I think they need to be protected.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you've seen the data to say that would make a difference, how? Because so many parents do wonder with these younger age groups if it's the right choice to go ahead.
DR. BOURLA: It is the right choice. This is what I believe and this is also what the authorities of all the world believe, with the exception, of course, of Florida.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Pfizer also announced that you're beginning a trial of a drug, or you're in the process of a trial of a drug that would help kids with COVID stay out of the hospital. So if they get sick, it would potentially lessen the severity of- of the virus. That's for ages six to 17. When does this become available to kids? Is this before they go back to school in the fall? What should parents be expecting?
DR. BOURLA: It is a study- it's a very large study. It is the same treatment that it is right now available for adults 18 and above. And indeed, the results of the study demonstrated that when you take these pills, it's a treatment for mouth. Instead of 10 people going to hospital, only one will go. Nine of them will not. It's a 90 percent protection approach. The studies will be event driven. So we are going to a very big number of kids and we're waiting to see how many will go to hospital, how many want to go to hospitals. So will depend a little bit on- on the intensity of the disease and how quickly we can recruit those kids. But we'll take a few months and the goal will be to be before the schools open in the fall, yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And then you'll look at it for children ages six and under?
DR. BOURLA: We are looking for kids six and under, either in different doses or in different formulations. We are not about to start the study, but we are very intensively working for this population as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So should there- taking a step back from the immediate and yes, I have young kids, so that's why I'm asking you all of this too. But a large portion of the population is concerned about what's safe and what's next. When you look at the question of pandemic preparedness, in hindsight, do you think that the US government should have focused more on treatments instead of going all in on vaccines? How would you change a US government approach for the next time?
DR. BOURLA: Look, I think they did the right thing to focus a lot on vaccines. And by the way, it was the only thing available massively at that time. We had treatments that they could only be delivered in hospitals and they were having plenty of them. Now there is also oral treatment, which can prevent people from going to hospital once they get sick. But that should be complementary to the vaccination protocol. And I think that's exactly what the U.S. government is doing. And actually, actually this is what all the governments of the world are doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the pill you're talking about--
DR. BOURLA: --Yes--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to keep kids out of the hospital if they get COVID. Would something like that have been available to people earlier if there had been an Operation Warp Speed for treatments like there was for vaccines?
DR. BOURLA: I think there was pretty much an Operation Warp Speed for everything. It was covering treatments and vaccines. It was way more challenging to bring treatment that is effective, that it is oral. We have the antibodies that they were available from the- from the early days.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --That's intravenous--
DR. BOURLA: But these are intravenous. You need really to go to the hospital to get it. The question is how can we avoid sending people to hospital? And once they get COVID, even before they have symptoms or serious symptoms, if they can just take the pills and know that will be a very light form of COVID, then you stay home few days, and that's it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In your book, you spend a lot of time laying out some of the conversations you've had with world leaders, with governments. The World Health Organization in particular, one of those global health institutions the world look to for solutions. They've been very critical of pharmaceutical companies, particularly when it comes to the question of equity, access to vaccines. How do you propose ironing that out? Because this- it seems like ones pointing to the other here, that it's not- it's not a last mile problem, the W.H.O. says. It's- it's not the host government's problem. Where is pharmaceutical companies' role here?
DR. BOURLA: I think there is a unanimous acceptance right now by W.H.O.. I was in a meeting last week with, uh, with W.H.O. and WTO--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --The World Trade Organization--
DR. BOURLA: The World Trade Organization and the World Bank and everybody else. And it is very clear that there is plenty of eligibility of vaccines right now for everyone, which is exactly what, if you remember, I had predicted and I had promised to the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You can manufacture it.
DR. BOURLA: We already have manufactured it, so the vaccines are available to those countries and in fact, they are available free, completely free. Because the US government, the Biden administration, has an agreement with us. They bought a billion doses that we give at cost. We don't make money, we are not losing money. And then the government gives them completely for free to the poorest countries of the world. The problem with those countries is that they say now, don't give us anymore, we can't take it. Although the vaccination rates are very low in these countries. They cannot take more because they are lacking infrastructure and they have very high percentages of hesitancy. I had already from the first half of the year when, for example, W.H.O. was focusing much more on, you need to give them from what we didn't have at the time. I was saying that we need to prepare those countries, they don't have the preparedness level that when availability, when supply will become available, and it will become pretty soon in months, to be able to absorb it. And that, I think, was the mistake that we all did. We didn't focus much on that in the last year so that now that we have plenty of vaccines, the vaccines could also go into the arms. Lesson learned, I think.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Set up more on the ground, what, clinics? Organizations?
DR. BOURLA: It's very simple to do vaccinations, as you know. But for these countries, it's not necessarily given. They need someone that can make injection. They need to have syringes. They need to have a place that people can come and they need to do educational campaigns because the misinformation flies even more over there. And unfortunately, there is a lot of hesitancy on people receiving the vaccines. If you see the percentage of people that are not receiving vaccines in different countries in the world, it's highly correlated with the income of the country. And unfortunately, with the educational level of the country. The poorest countries, they have a bigger percentage of their population, which is not well-educated, and as a result, they are victims of misinformation. So they have why hire people that they don't get it?
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you attribute vaccine hesitancy in this country to then?
DR. BOURLA: Look, the people that they are afraid or they don't want to get the vaccine, it's a small percentage, but sizable, right? But it's the minority. They are good people. Most of them are afraid. They are afraid, either of the needles. They are afraid either of putting something new into themselves. Sometimes this fear, they try to find a way out and they think COVID is not a problem because the fear of getting it is what it is there. They are good people. Who are professionally trying to profit from that are the people that they are feeding this misinformation, feeding misinformation to this population. And this is a very small percentage of people, but they are professionals.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But there is skepticism of pharmaceutical companies profiting from this as well. You lay out how you landed on the price of the vaccine in your book. Explain that.
DR. BOURLA: Well, you know, the way that we price medicines it is, we try to understand what is the value that they bring to society. So we try to say, for example, the medicines for heart attacks, as I say in the book, you give it to 100 people. If you have five of them less heart attacks, you calculate how much it cost to give to 100 people. How much will cost less, five of them heart attacks. And then you try to find what is cost effective. This is what typical we do. When we try to do that with COVID, clearly, we could price the the vaccine in the hundreds of dollars and still be--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --600 dollars--
DR. BOURLA: 600 dollars would be cost neutral to the health care system, not taking into consideration that the economy would open. And then you bring commander value. So we said we can't go there. Then our first thoughts was, let's price it the same way that we price any new vaccine of high technology, which is typically from one hundred fifty to hundred to two hundred fifty dollars in the US. But then I realized that because of the pandemic and because of the focus that everybody will have, if we had, because I didn't know at the time, a successful vaccine, we can have an opportunity to reset the reputation of the industry. That people could really realize that there is value to society from the existence of a thriving life sciences industry. So I decided, I said, what is the lowest price that the vaccine is sold? And they told me the flu vaccines, between 20 and 70. And I said go to the lower end for the high income countries, which is the price that you all know. The middle income countries, we started giving it at half this cost from the beginning and the low income countries, at cost.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You just said help the industry's reputation. You write about this in the book. You said, "the pharmaceutical industry had been under fire for the last two decades. In the United States, pharmaceuticals ranked near the bottom of all sectors right next to the government in terms of reputation." I'm sure right next to journalists too. But do you think that there has been a change in the perception of the pharmaceutical industry? I mean, Big Pharma is a very popular applause line on the campaign trail for both parties.
DR. BOURLA: Correct. And it was for, as I said, for years. And there are mistakes that have been done also by the Big Pharma and by the industry. But I truly believe that there is no other industry that is producing so much good for humanity than the life sciences sector. What we see now after we were able to step up and provide solutions, a significant uplift on the reputation of the industry. And Pfizer, of course, is among the first ones. That's a fact, we can see it with polls. What is also true in my mind is that it can easily go down. If we do once the wrong move, it will go down. Reputation is something that you earn in drops, you can lose it in buckets. So I treasure what we have right now, the high reputation. And I am committed to make sure that we will always do the right thing so that will maintain it there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In his State of the Union address, President Biden talked about the inflation problem in this country, and he talked about drug prices and pharmaceutical companies. He talked about insulin. He says he also wants Medicare to help set pricing. What do you make of that? What would that mean for consumers?
DR. BOURLA: Look, I think there is a significant problem with the pricing of drugs in the America, but there are two distinct. One is what is the cost of medicines to the system, to Medicare, to the government, to employers? And this is 12 percent of the total cost of health care costs, which by definition cannot be the big problem if you are 12 percent, but they occupy 90 percent of the headlines. Why? Which is the second problem, there is the issue of how much it cost to the American, to the- not to the system, but out of the pocket for the insured patient. And over there for medicines, Americans are paying like if they don't have insurance, although they have. And in fact, with a strange system of rebates, they pay almost double the price out of the pocket than what the insurance companies will pay us. So that is something that we need to fix. In the Biden suggestions there were in- in the Build Better Back, there were some provisions that I think that were absolutely right that were reducing the instituting out-of-pocket cap for medicines. I think that is something that we must do. And in fact, we also, in addition to that, make sure that any discounts that we give to the insurance companies, they also find their way to the patients. I agree absolutely with that. There are other parts that they don't agree. For example, what is called negotiation, there's no negotiation. It's a price setting. The Secretary of Health will say this is the price that I'm telling you to sell, and if you don't agree, you are getting 95 percent penalty. This is clearly price setting, it is not a negotiation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, in your book, you do write about the Biden administration. You have a good relationship with President Biden.
DR. BOURLA: Very good.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You say. But you did have some political pressure from his administration as well. You say the administration repeatedly said that it will waive intellectual property protections in order to help global equity, essentially giving out your recipe to other manufacturers. Right? You say you felt betrayed by the administration when they announced that they would waive intellectual property rights. Betrayed?
DR. BOURLA: Betrayed. Because I–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did they tell you they weren't going to do it, and then they announced this?
DR. BOURLA: No, it's not that. It is that they knew very well that this measure will not bring the results that was intended to bring. They knew very well all the details that there were not enough vaccines for all the world at a time, not because of intellectual property barriers, but because raw materials were not available at the time, because the MRNA technology that was the prevailing technology was very new. So we built everything from scratch. And they knew that even if they give the intellectual property to anyone, no one will be able to make. But nevertheless, they did it, and I think that was a mistake. But you know, this is happening in administrations. Not everybody, even within the administration agrees with every single point of the policy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well specifically the US trade representative that you write about who had made the announcement and you said after it was made, presidents and prime ministers of many countries called you surprised that America made this announcement. And you said it was something toothless being given to the progressive wing of the party that was against the pharmaceutical industry.
DR. BOURLA: I did say that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
DR. BOURLA: I truly believe that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You believe that- that this was just playing politics?
DR. BOURLA: Yes, when you say I support the waiver of intellectual property, you know that in an organization of unanimity. And you know that the whole Europe is against it. You know that this will never fly. So, but it is and is an easy give.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Just a PR stunt, basically because it didn't go anywhere.
DR. BOURLA: It didn't go anywhere. And by the way, we just had this discussion. Margaret's right that right now everybody knows what is the problem with this country is not the availability of vaccines, it is the availability of infrastructure and education.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So would you be opposed to unauthorized versions of your vaccine? Your partners have- have said they won't go after those who violate in Africa?
DR. BOURLA: Let me clarify for the pill, which is way easier to manufacture it, we waived already all our intellectual rights. We gave the rights to the Medicines Patent Pool, which is a United Nations backed organization, and every generic company in the world can apply, manufacture it and give it and we don't take any royalties. That's easy to do because it's a pill that's very easy to manufacture. RNA technology was highly sophisticated, and it was not possible for anyone to manufacture it unless they had extremely high scientific technical skills to manufacture at scale, which very few had in the world, very few.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So it's not something that could, even if these intellectual property rights were waived, you're saying it couldn't be delivered on?
MARGARET BRENNAN: It couldn't be delivered. And in fact, as I said, you're right, Moderna had said that they could do it, we don't enforce any intellectual property. No one did it. And by the way, we started it ourselves, also moving technology so that we can make parts of this, at least in Africa.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are a global corporation. How is the instability in Europe right now regarding Russia and Ukraine impacting you?
DR. BOURLA: Look, the financial impact, it is very minimal in terms of, you know, Russia was maybe less than half percent of our total revenue. So this is not the point. But the- the security issues for all of us and the pain that we are witnessing right now because of this war, this invasion, of course, is heartbreaking.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you expect supply chain issues or pricing effects from this?
DR. BOURLA: No, I don't think that we will have. We are very independent in terms of our supplying our ingredients from those parts of the world. We are not making over there medicines. We do- do make some medicines in Russia for Russia, but we do not export. We do not expect to see in the world any disruptions, right now at least, because of this war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you- you don't plan then to divest from Russia?
DR. BOURLA: We- we have very few things. You know, the- the issue is that during every time that you have bans or, let's say, trade restrictions, typically they don't apply to medicines because it's about lives. How can you say I'm not going to send the cancer medicines to Russians because of what they did? Usually they are exempt from- from this, let's say, situations, but clearly we are not planned to invest in Russia and you have very little investments there frankly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Currently, you have very little investments there--
DR. BOURLA: --Currently.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Operation Warp Speed and how all of this played out, because I think there are some lessons to be learned for the next time. So you, when you were last on this program, it was September of 2020 and you said at the time you were deciding not to take taxpayer dollars because you said "it would liberate scientists from any bureaucracy when you get money from someone that always comes with strings." So you expected political pressure from the get go?
DR. BOURLA: And not only political. Political I had anyway taking the money or not. There was tremendous political pressure. We need to make a vaccine, but if you take the money, then you have also bureaucratic pressure. So what would be the start when it starts? Are you going to do it in Brazil or in Argentina? I mean, all of that that the people think entitled to be part of the decision making and rightfully so, if it is taxpayers money they need to know where they go. Right? I didn't want that. I wanted our scientists that they sit and discuss quickly and make a decision how and where they will do the trials and how and where they are going to do the manufacturing. So this is- and we were right, right? We were the first ones to come out with an effective vaccine, although the size usually slows down. Right? We –
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. No go ahead.
DR. BOURLA: We moved with a speed of of a sprint, although we have a site of an elephant.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Operation Light Speed, right? Is that what you called it?
DR. BOURLA: Operation Light Speed. We called it. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you said, what instead of time is money, time is life.
DR. BOURLA: That was the motto. And it was already in Pfizer we were using that: time is life. Because you delay a month, it is- you should measure coffins when you delay a month in cases like that. And that's why I said times life, just do it fast.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you could afford to make a decision like that because Pfizer is so massive. For those scientists who are at startups, I mean, they have good ideas, too. So what is the takeaway? Should they not partner with the government?
DR. BOURLA: No, I think for them, they should have partnered with the government. I think, uh–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Moderna for example.
DR. BOURLA: Yeah, I don't want to comment on their financials, but at the time, clearly they needed the money, right? And I think they did the right thing, and I think the government did the right thing. It was just- I didn't want to be part of that, and I don't think Big Pharma needed to be part of it. They had all the resources, the small yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but for next time, you would want to see, And God forbid. Right. Hopefully, the next pandemic is decades ahead of us, if not hundreds of years, but for the next time do you think that this project should be replicated? Should there be another Operation Warp Speed?
DR. BOURLA: I think so. I think there were a lot of positive things. Now, there were also things that could have been handled differently. Everybody was doing that for the first time. But in general, they need to be mechanisms so that the private sector, if in situations when things need to be very fast, at least for those that they need resources, they should be given.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, there's been criticism of Pfizer from former Trump officials and books and the like. One of them called Pfizer the least transparent and least collaborative of all the vaccine manufacturers. What do you make of criticism like that?
DR. BOURLA: Look, I think this administration was very frustrated because the vaccine came after the elections. And some of them felt particularly, I think, the president made it clear in some statements, President Trump I mean, that he was, uh, thinking that we did it on purpose, that we delayed the results. We didn't do that on purpose. But that frustrated them. And that is the genesis of every-. Every uh, let's say they were not transparent that one of the— (trails off a bit) There is also another item. I thought that they would be very happy when we told them we don't take the money, we are here. We don't need your money. We will do it on our own money. But you're here to collaborate. That somehow they feel that they have less ownership on us. Somehow they felt that if we are the ones to cut the line, they cannot take that much credit. Not that anybody would have difficulty to take credit if we are successful because using their success has many fathers, as you know. But that was something that we faced, and we saw a lot of animosity in certain cases against us. Just because of that. Eventually we were able to manage the situation, and we were the first ones to cross the line with a good vaccine and we had a happy ending to it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is animosity another word for tweets?
DR. BOURLA: I wish it was only the tweets. It was even more. It was us trying to get the supply materials from suppliers that had place orders with our money well ahead. And then the supplier telling us, You are not in the list, I can't give it to you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You weren't on a US government list? Yeah.
DR. BOURLA: Yeah. And I said, "What do you mean? We are not in the list?" You are not in the U.S. government list. You can't get the supplies that you asked, ask the U.S. government. And then we going to say there is a list. Why are we not on this list so? Well, you're not part of Operation Warp Speed. We are.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you had the first and only effective vaccine right out of the gate. But you were saying the Trump administration got in the way to hold up what disbursement of it because–
DR. BOURLA: All of this was before the vaccine was proven to be right. Right? So don't forget that we were manufacturing, at risk, millions of doses before we know if it is successful or not. And for that, we needed a lot of components and materials and some of them, they were in short supply. So the Operation Warp Speed could play some roles. So these are- they were giving list of the suppliers under, uh, under that, let's say that war type of legislation. But they existed. Then we were not in this list. We complained multiple times and I sent emails, wanted to be back in the list and eventually they put us back in the list.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But they were favoring those who were taking taxpayer dollars over Pfizer?
DR. BOURLA: Yes, clearly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did that slow down production?
DR. BOURLA: Yes, and created a lot of anxiety and created a lot of creativity of us to try to find alternative ways of doing my- our job. But that was clearly not a good situation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think you could have gotten a vaccine in less than nine months if this hadn't been an impediment?
DR. BOURLA: No. Most of that affected how much we could manufacture. Maybe we could manufacture a little bit more in the beginning when, but didn't affect the study, the clinical study.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And why do- Who was doing that?
DR. BOURLA: I think there was a whole set of Operation Warp Speed that they were doing, let's say several- It was not always very clear-
MARGARET BRENNAN: Led by Dr Moncef Slaoui.
DR. BOURLA: Yes, I spoke to Mocef and he was trying to help on that. But he also himself didn't realize why and what things are happening frankly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You said the president never once spoke to you. President Trump never called you.
DR. BOURLA. After the election. I think we had good relations and we were speaking before the election. And he called several times to-to find out what is the progress of our research. And I was giving him all the download as to how we are doing as I was doing from the presidential campaign and also the Biden campaign. So- and we were doing the same with, uh, the Speaker and or doing the same with, uh, both leaders of the aisle. So we were very transparent as to how we progressed. After everybody called me to congratulate me. As I said, the president didn't, and I think I know why, because he was frustrated that he believed wrongly that we did it on purpose and we came after the election.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it just seems contradictory. The administration is pressuring you to speed up before the election, but making it more difficult for you to get the supplies to produce the vaccine.
DR. BOURLA: Yes, you're right. It's a–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you point that out to the administration?
: I did. And also, I was trying to explain at the time that, of course, nobody knows who will be and who will not be successful. But clearly, we have a good track record as Pfizer. So at least we should be given a fair chance, like everybody else, to be able to cross the line because if we are successful, the U.S. government will take it. It's just that they will take it without having paying for studies.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You also write about the decision not to order more vaccine earlier on, and that was a mistake the administration- the Trump administration made. And you recounted a phone call with Jared Kushner, the former president's son in law, and he threatened you if you didn't reallocate vaccine away from Canada, away from Japan, away from Latin America and back towards the United States. You said, "Be my guest, Jared. I prefer to have Japan's prime minister complaining to you about the cancellation of the Olympics rather than to me."
DR. BOURLA: Now, let me clarify first, there were issues and when Jared got involved and Jared got involved at least directly with me after the elections, actually in January, I think. He was able to resolve a lot of issues because she was practical and he got some of the bureaucratic nonsense and was able to do it. So that was the good thing. But then he was insisting that everything that we produce in the U.S. would only stay in the U.S. And I explained to him we can't do that because we are having manufacturing only in the U.S. and Europe. So if you do that, then the Europeans do that, then only Europe and the US would be getting the vaccine. What about the rest of the world?
MARGARET BRENNAN: These countries had already purchased the vaccine doses?
DR. BOURLA: These countries had already purchased. And I told him look, I had asked you before, purchase, not you got it, but other people and you know, you didn't. You place the bet across multiple companies. You didn't- You didn't order as much as you are, for example. I can't do that now. This was where the disagreement was. That, in his mind, Americans first. So I don't care what you are saying, I'm here to provide vaccines to the American, so I'm going to enforce you to do it. Mm-Hmm. And this is what I said so then you will have to- to leave the political consequences of doing that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that different from the vaccine nationalism you've seen in other countries?
DR. BOURLA: Look, it is to a certain degree, but everywhere we have this situation. But Europe, for example, allowed a significant portion of their- of the production of what was happening in Europe to be re-exported.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which caused huge political problems in Europe.
DR. BOURLA: Yeah, but they did the right thing and the U.S. didn't.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The US didn't?
DR. BOURLA: No
MARGARET BRENNAN: By prioritizing Americans.
DR. BOURLA: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you say that?
DR. BOURLA: Because this is what happened. We- we started sending to other places from the American production in May. All the way to May, only Europe was providing doses to the rest of the world, including Europe.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This continued under the Biden administration.
DR. BOURLA: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think both the Trump administration and the Biden administration were wrong in prioritizing Americans before exporting doses to the rest of the world?
DR. BOURLA: I think they were trying to protect the interests of the citizens of their country, but I feel that we could have been more flexible in allowing quantities going out of the US as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the global vaccine equity problems persisted. I mean, is any of this getting addressed now?
DR. BOURLA: Oh yes, because now we have way more, production. Actually, we have production enough for all, but they want. Our problem is that we don't have many in those countries that they want, and they don't make it easy for them by knowing that there is, a vaccination center that they can go and get the vaccine rather than walk two days to be able to reach the vaccination center because this is the situation, there unfortunately.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In rural parts of the world
DR. BOURLA: Yes, in Africa or in other very poor countries.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What was the toughest moment for you during this pandemic?
DR. BOURLA: You know, there were a lot of disappointments because every day it was so complex project that things will happen, and some will be successful and some will fail. Some of them many times I felt that this is a fatal let's say incident, so that could kill the project. Eventually none of them were able to- were able to overcome all the challenges. But you can imagine when you feel the pressure of the entire world on your shoulders. Keep in mind, MARGARET, at the time billions of people were just hoping the Pfizer one of us would bring a solution, and that's it. That we were the only hope for the world so that you can feel that pressure on your shoulders.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How did you deal with that?
DR. BOURLA: I tried to rise to the occasion. I felt on top and that I am in this position. This is what I have to do. I convinced myself that failure is not an option, and then I try to convince everyone else, but we won't fail because we don't have this option. That would be that would mean very difficult things for the world. We need to bring a solution and we moved on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, it must be deeply frustrating to you when you see vaccine hesitancy or questioning of the industry?
DR. BOURLA: I'm very sad. I'm very sad. Predominantly because a lot of this so good people ended up in hospitals or will end up in hospitals because of this wrong believe.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think with the technology, the technology that Pfizer used MRNA technology? It's still new and it seems like there are a lot of possibilities for where this could be used. What's the next solution around the corner?
DR. BOURLA: I would say that the lowest hanging fruit is other vaccines. How to use this technology to bring vaccines that we don't have right now or we haven't, they are not good enough. Flu is a good example. The flu vaccines are not very good in general, and there are other diseases that we don't have good vaccines. So that would be, I think, the first. The second is oncology, cancer. Right now, a lot of research is happening by trying to use our to train our immune system through MRNA not to attack the virus as we do with Coronavirus, but to attack our cancer cells, to recognize them as an enemy and try to attack them. Highly rare that will revolutionize the field if we will be able to be successful with.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How far are you from that?
DR. BOURLA: You know, I think there's so much work happening even before the vaccines we started with, with cancer in RNA. We will know if we are successful, I think, in the next two or three years.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So next two or three years? Does that mean a cure for cancer in the next two or three years? What does that mean?
DR. BOURLA: I don't think we know yet. It could be that in some forms of cancer, we could have so strong responses that they will almost be like a cure for certain parts of the population. I don't think that we can see in the next two or three years. The cure of cancer per se for everything that we have, but the significant advancement, it is a possibility.
MARGARET BRENNAN: To prevent it or if you have it or to lessen it?
DR. BOURLA: If you have it right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that, you know, the President talks about his cancer moonshot is that this technology?
DR. BOURLA: That could be a very prime example of technologies that can be used in this moonshot to find the cure of cancer. I'm not the only one, but it's one of the most important.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're working – so vaccines seem to be the thing you think Pfizer can lead on the most versus treatable?
DR. BOURLA: There are three areas that we are working on. MRNA vaccines, other vaccines, oncology, cancer, and there's a third area that we didn't discuss which are genetically driven diseases, diseases that you or I or anyone can have. Because there's a mistake in our DNA and over there, there are high end technologies that these people are convinced, right– they were born like that. There's nothing you can do to change your DNA. Now you can. And we are trying to use the MRNA technology to be able to edit your DNA where it is, where there is a mistake, if we will be able to resolve that. Some of the deadliest diseases usually rare. Of course, it's for a few people, but highly impactful for them. We can find the solution.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You say at the conclusion of your book that there are a few things you would like to take away from this experience. And one of them is you wish there were less red tape for some of these other diseases that are being confronted that you could move as quickly as within nine months, for example, like you did with COVID. What specifically, are you talking to the Biden administration about that?
DR. BOURLA: I think we are talking in general and with many, but I think one of the most exemplary examples of private property collaboration was the FDA with the industry. They were phenomenally good. The same was with EMA, the European Agency. They did things differently without cutting corners, which means that instead of replying to something in six months, which is the regular, you have a request to them.
Shall I do the study this way or that way? It can take six months to get an answer. They were doing that thing for five days, right? I understand because that was their only singular focus and they put all the resources there. So, I understand that you can do that for everything, but also you can't accept that. OK, after the pandemic led to a back to six months, now we have seen what a good collaboration can do for humans. So, I think we need to find ways either through more resources to the FDA, either by doing things differently that also they can be the right partners for everyone who has promising solutions so that they can move them very fast.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I can keep talking to you for days, but I think that we're at the time limit. So thank you, Dr. Bourla, for coming in today.
DR. BOURLA: Thank you for having me.
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