Pfizer CEO On Providing 500 Million Vaccines To Low Income Countries

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Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) today, Wednesday, September 22. Following is a link to video on

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Pfizer CEO On Providing 500 Million Vaccines To Low Income Countries

MEG TIRRELL: That special guest is Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer. Albert, thanks for being with us this morning. Let's start with the news of the day, at least 500 million doses add to a previous agreement for the same number. They started shipping last month and will continue over the next year we understand. Tell us about your expectation for what these agreements will do for the course of the pandemic.

ALBERT BOURLA: I think they will enable way more equitable access to our vaccines. When we started, Meg, more than a year, we're going to begin with the pandemic. It was always in our minds that we need to have a vaccine that will be available to all and the first thing that we had to do was to develop the vaccine because now it's considered given but the months ago, nobody thought that this could be done. The second was to manufacture enough so that everybody will have and we are gearing up our manufacturing capacity. Right now, at the end of the month, we will have manufactured 2 billion doses, 500 of which will be gone to the low- and middle-income countries. By the end of the quarter 3 billion doses, 1 billion of which will go to the low- and middle-income countries. And the third was to set the price that will enable everybody to access. As you know the price from the high-income countries is the cost of takeaway meal and this price for the government because their citizens are paying nothing. But for the middle-income countries, we are charging half of this price and the low-income countries we are charging basically at non-for-profit. The US government stepping once more 1 billion doses will be donated to the poorest of the countries, not to the middle and low but to the poorest countries, and that will not be given to them at the non-for-profit price, it will be given free because US is covering the cost. So, I think it is a great news for humanity and frankly it is great news for us because we are very proud that our vaccine will save the lives of people around the world.

TIRRELL: How do you respond then to criticisms like from former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, who has been pointing out on Twitter over the last week that he thinks this inequity is quote, “shameful.” He says, “While focusing on selling expensive vaccines to rich countries, Moderna and Pfizer are doing next to nothing to close the global gap in vaccine supply.” How do you respond to criticisms like that?

BOURLA: Well I respond that already we have seen 500 million doses to low- and middle-income countries, that we will see a billion doses by the end of this year, not in the near future, by the end of this year. And we will do at least 1 billion doses next year and I think the facts are speaking for themselves.

TIRRELL: Is there more that Pfizer could do? There's also some focus on the infrastructure in developing countries and there's been criticisms of the Biden administration for delivering perhaps vaccines but then not delivering the sort of cold chain functionality to be able to store and move those vaccines around or helping get vaccinators to be able to help roll out these vaccines. What more do you think can be done to expedite all of this?

BOURLA: Clearly there's more that can be done in terms of infrastructure in the poorest countries so that they can absorb vaccines so this kind of technology that they need special conditions like ultra-cold chain, etc. I think this is something that WHO is doing and this is something that was ourselves, we are working very intensively to help, although it is not let’s say our direct responsibility is to provide the vaccine but we are working also on the last mile, how we can assist, so that they can move eventually this vaccine to the citizens.

TIRRELL: There's also been a big focus on ramping up production of mRNA vaccines in these developing countries so that they're not dependent on manufacturers elsewhere providing them. You do say or Uğur Şahin, your partner at BioNTech, says in your release today that you are exploring how to build the sustainable mRNA production infrastructure in low-income countries over the mid- and long-term. It seems like that is not a near term goal necessarily just because does it take that long to build this up, could scaling up happen in these countries any faster than it's happening already?

BOURLA: Well yes, it will take a very long time to be able to build infrastructure that it is able to handle this higher level of technology. This is not easy. This is not making, you know, any type of goods so this is really, really high-end, regard not only sophisticated investments but thousands of people that they are highly skilled to do that. I don't say that it is impossible to be done but it will take time.

TIRRELL: And of course, here in the United States, we're all focused on boosters, who's going to get their third shot and when. We're expecting an FDA decision on that today or tomorrow and CDC will, will vote. How do you in this position of deciding, where to take orders from and where to deliver things, respond to the pressures you get from the World Health Organization which is saying people shouldn't get boosters until the end of the year until more people have gotten their first doses. How do you weigh all those pressures coming in?

BOURLA: Look, I think there's, as a whole that the decision to provide a booster should be made on the merits of the science. This is not correct to say that I will not give boosters to one because I prefer to give primary dose to someone else. The second is as I said that we should not be in, we should not resolve it with a “or,” we should resolve it with an “and.” Boosters should be given and other doses should be given to the other countries and this is the meaning of this agreement that we're doing today with the United States. And the third I would say that they, doses for this year have been allocated long ago. Everybody has placed their orders and with the first orders placed, first deliveries are coming out and so that will not change even if the boosters are approved which I expect will be. We will not give more to the countries that are approving boosters so that they can do the boosters. We will give the quantities to everyone that we have committed to give this year, and then as I said, this year, we're going to do a billion doses to the lower, middle-income countries.

BECKY QUICK: Hey, Albert, on that point, it just, we know that the FDA panel that met last week voted no on the original question was that booster shots would be available for anyone ages 16 and up. They did vote yes on a more qualified picture, people ages 65 and up, people who have comorbidities and, and people who were maybe exposed at work because of the jobs that they do, but that still leaves a big gap if the FDA eventually goes through and approves the ladder question, not the opening. On that first question, they said they didn't have enough science to prove it. The science that was put in front of them didn't prove that those ages 16 and up needed boosters. When will we see more science, what's the next step or are people just kind of left to fend for themselves at this point?

BOURLA: I think time will bring data because everybody's collecting data and I’m sure pretty soon they will have more data so that they can reevaluate their recommendations. It is clear from the data that we have seen that we support it to the need to give broad recommendations. The majority of the committee clearly thought that this is not the right time for people to receive in earlier phases. So, they, I guess they will expect to see when is the right time. What I want to say is in pandemic typically, it's very difficult to come to the right time. You're coming either too early or too late.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Albert, when you think about efficacy, there seems to be different definitions of efficacy in the United States versus Israel and people are measuring it differently. In some cases, it's hospitalization and death. In others, it's simply infection upfront. Do we have to redefine what efficacy really is and what it should be and what we're trying to avoid?

BOURLA: I think science is to measure everything so and we should be very clear when you speak about efficacy, if you refer to efficacy against severe disease, or if we speak about efficacy in general in disease or infection, and the data for example for me is coming from all three categories is not that they're coming only for mild infections. They had seen drop in the protection against severe disease as well.

SORKIN: Do you have a view on why it appears that the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine seems to be lesser, at least at the moment, based on some of the numbers than the, than the Moderna vaccine. It appears that in the case of Moderna, it has a higher efficacy or at least more durable efficacy, is that a function of the fact that, it's that there's more of it, more vaccine, actually that's put in the arm? Is it a function of the fact that between the first and second dose, there's a longer wait period, four weeks rather than three weeks, what do you, or is it simply the timing of what we've seen in the studies? A lot of people got Pfizer earlier.

BOURLA: I think that it is the wrong thing to start comparing vaccines, particularly in public and I don't think I would like to do it. But nevertheless, given your, your question, I'm not convinced that one is better than the other or it lasted longer than the other because of the reasons that we just said that when those studies compare, they don't exhaust from the time of the second dose and also they don't adjust from the fact that Pfizer was given way earlier to elder, high risk people. And so, we are comparing more months of since the first dose from Pfizer and very different population. But again, I said that the both of them are wonderful vaccines, I don't want to make comparisons and those that make comparisons, they are wrong.

QUICK: Albert, can you give us an update on where things stand for the vaccine approval at least emergency use authorization for kids ages five to 11. We've heard a lot and the latest that we've gotten is maybe available by Halloween. But what does that actually mean? Does it really mean that our kids might actually get to the shots by then, will it be fully distributed? Is it going to be hard to find this because I know you have to give different vial sizes so as a result it's kind of gearing up the entire process again like we did at the beginning of the year.

BOURLA: We are going to be ready once FDA approves the vaccine, provided that they will approve it, to be able to distribute it. And I know that we will submit our data pretty soon. The data are very positive, but I cannot comment when FDA will approve it. This is absolutely up to them to take their time to do their review and do the approval, the time that they're comfortable if they approve it.

TIRRELL: And Albert, you actually got data I think a little earlier than people expected in that age group five to 11. What are you expecting in terms of younger kids asking completely unbiased as a parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old?

BOURLA: Meg, as you know, we are always coming ahead of people's expectations so I hope that we will not disappoint them.

TIRRELL: So, your CFO Frank D’Amelio had suggested perhaps you're about a month behind for younger children. Is that the timeline you're looking at for down to age two, or down to age six months?

BOURLA: Well yeah, that's one to two months I would say, somewhere there.

TIRRELL: Okay, and just to go back to that booster discussion that that Becky was talking about. Were you surprised that the panel voted to narrow the recommendation for, for whom, who should get boosters here in the US as we're seeing them given so broadly in Israel and even to everybody over the age of 50 in the UK?

BOURLA: Yes, I was surprised but you know this is not about me being surprised. This is about the committee which is composed by renowned scientists. They have very high integrity. They have high expertise and they came to this conclusion. Our scientists also have very high integrity and they have very high expertise and they came to different conclusion. Israel scientists, UK scientists is different from German scientists also they have high expertise, but this is the role of committees. They have responsibility to recommend and then the administration has the responsibility to implement health care policies that they are important. And, you know, I think we should let the system work.

QUICK: With all of the countries that you just mentioned, is there one Albert that has been the easiest to work with or the most difficult to work with and maybe the administration maybe the bureaucracy that you deal with. What, what would you say?

BOURLA: I would say that all the candidates have stepped up and they are wonderful and frankly, I had the opportunity because of that, to, to connect personally with state leaders and with administration of many countries and I understand there are going to do the best for their people and they have to deal with very tough decisions and sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong. But they are all having the best of intentions so I wouldn’t separate anyone on this.

TIRRELL: Alright, Albert. I think that's all the time we've got. We really appreciate you being with us this morning and we look forward to all of these updates coming up. Thanks so much.

BOURLA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Meg. Thank you.