Bloomberg Businessweek February 1, 2021 pp39-40 |DEBRIEF| Albert Bourla Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer Inc. (Pfizer) Interviewed by Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait (BW)
Read the interview for all questions and details. Answers may be partial.
Selected questions and complete or summary answers
BW: How frightened should we be about the new coronavirus variants?
Pfizer: “We should not be frightened, but we need to be prepared.” Focus on good surveillance so when we detect a new variant we can “test, at least in the labs, if the vaccine is effective or not.”
BW: I interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said it was especially important to get the second doses on time, because he thought that made a particular difference with the new variants. Do you agree?
Pfizer: …”we had from 19-42 days. Within this framework, the vaccine works. Beyond that, it’s a risk.”
BW: Is the Covid vaccine going to become like the annual flu shot?
Pfizer: “I wouldn’t exclude that….” “We do not know yet, but it looks like Covid is here to stay.” “…we have the tools to make Covid like the flu..it will not disturb out lives or the economy.” “We just need to be very vigilant about [tracking new] strains…and about vaccinating people.”
BW: You’ve had a few weeks now dealing with the Biden administration. What’s the main difference between them and the Trump administration?”
Pfizer: “…I don’t want to take sides. But there is a clear difference. The current president is very much science-driven and -oriented. President Trump was much more gut-feeling-oriented.”…”But the indications are that the new people understand better what they are doing.” BW: I want to talk about people who have fears about taking the vaccine. What are you doing to combat those fears?” Or do you think that’s a job for government?”
Pfizer: “What I would say to people who fear the vaccine is that they need to recognize that the decision to take it or not will not affect only their own lives. It will affect the lives of others. And most likely it will affect the lives of people they love the most,”
BW: The U.S. has had more than 1,300 deaths for every million people. Go to Asia, and many countries have had few than 50 per million; China claims to have had three per million. So by any measure, America has had a rotten time. The main problem in the U.S. seems to be a health-care system that isn’t good at dealing with pandemics. So if you were in Joe Biden’s shoes and you were trying to do something about the healthcare system, what would you do?”
Pfizer: …”It became a political statement not to wear a mask…That contributed significantly to the increased number of deaths.” “But, I believe one of the big lessons that Covid taught us is in the power of science in the hands of the private sector. It was the private sector, the health-care industry, that resolved the [shortage] of ventilators…that brought diagnostics in record time…And then later, the treatments, and now the vaccines. Those things didn’t happen by chance. They happened because we had a vibrant industry.”
BW: Should there be a kind of Manhattan Project to come up with vaccines in the future, where all the countries collaborate? Is that realistic?
Pfizer: …”You need to have teams that know each other. They should have infrastructure and, in some cases, compete, because that’s also very healthy. During Covid-19 there was significant collaboration between companies. And there was significant collaboration between regulatory agencies, academia, and the private sector. So we should be focusing on seeing what went right and building on it. What went wrong we will take out.”