In a letter to employees Thursday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla doubled down on his promise that the pharmaceutical company's development of a coronavirus vaccine will "never succumb to political pressure."
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"The only pressure we feel — and it weighs heavy — are the billions of people, millions of businesses and hundreds of government officials that are depending on us," Bourla wrote.
"When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings,” the executive said. “They want to see how you're going to progress, what type of moves you're going to do, they want reports. I didn't want to have any of that. 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."
Bourla expressed his disappointment Thursday that the prevention for a deadly disease was discussed "in political terms rather than scientific facts" during Tuesday night's presidential debate.
During the debate Tuesday night, President Trump said that a vaccine is "weeks away" after speaking with Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. He also disagreed with health officials who said a widely available vaccine would not be ready until next summer.
"People, who are understandably confused, don’t know whom or what to believe," Bourla said.
He previously told CBS that it is a "likely scenario" that the company’s coronavirus vaccine could be distributed to Americans before the new year, noting that Pfizer's studies could provide conclusive results on whether the vaccine is effective by the end of October.
However, Bourla argued that the distribution of the vaccine is entirely dependant on if and when regulators like the Food and Drug Administration issue a license and deem the vaccine safe and effective.
"In this hyper-partisan year, there are some who would like us to move more quickly and others who argue for delay," Bourla added in the memo. "Neither of those options are acceptable to me."
He reiterated his belief that the vaccine development process should be allowed to proceed without cutting any corners and warned that the "amplified political rhetoric" surrounding vaccine development, timing, and political credit is "undercutting public confidence."
"I can’t predict exactly when, or even if our vaccine will be approved by the FDA for distribution to the public," Bourla said. "But I do know that the world will be safer if we stop talking about the vaccines’ delivery in political terms and focus instead on a rigorous independent scientific evaluation and a robust independent approval process."
Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine candidate in partnership with BioNTech, is currently recruiting 44,000 people for its late-stage study. The company, along with other vaccine developers, issued a joint pledge in September that they will wait to seek emergency government approval for the vaccine until human trials show "substantial evidence of safety and efficacy."
The race for a vaccine comes as there are more than 7.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and more than 207,000 related deaths, according to the latest update by Johns Hopkins University.