Was Pfizer’s Vaccine News Slow-Walked Until After the Election?

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe in the spring, President Trump announced his plan to fast-track an effective vaccine that would be available by the new year.

The goal of Operation Warp Speed, launched by the White House in May, was “to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021, as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.” Congress appropriated $10 billion to fund the ambitious program.

The president and his team spent months touting the success of the public-private partnership. Pfizer, one of five companies selected in June as a candidate with the best chance of meeting the president’s deadline, entered into a $1.95 billion contract with the federal government in July to purchase 100 million doses. The agreement was part of Operation Warp Speed, according to a company press release.

Operation Warp Speed not only involved the use of federal tax dollars but the elimination of government roadblocks that would ordinarily delay a new vaccine’s approval. Hundreds of federal rules and regulations were relaxed to help fight COVID-19 and hasten the private sector’s progress on treatments for the virus. The government’s lengthy, burdensome immunization approval process—which lasts an average of 73 months—was slashed to 14 months. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promised his agency would “squeeze every last inefficiency” to achieve the president’s goal.

But just like every other aspect of coronavirus, the vaccine has been a political cudgel. Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have fueled public distrust about the vaccine. 

“If Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I’m not taking it,” Harris said during the October 8 vice presidential debate. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, responsible for the most COVID-19 fatalities in the country, also sowed fear about a vaccine. The scare tactics worked; public trust in a coronavirus vaccine has dropped since the summer.

A Nonpartisan Vaccine?

The president repeatedly expressed confidence that a vaccine might be ready before Election Day. Pfizer’s chief executive officer Albert Bourla said in a September 8 interview that his company’s phase three trials were “progressing very well” and that he expected a preliminary finding by the end of October. 

But on October 27, as Americans already were voting for president amid panicked warnings of a second surge of coronavirus, Pfizer said data from its late-stage trial would not be available before November 3. “For us, the election is an artificial milestone,” Bourla told reporters. “This is going to be not a Republican vaccine or a Democrat vaccine. It will be a vaccine for the citizens of the world.”

Oddly, however, Joe Biden was the first to learn that the nonpartisan totally unbiased vaccine now is getting close to the greenlight stage. “Last night, my public health advisors were informed of this excellent news,” Biden said in a statement issued early Monday. 

(According to some reports, the White House found out about Pfizer’s announcement from the media. The president didn’t tweet about it until Monday morning.)

News organizations cheered Pfizer’s announcement that its vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19; the stock market soared. One Pfizer official initially told the New York Times that the company was “never part of Operation Warp Speed.”

This prompted a victory lap from the Trump-hating media. MSNBCs Joy Reid tweeted that she “felt better” Pfizer wasn’t involved in Operation Warp Speed and she wouldn’t “go near anything that Trump or his politicized FDA had anything to do with.” Vanity Fair concluded that Vice President Mike Pence could “f**k off” after he commended Operation Warp Speed for facilitating Pfizer’s quick work. “The Trump administration is trying to take credit for the Pfizer vaccine, which of course it had nothing to do with,” the magazine snarked.

Credit Where It Is Due

The orchestrated narrative, of course, is an attempt to deny the president any credit for fulfilling a major promise to the American people, one that undoubtedly will benefit Biden if indeed he is the winner of the election. Instead, the spin somehow attempted to credit Joe Biden for the good news. 

Even after journalists, including yours truly, provided evidence of Pfizer’s involvement in Operation Warp Speed and a company spokeswoman corrected the Times’ reporting to verify that yes, Pfizer was part of the president’s program, reporters and pundits refused to admit they were wrong.

Further, the claim by Pfizer’s CEO that the vaccine is apolitical doesn’t ring true. According to an article in STAT News, a scientific and public health journal, the company planned to issue preliminary results based on what’s described as a “32-case analysis,” which would reveal the findings on how many of the 32 COVID-positive volunteers in a sample of more than 40,000 subjects had received the vaccine. If six people or fewer had taken the vaccine, the drug would be considered effective. The trial would continue but the outcome would signal an early success.

But that plan was benched sometime last month. 

“After discussion with the FDA, the companies recently elected to drop the 32-case interim analysis and conduct the first interim analysis at a minimum of 62 cases,” Pfizer’s press release disclosed November 9, a decision that pushed the deadline past Election Day. “At that time, the companies decided to stop having their lab confirm cases of Covid-19 in the study, instead leaving samples in storage,” STAT News reported after Pfizer’s announcement. “The FDA was aware of this decision. Discussions between the agency and the companies concluded, and testing began this past Wednesday.”

The day after Election Day.

A secret board of experts tasked with overseeing COVID-19 vaccine development met Sunday to review Pfizer’s data; the Biden campaign was informed about the trial’s success later that day.

That’s not all: Team Biden met with industry officials at least twice before Election Day. “Biden advisers met with companies that have Covid-19 vaccines or therapies in late-stage clinical trials in September and October,” campaign advisors told Bloomberg news. “The purpose was to gather information about the development, manufacturing and distribution of shots to ward off the novel coronavirus and therapies to treat the sick.”

It’s unclear whether anyone from Pfizer participated but considering its one of a handful of corporations undergoing “late-stage” trials, it’s hard to believe the company wasn’t in talks with the Biden campaign.

And it’s worth noting that Big Pharma donors favored Biden over Trump during the 2020 election cycle.

Joe Biden and the media have exploited coronavirus relentlessly for political purposes. Collaborating with Big Pharma to slow-walk good news about a vaccine until after Election Day is another example of their shamelessness. Half of America doesn’t trust this potential president, his people, or the news media—and this is exactly why.

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