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Pfizer's COVID vaccine journey: Expected 70% efficacy but were in for a surprise, says global CEO

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The US pharma giant expected 70 percent efficacy when the trials started at a breakneck speed. However, the results which came out surprised even the Pfizer management.

There are 18 authorized vaccines as of date. Out of them, only two - Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna -- are mRNA vaccines. As the world faced the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the race to find the vaccine was on and Albert Bourla, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer threw some light on the journey while speaking at the USA-India Chamber of Commerce (USAIC) Summit on Tuesday.
The US pharma giant expected 70 percent efficacy when the trials started at a breakneck speed. However, the results which came out surprised even the Pfizer management.
"The biggest surprise was the level of efficacy that this vaccine was able to accomplish. We did not expect something like that. We were expecting something in the 70s and we were hoping for it. So that was something that really surprised us," said Bourla.
It is noteworthy here that Pfizer has manufactured close to 3 billion vaccines as of date and data suggests 95 percent efficacy has been achieved.
Rewinding a little. The first decision to make was whether to go for making a vaccine or not. This was primarily because a failure would cost a substantial amount to the companies.
The technology was never in question for Moderna and BioNTech. It was always going mRNA driven research for the two firms but it was not such a simple call for Pfizer.
"Moderna and BioNTech are very good at mRNA. For them the decision was shall we try to make it against COVID or not, it was not the question of which technology to use. However, in our case, the big question was, if we decide to make a vaccine for COVID which technology shall we use? Because we have great expertise with all technologies. So my scientists are the ones that came and told me that let us do the mRNA," the Pfizer CEO elaborated.
The Pfizer CEO stressed the importance of finding the right partner for the vaccine too.
"If we went with mRNA we would need a partner and clearly that would be BioNTech because we were working with them. So we said yes go ahead.
Interestingly, the commercial agreement between Pfizer and BioNTech was only signed in January of 2021, a sign of mutual trust, said Bourla.
There was the time as well as the scale challenge which followed once work began in full swing.
"I would say there were two different miracles. One was that we were able to develop and get it through the finish line in such record time. Equally challenging and impressive was what we did with manufacturing. The fact that this year we will able to produce 3 billion doses from scratch, that to me is the biggest challenge," the Pfizer CEO said.
Watch the video for more.

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