HHS Sec. Azar Would Like More Visibility From Pfizer

HHS Sec. Azar Would Like More Visibility From Pfizer azar in a suit and blue tie near a us flag Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Thursday, 17 December 2020 11:21 AM

Pfizer has kept the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed at "arm's length" about its manufacturing, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who says he'd like to see that changed.

"They are part of Operation Warp Speed, but it's a different relationship," Azar said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "We contract, give them a guaranteed purchase that allows them to make capital investments, and to have a predictable purchaser, but we don't have complete visibility into their manufacturing because they have kept that a bit more arm's length."

The U.S. government is willing to provide the pharmaceutical company with "every tool" to "assist them in maximizing yields and increasing production capacity," said Azar.

The U.S. government has a $2 billion commitment for the first 100 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine and wants to buy more, said Azar, but Pfizer must be able to deliver them.

"We're maximizing that," he said. "We'll help them get higher yields if they're willing to take our help, but this is all second quarter at this point that we're talking about."

But the future purchase is not a matter of cost, but about Pfizer's manufacturing capabilities, said Azar.

"We're working with them … we'll use the full power of the U.S. government to assist and maximize production, as we always have been willing to do. I'm very optimistic we'll get to a good place there," he said.

Meanwhile, this week's rollout is going well with Pfizer's vaccine, and Moderna's candidate is poised for emergency use authorization and ready for rollout, said Azar.

"We've got 100 million [doses] through Pfizer through March 31, and we've got the Moderna 100 million," said Azar. "We're actually enhancing Moderna's production capabilities to produce even more."

Meanwhile, with Moderna, the government is ready to start shipping 5.9 million doses out beginning early next week, in addition to the 2 million Pfizer allocation, said Azar.

He also stressed that there are many therapeutics available for COVID-19 that aren't being used, but that may change, as work is being done with CVS to allow home infusion devices so ill people don't experience delays.

"By the time you show up at the ER [emergency room] with severe symptoms, you have had a significant viral replication," said Azar. "We want to get to you earlier, get this in you earlier."