Pfizer Research Head Distances COVID-19 Vaccine From Trump's Operation Warp Speed

Pfizer's head of vaccine research has distanced the firm's COVID-19 vaccine development from the White House's Operation Warp Speed.

Launched earlier this year, Operation Warp Speed was set up with the goal to help produce and deliver 300 million doses of vaccines, with initial doses of these to be available from January 2021.

Pfizer Inc. on Monday announced that its vaccine in development with BioNTech was "more than 90 percent effective," according to early trial data which still faces rigorous scrutiny before it can receive regulatory approval.

Trump welcomed the Pfizer announcement branding it "SUCH GREAT NEWS!", as did Pence, who is head of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force.

While government figures welcomed the program's progress, Kathrin Jansen, the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, sought to distance it from them.

She told The New York Times: "We have never taken any money from the U.S. government, or from anyone."

Jansen also told The Times that Pfizer was "never part" of Operation Warp Speed.

However, a Pfizer press release from July announced that, in agreement with Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government would receive 100 million doses of the vaccine—subject to FDA approval—for $1.95 billion, with the option to acquire up to 500 million more.

The aim was for these doses to be distributed for free.

"Expanding Operation Warp Speed's diverse portfolio by adding a vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar at the time, per the release.

A Pfizer spokesperson told Newsweek that while per this agreement Pfizer's vaccine was tied to Operation Warp speed, it had never taken government funding for its research and development.

"Pfizer has not taken federal money for R&D," Sharon Castillo, a spokesperson for the company based in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek.

Following the update on the vaccine's efficacy, Pence tweeted: "Thanks to the public-private partnership forged by President @realDonaldTrump, @pfizer announced its Coronavirus Vaccine trial is EFFECTIVE, preventing infection in 90% of its volunteers."

His tweet did not mention Operation Warp Speed.

Trump had tweeted: "STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!"

He then shared a report from Reuters regarding Pfizer and BioNTECH saying their vaccine is "more than 90% effective."

As well as being welcomed by Trump and Pence, Joe Biden has also commented positively on Pfizer's update.

"I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope," a statement from Biden shared on the Biden-Harris Presidential Transition Twitter account read.

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However, it did couch the excitement surrounding the news somewhat, insisting the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still "months away."

"This is why the head of the CDC warned this fall that for the foreseeable future, a mask remains a more potent weapon against this virus than the vaccine," Biden added in his statement.

"Today's news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today's news is great news, but it doesn't change that fact."

The scientific community has also urged caution in regard to how people interpret the announcement, with no data having been made available to allow verification or scrutiny of the company's claims.

Newsweek has contacted the White House and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

Update 11/09/2020: This page has been updated to clarify Jansen's comments following further details from a Pfizer spokesperson. The spokesperson clarified that its vaccine is linked to Operation Warp speed, though its research and development has not taken funding from the federal government. The headline was also updated for clarity.

Comments from Joe Biden and details of the scientific reaction to the announcement have also been added to this report.

Pfizer covid 19 vaccine trump warp speed
A man wearing a mask walks past the Pfizer headquarters near Grand Central Station, New York City. Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine program was not part of the Trump Administration's Operation Warp Speed, its head of research said. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images