Pfizer: What we learnt from our Covid-19 vaccine success

Pfizer Kenya country manager Anne Dembah looks back to the vaccine development, delivery and plans for the future.

In Summary

•We began investing at risk in manufacturing before approval, and we have capacity right now to make 120 million packs by the end of 2022 - Dembah

•However, human rights group Oxfam says the company should make its vaccines more available to poor countries.

Pfizer Kenya country manager and East Africa cluster lead Anne Dembah.
OPTIMISTIC: Pfizer Kenya country manager and East Africa cluster lead Anne Dembah.

Among all pharmaceutical firms producing Covid-19 vaccines, Pfizer has been the most successful.

The company reported $36.8 billion in sales during 2021 for its Covid-19 vaccine, marking the highest sales of any pharmaceutical product in a single year.

Last week, the CEO Albert Bourla said the company expects $54 billion in total sales from the Comirnaty vaccine (the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine) and its new antiviral pill Paxlovid this year.

However, human rights group Oxfam says the company should make its vaccines more available to poor countries.

“The latest data (from Dec 21) available shows that just 1 per cent of Pfizer’s vaccines have been delivered to low-income countries,” Oxfam said in a statement.

Pfizer Kenya country manager and East Africa cluster lead ANNE DEMBAH looks back to the vaccine development, delivery and plans for the future.

QUESTION: What were your 2021 highlights and what lessons were learnt?

ANSWER: My 2021 highlight was seeing the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines land in the region starting with Rwanda and then donations to Kenya and thereafter other East African countries - science had indeed won! The vaccine, our sector’s most significant innovation, had been developed in less than a year and was made available to everybody in the world within nine months.

The whole Covid-19 pandemic thus far and what we saw in 2021 is a classic example of what collaboration can achieve. If there is one thing we have learnt, it was that we cannot solve healthcare challenges in silos. We must all – patients, industry bodies, governments, and industry players work together to achieve better health for all. Today, as we continue to collaborate with our partners, we focus on developing the necessary infrastructure to encourage industry-wide innovation and growth, including Research and Development (R&D) capabilities, regulatory environments, and fostering local talent. Together these efforts are designed to help us deliver more breakthroughs locally to meet unmet patient needs. We can only achieve this by sharing and cooperating in expertise with industry stakeholders.


Regarding the vaccine rollout in Kenya and the East Africa region, what has been the key to its success?

At Pfizer, partnerships with our stakeholder community are key to our work. In the case of the vaccine rollout, we collaborated closely with governments and health authorities to support as best we could, national pandemic responses, and secure rapid regulatory approvals.

Our work in delivering the Covid-19 vaccine to more than 160 countries around the world is a testament to our commitment, and we fundamentally believe that science is winning in the battle against this global pandemic.

As part of our commitment to ensure equitable and affordable access to medical treatments, together with BioNTech, we produced three billion BNT162b2 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 and plan to manufacture four billion in 2022. Of this significant amount, we have pledged to provide two billion doses of our Covid-19 vaccine to low- and middle-income countries in 2021 and 2022 – one billion doses each year. As part of this pledge, Pfizer and BioNTech are providing 500 million doses (200 million in 2021 and 300 million in 2022) at the not-for-profit price to support multilateral efforts to address the surge of Covid-19 infection in many parts of the world.

Another pillar to our success in the vaccine rollout has been steps we have taken to overcome the “last mile” challenge, access to affordable healthcare into the hands of patients. Many urban and rural communities across the continent without reliable infrastructure cannot receive biological materials. To address this challenge, Pfizer is investing in two pioneering ventures. The first is a strategic funding collaboration with Zipline, a California-based company that assembles specialty drones in the United States and operates them in Africa to deliver our products. To-date, Zipline has made over 20,000 deliveries, impacting almost 11 million people in Rwanda and Ghana. The first delivery of our Covid-19 vaccines to remote towns by drones in Ghana took place in November 2021. The second project is with US-based Not Impossible

Labs, which is creating driverless, solar-powered boats to deliver products across remote Sub-Saharan Africa.


A nurse draws Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from a vial at Kencom, Nairobi.
A nurse draws Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from a vial at Kencom, Nairobi.
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

The pandemic has seen Pfizer rally to work on updated vaccines every time there is a new variant. The beta and delta vaccines were subsequently not needed – why is this so and is it then necessary to be working on a vaccine for the Omicron variant?

While we do not yet have conclusive data as to whether Omicron can escape vaccine protection, what we do know is that our current vaccine is highly effective with a sound dosing strategy. We believe that the best hedge against spread of the Omicron variant and any new variant that emerges from continued spread is getting all eligible people fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster dose as recommended.

By early December 2021, we had delivered 2.2 billion vaccines to 162 countries and territories in every region of the world.

Together with regulators and health authorities around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are receiving a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 after recent Emergency Use Authorisation. In autumn 2021, we shared the first and only efficacy data disclosed from any Covid-19 vaccine booster trial showing that a booster dose for those who previously received the primary two-dose series had a relative vaccine efficacy of 95 per cent compared to those who did not receive a booster.

We are remaining vigilant and constantly conducting surveillance efforts focused on monitoring for emerging variants that have the potential to escape protection from our vaccine or resist treatment. To date, in laboratory studies and observed real world studies on each emerging variant none appear to have escaped the protection of our vaccine.

Looking ahead at 2022 what should we expect?

When you look at how we ended 2021, we are likely to be still battling the pandemic in 2022. Pfizer on its part will continue to provide breakthroughs that transform patients’ lives and more so in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Defeating Covid -19 will most likely require both vaccination and effective treatments for those who are exposed to or contract the virus. Scientists around the world are working diligently to develop, test, and manufacture vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat Covid -19.

We have developed an oral pill that patients can take at home to treat Covid -19 symptoms, which could ultimately keep our patients out of the hospital. This treatment is currently authorised for conditional or emergency use in several countries across the globe. Pfizer has submitted applications for regulatory approval or authorisation to multiple regulatory agencies and anticipates further regulatory decisions to follow.

We began investing at risk in manufacturing before approval, and we have capacity right now to make 120 million packs by the end of 2022.

In addition, Pfizer and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) signed a voluntary license agreement which will enable MPP to facilitate additional production and distribution of the investigational antiviral, pending regulatory authorisation or approval, by granting sub-licences to qualified generic medicine manufacturers, with the goal of facilitating greater access to the global population. The agreement covers 95 countries which account for ~53 per cent of the global population – more than four billion people in low- and lower-middle-income countries worldwide as well as some upper-middle-income countries with a disproportionate number of people living in poverty.

I hope this will ensure we can continue to bring medical breakthroughs to the patients that rely on treatments and vaccines through 2022 and beyond.