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Pfizer CEO says people who don't take the coronavirus vaccine will become 'weak link' that allows it to spread

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Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, arrives to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, January 17, 2019.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla warned Tuesday that people who don’t take the Covid-19 vaccine will become a “weak link” that allows the coronavirus to continue to spread.

Bourla, whose company is currently in late-stage testing for a potential coronavirus vaccine, said he understands the public’s concerns about vaccines, which are being developed in record time. He said Pfizer will only request authorization from the Food and Drug Administration after data shows that its vaccine is safe and effective. 

But he also said people who decide against taking the vaccine once available “will not only effect their lives.”

They “will effect the lives of others because if they don’t vaccinate, they will become the weak link that will allow this virus to replicate,” he told NBC’s Today show.

Vaccine hesitancy was already a problem in the United States. But fear due to the pandemic and confusing communication from the Trump administration on vaccine development has exacerbated vaccine hesitation and could jeopardize a Covid-19 vaccine’s impact, infectious disease experts and scientists say. 

Medical experts also fear a vaccine approval could be politically motivated as the federal government pushes states to have vaccine distribution sites ready by Nov.1, two days before the U.S. presidential election. 

According to a recent USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll, two-thirds of U.S. voters say they won’t get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Another poll from Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only 49% of Americans say they plan to take a vaccine for Covid-19 once one is available to the public.

Earlier in the day, a group of drugmakers, including Pfizer, made a pledge to “uphold the integrity of the scientific process” as they work towards potential global regulatory filings and approvals of the first Covid-19 vaccines.

The unusual move comes after Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, told the Financial Times last week that the agency is prepared to bypass the full federal approval process in order to make a Covid-19 vaccine available as soon as possible.

Insisting the agency wasn’t being pressured by President Donald Trump to fast-track a vaccine, Hahn said an emergency authorization could be appropriate before phase three clinical trials are completed if the benefits outweigh the risks. 

It also came after news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked governors and health departments to prepare to distribute a vaccine as soon as November.

“We want it to be known that also in the current situation we are not willing to compromise safety and efficacy,” said co-signatory Ugur Sahin, the chief executive of Pfizer’s German partner BioNTech.

Bourla called the commitment Tuesday a “historic pledge,” adding the world is “looking to science right now.” 

Last week, he said the company could have results from its late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial as early as October after enrolling 23,000 volunteers. 

“We saw it critical to come out and reiterate our commitment,” he said Tuesday. “We will develop our product, develop our vaccine using the highest ethical standards.”  

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