BATTLE lines have been drawn, lawyers briefed and arguments prepared, as UK vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca has accused Pfizer of spreading misinformation about its Covid-19 vaccine at the peak of the UK rollout, according to leaked documents reported by the investigative news site Tortoise.
Earlier this year, Astra Zeneca accused Dr Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member, of making “false, misleading, speculative and derogatory statements” about its jab.
Gottlieb, the former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CBS News’s Face the Nation on February 14 that the Astra Zeneca vaccine did “not cover the South African variant very well, if at all”.
The remarks were made at a time when the emergent South African variant was the main source of global concern regarding a vaccine resistant strain of Covid-19.
Three days after this appearance, Astra Zeneca’s in house lawyer, Jeff Pott wrote to his opposite number at Pfizer, Doug Lankler, claiming the comments were “unsupported by evidence and misrepresent data from the studies”.
A podcast titled Pfizer’s war, released today by Tortoise, has revealed the extent of the underhand tactics that Pfizer is accused of deploying – both to boost its own vaccine sales and reduce confidence in those offered by its competitors.
Following conversations with a number of experts and policymakers, Tortoise reported that concerns about Pfizer, the first company in the world to license a Covid-19 vaccine, were unanimous among sources involved in “trying to secure vaccine doses for the world”.
Conceding that the American multinational had “saved lives which I couldn’t even begin to count,” the Tortoise reporter also revealed that “the most generous thing any of the people I have talked to have found it in their heart to say about the way Pfizer has behaved [is that] they are a bunch of shitbags, they’re not the only ones, but they are cleverer than the rest”.
The segment explains how Pfizer-funded research and board members called the effectiveness and safety of AstraZeneca’s vaccine into question, causing what an Astra Zeneca representative described as “confusion and misimpressions that pose a serious public health threat around the world”.
Gottlieb is not the only authority figure to have undermined confidence in the Astra Zeneca vaccine, as earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron, leader of a one of the most vaccine sceptical nations in Europe, described the British made vaccine as “quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older”.
The French President was criticized for his unfounded remarks, which were likely an example of commercial one-upmanship from a nation that “didn't have any vaccine,” Oxford Professor John Bell told Politico.
In this scenario, the “best thing you could do is reduce demand [for the Astra Zeneca vaccine]," Professor Bell added.
Criticism of the US pharma giant came not only from its commercial rivals, but also from global public health officials, who suspect Pfizer of causing unnecessary delays in its contribution of vaccines to the developing world, seeking instead to maximise profit with sales to wealthier nations.
Pfizer is responsible for roughly a quarter of all jabs delivered around the world, according to Tortoise, but only one in seven of those delivered to COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
In contrast, Moderna, another cold-chain mRNA vaccine, have delivered a higher proportion of its vaccines to COVAX than to wealthier countries around the world, Tortoise reported.
Accounting for this disparity, as well as Pfizer’s unfounded criticisms of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, investigative journalist Ceri Jones revealed that a source described Pfizer as an “extreme form of rapacious capitalism”.
Jones said: “The drug companies aren’t clones, they are in the same line of business, but there are real cultural and philosophical differences”.
While Pfizer is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and has been restructuring its operations to maximise profits and minimise costly and often fruitless investment into research and development, Astra Zeneca, a British-Swedish manufacturer, instead teamed up with Oxford University to develop and manufacture a vaccine to be sold at cost price.
Pfizer denies all allegations that it has been too aggressive, uncooperative, or unethical in marketing and distributing its vaccine.