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Pfizer CEO explains how the drugmaker pivoted its COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about how the company increased production of COVID-19 vaccines to meet high demand.

Video Transcript

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: The vaccine is obviously front and center, and we're going to get to more later. But I just want to stay on the vaccine for a few minutes and talk about what's going on globally, because that seems to be really something that you have to contend with these days. Initially, last year, this time last year, when we were talking about what the vaccine race looked like, no vaccines had been authorized.

You expected a lot more competition, quite frankly, on the world stage. And now you find yourself in a very different position with a lot more pressure to develop, as well as distribute vaccine doses. Tell me a little bit about what that has been like to see that and how that has changed your global strategy?

ALBERT BOURLA: Well, it was very, very true what you just said that not only there were a lot of potential vaccines that would make it, but also we were, for a lot of countries, we were not the preferred one because we didn't promise local manufacturing. There were other companies that they signed contracts offering that will do it in Brazil, we will do it in South Africa. We didn't do that.

We said we are going to do it in our manufacturing sites, wherever they are ready to do it right now. And also mRNA was not a proven technology. So as a result, we received not many orders from countries other than the highly developed income countries: the Europe, the US, and Japan, Canada.

They were the countries that they had raised the orders, though they didn't like at all. And we actually sent letters to the heads of states at the time of low and middle-income countries, telling them that everything that we have scheduled to produce will be allocated pretty soon, and if I urge them to place an order so that we can, let's say, reserve quantities for them. They didn't, for their reasons. it's not that nobody knew at the time.

Of course, the situation changed when our vaccine became so effective and so safe, and then other vaccines either didn't make it or they were not able to produce at scale. So everybody wanted to get from us, and we changed dramatically our strategy. We had invested to produce 1.3 billion doses for 2021.

When we realized the situation, we put way more investments into the system. And we were able to raise the volumes to $3 billion doses this year and $4 billion next year. More than 40%, actually, of these quantities will go to middle and low-income countries by the end of the year, not in next year-- in two months.

That would be the total. And so right now it is very disproportional. We are shipping way more to low and middle-income countries than to high income countries, which is the opposite of what we did in the first six months.