Cuomo asks Pfizer to sell its COVID-19 vaccine directly to New York as the head of WHO warns of mounting inequities in vaccine distribution

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Reed Alexander
·5 min read
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andrew cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked Pfizer on Monday to sell its coronavirus vaccine directly to his state. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to New York.

  • The proposal would require Pfizer to bypass the federal government's Operation Warp Speed campaign to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans.

  • "The distribution of any doses obtained directly from Pfizer will follow the rigorous guidance the State has established, while enabling us to fill the dosage gap created this week by the outgoing federal administration," Cuomo wrote in a letter to Pfizer.

  • Pfizer told Insider in an email on Monday that the Department of Health and Human Services would have to sign off on a plan for it to sell vaccines directly to states.

  • "Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible," the firm told Insider.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday called on the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to his state in the hope of accelerating a process that has languished in recent weeks.

The proposal would require Pfizer to circumvent the federal government's Operation Warp Speed, a campaign to produce and distribute some 300 million doses to Americans to help end the pandemic, and deal directly with Cuomo's administration.

"Because you are not bound by commitments that Moderna made as part of Operation Warp Speed, I am requesting that the State of New York be permitted to directly purchase doses from you," Cuomo wrote in a letter to Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer.

"The distribution of any doses obtained directly from Pfizer will follow the rigorous guidance the State has established, while enabling us to fill the dosage gap created this week by the outgoing federal administration," Cuomo added. "All of this will further our goal to vaccinate 70 to 90 percent of New Yorkers as soon as possible and reach herd immunity."

Pfizer said it would need approval from the Department of Health and Human Services to sell its vaccine directly to states

"We appreciate Governor Cuomo's kind words and the pride he expressed in his letter that Pfizer is a New York-headquartered company," the firm told Insider in an email on Monday.

Pfizer noted that it would need the green light from the Department of Health and Human Services for such a sale.

"Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible," the company said.

Read more: Health officials slam Walgreens and CVS for 'fiasco' vaccine rollout to nursing homes

As of Monday evening, more than 645,000 vaccines had been distributed in New York, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That would represent about 3.3% of New York's population of nearly 19.5 million people, according to 2019 census data.

Early in the pandemic, New York was one of the hardest-hit states

So far, the state - which was hit hard this spring by the virus - has recorded more than 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 41,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.

In his letter, Cuomo said hospitalizations and deaths were once again "increasing across the country this winter," putting Americans "in a footrace with the virus."

"We will lose unless we dramatically increase the number of doses getting to New Yorkers," Cuomo wrote. He added that New York was on track to receive 250,000 vaccine doses this week, about 50,000 fewer than last week.

Pfizer developed its two-dose vaccine with the pharmaceutical company BioNTech. The Food and Drug Administration on December 11 authorized the vaccine for emergency use in the US, where COVID-19 has killed nearly 400,000 people.

Representatives for Cuomo's office did not immediately return a request for comment from Insider on Monday evening.

The head of the World Health Organization warned of inequities in global vaccine distribution

Also on Monday, the director-general of the World Health Organization warned of a threat to efforts to vaccinate vulnerable people worldwide.

"It's not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a WHO executive-board session.

"More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country," Tedros said.

He added that the disparity in vaccine availability in rich and poor nations had pushed the world to "the brink of a catastrophic moral failure."

Read more: The world is 'on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure' by failing to get vaccines to poorer countries, WHO warns

As the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in the US has languished, President-elect Joe Biden said in late December that, at the current pace, it would "take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people." Biden said he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine production.

When he takes office on Wednesday, Biden will inherit the problem of how to stitch together a more cohesive federal response to the pandemic. The absence of a single coordinated effort has stymied some state administrations trying to get on the same page about how best to control the disease.

In New York, Cuomo expressed frustration about "shifting guidance" on who should receive the vaccine first in his state.

"Shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drove the number of New Yorkers eligible and prioritized for the vaccine from 5 million to 7 million practically overnight," Cuomo wrote in his letter. "The federal administration essentially opened up a floodgate while cutting our supply - leading to confusion, frustration, and dashed hopes."

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