Pfizer initially rejected offer to develop Covid vaccine as thought virus would be ‘controlled’

A Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
A Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Pfizer initially declined the offer to develop a virus to fight Covid-19 because its executives thought the virus would be rapidly contained.

Dr Ugur Sahin and his wife, Dr Özlem Türeci, the founders of BioNTech, were told by the pharmaceutical giant that "this is not going to work” as the virus began to spread in January 2020.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dr Sahin recalled his conversation with Pfizer to see if it wanted to be involved, to which the answer was a firm “no”.

“Guys, this is not going to work”, he was told by Dr Phil Dormitzer, Pfizer’s vice-president and chief scientific officer for vaccines.

The mRNA technology, which has become crucial to vaccine breakthroughs, was considered too experimental at the time by Dr Phil Dormitzer.

However, Dr Sahin said: “After the phone call with Phil, I just thought for a second and said ‘we will call him again in a few weeks.’”

The couple thought it only a “matter of time” before the drugs giant changed its mind and they did as a deal between Pfizer and BioNTech was announced a month later.

The revelation came from a new book, entitled The Vaccine, which was written by journalist Joe Miller.

The book shares the story of how the married scientists created the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, the first clinically approved vaccine in the global fight against the pandemic.

It also reveals how scientists saw the threat Covid-19 posed soon after it emerged in Wuhan and how BioNTech mobilised against it.

It comes as The UK’s medicines watchdog has said the Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are safe to use as booster jabs.

The move by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) means a booster programme could be brought in imminently if the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) gives the go-ahead.

Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: “I am pleased to confirm that the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca can be used as safe and effective booster doses.

“This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far.

“It will now be for the JCVI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given and if so, which vaccines should be used.”

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