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Trump officials passed on 'multiple' offers to buy more Pfizer vaccine, Gottlieb says

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, now a member of the Pfizer board of directors, said Tuesday that the pharmaceutical giant offered the Trump administration the chance to buy additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine multiple times, but that officials turned down the offers.

The comments from Gottlieb confirm a report in The New York Times, which on Monday revealed that additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine, beyond the 100 million already purchased, may not be available in the U.S. until June because they were committed to other countries after the Trump administration passed on them.

"Pfizer did offer an additional allotment coming out of that [Michigan] plant, basically the second quarter allotment, to the United States government multiple times, and as recently as after the interim data came out and we knew this vaccine looked to be effective," Gottlieb said on CNBC.

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While Trump administration officials denied the Times report during a background call with reporters on Monday, they have stressed that their strategy has always been to spread their bets across six different companies working on vaccines, not just Pfizer.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the administration's Operation Warp Speed, did not deny the Times report on Tuesday and instead emphasized that the administration is relying on six different companies, not just Pfizer.

"Let me remind everybody what our strategy is and has always been: We selected six different vaccines to build a portfolio to manage the risk that some may work and some may not work, but also to ensure that as more than one would work we would accumulate vaccine doses from this portfolio of vaccines," Slaoui said on ABC.

"In the summer if somebody came to us and said 'Let's buy more of this vaccine or that vaccine,' no one reasonable would buy more from any one of those vaccines because we didn't know which one would work and which one may be better than the other," he added.

But so far, the most promising vaccines are from just two companies, Moderna and Pfizer. If more vaccines from other companies prove to be safe and effective, it would reduce the need for additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the administration's strategy could still work out. But if Pfizer turns out to be the main source of effective vaccines, not having secured more doses could be a problem.

Slaoui on Tuesday pointed at other companies as sources of additional doses.

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"We have two more vaccines from [Johnson & Johnson] and AstraZeneca that will be completing their phase 3 trials in January, and most likely, I hope, be approved for use in February," he said.

He also said the country is "still on track" to vaccinate the U.S. population by the "middle of 2021." He added the administration would work with Pfizer to try to increase its capacity.

Gottlieb, meanwhile, also nodded to the administration strategy of spreading its bets onto multiple vaccines, though that depends on more vaccines having success.

"I think they're betting that more than one vaccine's going to get authorized and there will be more vaccines on the market and that perhaps could be why they didn't take up that additional 100 million option agreement," Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb said the federal government may be able to force Pfizer to provide additional doses if the U.S. does end up needing them, but that would mean breaking agreements with other countries. The U.S. also relies on other countries for vaccine supplies, Gottlieb noted, including the initial doses it is getting of the Pfizer vaccine.

"Bear in mind, the countries that the vaccine was sold to are our close allies," Gottlieb said.