Fierce Pharma Politics—Amid Pfizer, U.S. coronavirus vaccine talks, Azar suggests using Defense Production Act to snare doses

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we’ll highlight developments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could affect drug pricing and how drugmakers operate. 

As Pfizer ships the United States' first COVID-19 vaccines, new details are emerging about the government’s talks to acquire additional doses. Pfizer board member and ex-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said the government refused “multiple times” to purchase more doses over the summer, while HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the company didn’t make specific offers.

Following The New York Times report last week that the Trump administration had turned down the company’s offer to purchase additional doses, Gottlieb and Azar explained the discussions in interviews with CNBC and PBS Newshour, respectively. Pfizer offered the U.S. government what would have been a “second quarter” 2021 allotment, Gottlieb told CNBC, but the government declined on several occasions. 

For his part, Azar told PBS the government didn’t proceed because Pfizer didn’t make a concrete offer around the number of doses and timing of delivery. He said Pfizer is wanting to do "contract negotiations in the media" to pressure the government.

The parties in July agreed to a $1.95 billion deal for 100 million doses with an option for another 500 million. When the company suggested the federal government order more doses this summer, officials countered that the vaccine hadn’t yet proven itself, according to reports. 

RELATED: Not enough Pfizer vaccine doses? Blame the feds, not the company: reports 

The talks restarted in October, Azar said. He floated the Defense Production Act as one way to get additional doses from the company.

Before the FDA authorized the vaccine late Friday, President Donald Trump had been criticizing the agency for dragging its feet. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told FDA chief Stephen Hahn to be ready to resign if the agency didn’t authorize the vaccine by the end of Friday, the Washington Post reported. Hahn responded on Sunday that the vaccine couldn’t have been approved any sooner. 

RELATED: As Trump, Biden face off, could drug pricing reforms await? Experts are split, but pharma is watching closely 

Meanwhile, as President-elect Joe Biden gears up for his inauguration and selects cabinet appointments, Vox reports that he’ll have to decide how much to prioritize action on drug pricing during his term. The drug industry is set to emerge from COVID-19 looking like heroes, the publication reports, which will complicate efforts to regulate the industry.