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

  • On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to New York state.
  • The proposal to work directly with New York's state government 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 before being able to sell vaccines directly to US states, the Department of Health and Human Services would have to sign off on the plan.
  • "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 called on pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to New York state, in the hopes of accelerating a process that has languished in recent weeks.

The request would require Pfizer to circumvent the federal government's Operation Warp Speed — a campaign to produce and distribute some 300 million doses to Americans in an effort to end the pandemic — and deal directly with Cuomo's state 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 on Monday in a letter to Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, which is headquartered in New York City.

"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% of New Yorkers as soon as possible and reach herd immunity."

Before being able to sell its vaccine directly to individual US states, Pfizer told Insider that the firm would first require approval from the Department of Health and Human Services

"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 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 added, but noted that it would need the green light from the HHS before such a sale could take place.

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 the state of New York, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

That's roughly 3.3% of New York's statewide population, which was determined to be nearly 19.5 million, according to 2019 US Census Bureau data.

Last spring, New York was one of the hardest-hit states nationwide in the early stages of the pandemic

So far, the state has recorded more than 1.24 million confirmed COVID cases and nearly 41,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

In his letter on Monday, Cuomo warned that hospitalizations and deaths are 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, noting that New Yorkers are on track to receive just 250,000 vaccine doses this week, which is down from last week's numbers.

Pfizer developed its two-dose vaccine in tandem with the pharmaceutical company BioNTech. The vaccine was first approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration on December 11, as a preventive tool against COVID-19 — a disease that has thwarted US public health measures for nearly a year, and claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans.

Representatives for Gov. 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 on Monday

On the same day as Cuomo's request, the director-general of the World Health Organization issued a stark warning about a burgeoning threat he sees which could impact efforts to vaccinate vulnerable people worldwide.

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

"More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, but just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country," Tedros said. He said that the disparity in vaccine availability in rich and poor nations had pushed the world to "the brink of catastrophic moral failure."

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

As roll-outs of coronavirus vaccines including those created by pharmaceuticals companies Pfizer and Moderna have languished in the US in recent weeks, Tedros hasn't been the only world leader to shine a light on the crisis.

President-elect Joe Biden warned in late December that, at the current pace, it would "take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people."

Biden said that, once in office, he'd invoke federal powers including the Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine production in an effort to meet growing demand.

One order of business the new president will inherit when he is sworn into office Wednesday will be how to stitch together a more cohesive federal response to the pandemic. A lack of a single coordinated effort has stymied some state administrations as they have tried to get on the same page about how best to control the disease.

In New York, Cuomo seemed to express frustration toward what he called "shifting guidance" from the CDC in regard to 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 to Pfizer's Bourla. "The federal administration essentially opened up a floodgate while cutting our supply — leading to confusing, frustrating, and dashed hopes."

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