Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) announced late Monday that it has launched an Immunization Pilot Program in four U.S. states -- Texas, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
This is being done to ensure that when and if its BNT162b2 coronavirus vaccine, developed in collaboration with German biotech BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX), is approved for use, its will be possible to rapidly ramp up an efficient and equitable distribution system for it.
The company is working with various officials in the federal government's Operation Warp Speed development program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to coordinate distribution of the vaccine.
The company said the four states were chosen "because of their differences in overall size, diversity of populations, and immunization infrastructure, as well as the states' need to reach individuals in varied urban and rural settings." Pfizer stressed that none of the four will receive doses of the vaccine (again, if and when it's approved) earlier than other states.
In July, when it became apparent that BNT162b2 was among the leading candidates in the race to bring an effective COVID-19 vaccine to market, Pfizer and BioNTech reached an agreement with federal authorities to start delivering a total of 300 million doses in 2021. The government will purchase the first 100 million for $1.95 billion; it holds an option to buy as many as 500 million more.
Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech released data from an interim analysis of BNT162b2's phase 3 trial showing that it was over 90% efficacious in preventing COVID-19 infections, an astonishingly high rate for any vaccine. Since then, however, investor excitement for those two companies has been tempered a bit by a clinical trial data release from rival Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) that indicates its COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA 1273, is 94.5% effective.
Like BNT162b2, mRNA-1273 utilizes messenger RNA (mRNA) that instructs the body's cells to produce the specific spike proteins found on the exterior of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The immune system then reacts to these antigens -- which are by themselves harmless -- by generating antibodies and triggering other defenses that should block the actual coronavirus from infecting inoculated individuals.