Viking Saga

Q & A with Pfizer: Developing COVID-19 Vaccine

The Viking Saga did an exclusive interview with Robert Goodwin, Vice President of the Operations Center of Excellence at Pfizer, regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. He has been with Pfizer for 22 years. Mr. Goodwin has a Masters in Research, Measurement and Quantitative Analysis, and a Masters of Business Administration in Pharmaceutical and Chemical Studies. This interview was conducted Nov. 13.

Interview by Eve Slemp

Viking Saga: When did you start working on the  vaccine? 

Robert Goodwin: “We started looking at the vaccine construct in January. That’s when the first profile of what COVID-19 looked like became available. We started our very early trials of dosing patients in March of this year. Our Phase 3 Trial, which is the study you are all hearing about in the news, started at the end of July.”

VS: What was the process? 

RG: “We have consenting trials which means the patient comes in and we explain what the study is going to look like. We tell them the risks and the potential benefits of being in the trial. The patient makes that decision if they want to be in the trial or not. Once in the trial, it’s not guaranteed that they are on the vaccine. 50 percent of the patients are on placebo and 50 percent are actually on the vaccine. The patients don’t know this. Day one, they get a vaccine. Then 21 days later, they get another dose of the vaccine. Seven days later, we started measuring. From the end of July to the end of October, we’ve vaccinated 44,000 people. As you heard on the news, when we compare the groups of those that were positive for COVID-19 across both the placebo and vaccine group, we saw the vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing disease. We have experts who have been working their whole lives. I can tell you that when we heard the results, most of us were crying. We were that excited and blown away.”

VS: How is the Pfizer vaccine different from other vaccines?

RG: “For the Pfizer vaccine, it’s a new platform that is based on our messenger RNA (mRNA). The flu vaccine and other vaccines train the immune system to recognize the disease-causing part of a virus. An mRNA vaccine is different, because rather than having the viral protein injected, a person receives genetic material, mRNA, that encodes the viral protein. In the future, you’ll see the flu vaccine generated off of a platform like the mRNA.”

VS: Why are people afraid of the vaccine?

RG: “Everybody is different and everybody has different beliefs. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but a lot of concern [people have had] in the past is that vaccines cause issues. I think some people may be nervous about taking the vaccine because usually it takes about eight years to develop. First of all, in a typical trial, it may take years to recruit a lot of people. Because we are in a pandemic, we were able to recruit our trials much faster. We knocked two to three years off development time. The other thing is, even though we say the vaccine is going fast, all the processes and procedures are of the same high quality and compliance that we would do for any normal programs. There are no shortcuts at all.”

VS: When do you think the vaccine will be released?

RG: “That really is up to the U.S. government. With that authorization [from FDA], that’s when the government, a group called Operation Warp Speed headed by Army four-star Gen. Gustave Perna, coordinates distribution of vaccines. It is anticipated that we will start rolling out that vaccine in December.”

VS: Who will get the vaccine first?

RG: “As that vaccine rolls out to people, it will be done on the basis of need. Healthcare workers who are in contact with COVID-19, those who are elderly, those who have cardiovascular disease, or respiratory disease are where we see COVID-19 having a huge impact. They will all be first to get the vaccine.” 

VS: How quickly do you think the vaccine could control COVID-19?

RG: “I think we will see an impact during the first quarter of 2021. I think by mid-next year, we will see a dramatic impact. We probably won’t be out of this until the end of 2021. We should still be cautious, we should still be wearing masks, we should still be washing our hands, and we should still be careful.”

VS: Is there a chance of going back to school full time? 

RG: “We hopefully will start to see spikes come down. Then, it is up to the governor to decide what to do. Maybe toward the end of your fourth quarter at ELHS. That would be great. That would be amazing. Our motto at Pfizer is ‘Science will win’. Everything we do is determined by the speed of science. We don’t determine things by political standpoints or anything like that. It is all based on what the science tells us.

VS: What’s exciting about this process?

RG: “It’s a once in a lifetime event… hopefully. The whole world is going through this terrible time. To get to work with a company that is so focused on eliminating this virus and getting the world back to normal is very energizing. I feel very proud and humble, all at the same  time.”

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