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Bourla’s “Moonshot”: How Pfizer Innovated to Save Lives

By NAM News Room

In just nine months in 2020, Pfizer pulled off a scientific feat few were betting on: It produced an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, an illness that at the time was contributing to thousands of deaths a week in the U.S. alone.

A ray of hope: Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla shares the astounding story in his new book, “Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible,” out today. Part best practices, part personal memoir, “Moonshot” is at its heart a story about a manufacturer on a mission: to be part of something larger than itself and help the world.

Here, we share some of the highlights.

Tremendous sacrifice: “Pearl River, New York … where we had research labs, was also a community hot spot for the virus,” Bourla writes on page 87. “More than 350 people a day came into the Pearl River site in the middle of the pandemic. They were diligent with precautions—masks, handwashing, social distancing, protective gear—but they were coming in for long hours and through weekends.”

  • “It was a tremendous effort under challenging circumstances. During the pandemic, we saw thirty-four hundred Pfizer colleagues infected across the globe. Dozens were hospitalized. As of July 27, 2021, twenty-three colleagues and four contractors had lost their lives. When I would learn of grieving families and families in distress, I would personally call or email.”

Innovation under pressure: “I remember vividly when [now Executive Vice President, Chief Global Supply Officer Mike McDermott] came to a meeting to present how he would increase production to three billion doses in 2021,” Bourla writes on page 92. “One of the … challenges would be that if we needed to increase the production capacity dramatically, we would need many replicas of … new equipment, and we didn’t have enough readily available space in our manufacturing sites.

  • “‘I will have to build new formulation sites,’ Mike said, ‘and as you know, building construction takes years.’ And before I could ask him, ‘What you are going to do about it?’ he anticipated my question.”
  • “‘But we have a solution. … We can order prefabricated modules that we can install in our Kalamazoo manufacturing site within months, not years. … [I]t can be done.’”

Lifesaving cold storage: “Led by a man who became known as the Ice Man, James Jean, our engineers designed a temperature-controlled thermal shipper that could transport and store the vaccine anywhere in the world,” Bourla writes on page 94.

  • “We had been piloting the idea before COVID-19, but when the pandemic struck, we skipped the test phase and went straight to full implementation. The shipper, about the size of a carry-on suitcase, weighed about seventy-five pounds. It carried a minimum of one tray of vaccine vials and as many as five trays. Each tray had 195 vials, 6 doses per vial. So, a single shipper could carry as many as 5,850 doses.”
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