The global push to vaccinate populations against COVID-19 has played out differently in different geographies, with a yawning gap still existing between vaccination rates in developed and developing economies and vaccine hesitancy and scepticism rife in certain countries. Here, three country managers from Pfizer – which is aiming to manufacture 2.5 billion doses of its mRNA vaccine, developed in collaboration with BioNTech, in 2021 – highlight the groundwork they have engaged in ahead of the vaccine’s rollout in their countries and the key learnings from this process.
Mohamed Fawzy, Pfizer Saudi Arabia
Mohamed Fawzy explains how Pfizer’s Saudi affiliate has worked with the country’s hospital procurement body, NUPCO to ensure early access to the vaccine and why early engagement in dialogue will be crucial to solving future health emergencies.
“The importance of open dialogue is a key takeaway. When partners come to the table and engage in open dialogue, mountains can be moved. As is widely known, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires unique storage conditions; when the vaccine was launched, the guidance was for it to be stored at -70°C±10°C.
When partners come to the table and engage in open dialogue, mountains can be moved
“This requires every single step of the supply chain to be clearly outlined. Teams from the MoH, NUPCO, and Pfizer spent hours and hours mapping these steps, from the moment that the vaccine leaves Belgium to its arrival at the vaccination centres in Saudi. Through this mapping, we were able to anticipate every potential challenge and assign accountability.
“Without compromising the quality of the checkpoints, these three teams came up with very innovative solutions to ensure that all challenges would be overcome. Being part of this three-way open dialogue and executing this complex but vital task was a proud moment in my life.”
Erika Pagani, Pfizer Singapore
A recent arrival in Singapore, Erika Pagani was previously Pfizer’s vaccines regional lead for Latin America in New York before taking on a role as interim lead for Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia in the midst of the pandemic. She describes her work around ensuring vaccine access and foregrounds the importance of not letting COVID-19 become the company’s only focus, given the myriad of healthcare challenges that also exist today.
“None of us expected to have a vaccine approved by the end of 2020. It was unprecedented. I have worked with vaccines in the past and knew that it takes several years to develop them. The breakthrough innovation was amazing to live through.
Even though the vaccine is taking up a lot of our time, we have to go beyond
“[Once approved], the next task for us was making our COVID-19 vaccine available to people around the world and engaging with governments; I was fortunate to be the channel with the governments of Peru and Ecuador. That way, what started as a six-month stint became a year-long adventure.
“[In Singapore] we are supporting the Ministry of Health since they are the drivers of the decisions around the national vaccination program. We work closely with them to ensure the supply of the vaccine doses in the country. The partnership has been very positive, and transparent.
“However, this vaccine is by no means our sole focus. Even though the vaccine is taking up a lot of our time, we have to go beyond. We continually look at ways to preserve and accelerate access to innovative medicines. In 2020, we launched new oncology drugs, but we must admit it has been difficult.”
Sissel Lønning Andresen, Pfizer Norway
Pfizer Norway’s Sissel Lønning Andresen outlines the role of the local affiliate in vaccine rollout and the importance of addressing vaccine scepticism and hesitancy.
“Our part in this process has been to work with local authorities to help them prepare for the vaccination program and secure access to the vaccine in Norway. Pfizer is responsible for logistics and shipping, but from that point onwards, it is up to local governments. Our colleagues in Norway are working very hard to secure the arrival of the doses that the Norwegian authorities have ordered.
It is vital that the authorities address scepticism and provide good quality, neutral, and balanced information so that people can make good decisions
“We are also committed to provide fair and balanced information on the vaccines (within our legal framework) and to follow up on adverse event reporting and media enquiries. These are busy days for many of my colleagues.”
“There is very high participation in the other vaccination programs we run in Norway, above 90 percent in some cases. In general, Norwegians trust in vaccines and see their value. I also hope that when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether it is the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or one from another company, Norwegians can see the value.
“Having said that, I think it is understandable for people to be sceptical. It is therefore important that people get information from trustworthy sources; unfortunately, there is a lot of misleading information out there that can impact people’s decisions. It is therefore vital that the authorities address this scepticism and provide good quality, neutral, and balanced information so that people can make good decisions. I hope and believe that the majority of the population who are offered a vaccine will say yes to it.”