On Monday November 9, the American pharmaceutical mega-company Pfizer announced its COVID-19 vaccine trials have been very successful. According to the investor relations press release, the “vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants…” This news was met with cheers and the hope that the world would be nearing the end of the pandemic. As we have noted in previous articles, the pandemic has taken a toll on small business, government, and even sports.
However, it also has left a few scratching their heads, specifically around the timing of the announcement- just two days after Joe Biden was announced the winner of the presidential election. Some suggest that Pfizer maliciously held the vaccine announcement until after the election. Others think that there is no Pfizer vaccine at all. How valid are these claims? Below are all of the facts that we know about the new, possible Pfizer vaccine.
What is the Pfizer vaccine?
Before delving into the controversy, what exactly was the announcement? Looking at the press release (linked at the bottom), we can takeaway a few main points:
- The vaccine was found to be 90% effective. In other words, of the 43,538 participants, only 94 contracted COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. (Note: not all 43,538 participants received the vaccine, some received a placebo).
- 42% of the participants have a diverse background, signalling that the Pfizer vaccine is effective for all races and ethnic backgrounds.
- The vaccine is an mRNA-based candidate. Pfizer partnered with German firm BioNTech SE, a company specializing in mRNA vaccinations, for development.
- The vaccine candidate will be submitted to the FDA for final analysis by the third week of November, when ~164 cases of COVID-19 have accrued.
Given the above, we know that these companies are claiming to have a vaccine that is not only effective, but nearly ready for FDA and governmental approval. Needless to say, all official SEC documentation, business newswires, and other legal documentation outlines Pfizer’s successful vaccine trials. All of these documents are subject to intense regulatory scrutiny, so it is safe to say that Pfizer does indeed have a promising vaccine candidate.
Similarly, President Trump has acknowledged the success of Pfizer, and claimed part of the success was due to Trump’s Operation Warpspeed initiative to battle COVID-19. However, Pfizer denies participating in the initiative and claims it did not receive government assistance for this research.
This is where the details begin to get hazy. President Trump said on Nov 13:
Pfizer said it wasn’t part of Warp Speed, but that turned out to be a unfortunate misrepresentation. They are part. That’s why we gave them the $1.95 million — billion dollars. And it was an unfortunate mistake that they made when they said that… Three other vaccines are also in the final stages of trial. They’ll arrive within a few weeks, and they will also be mass produced, and the delivery will be very rapid. We’re ready to go. 
So, what is Operation Warpspeed, and did Pfizer participate?
What is Operation Warpspeed?
Operation Warpspeed is a coordinated effort from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to invest in expediting a COVID-19 vaccine. The goal is to have a initial doses of an effective vaccine available by January 2021. The first funds were distributed on March 30. HHS announced $456 million in funds would be given to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine candidate. This vaccine began Phase 3 clinical trials on September 22, 2020.
Throughout the rest of 2020, billions of dollars were distributed to many different companies for different vaccine candidates and therapeutic treatments, including Pfizer. In fact, according to HHS on July 22:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense (DoD) today announced an agreement with U.S.-based Pfizer Inc. for large-scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States following the vaccine’s successful manufacture and approval. The agreement also allows the U.S. government to acquire an additional 500 million doses.
The federal government will own the 100 million doses of vaccine initially produced as a result of this agreement, and Pfizer will deliver the doses in the United States if the product receives Emergency Use Authorization or licensure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as outlined in FDA guidance, after completing demonstration of safety and efficacy in a large Phase 3 clinical trial.
Pfizer is collaborating with BioNTech, a German biotechnology company, to develop COVID-19 investigational vaccines without U.S. government financial support. Phase 1/2 clinical trials are underway for the investigational vaccines in the United States and Germany.
So, it is clear that Pfizer did partially participate in Operation Warpspeed. However, Pfizer did not receive their $1.95 billion allocation. This money is set aside for large scale manufacturing and distributions. Put simply, the government did not fund the Research and Development, but rather plan on buying doses once the vaccine is finished. So there was a partnership between the Trump administration and Pfizer, just not exactly what is being said.
It is extremely dishonest and frustrating that so many of the mainstream media, including Pfizer itself, is claiming that the company did not participate in Operation Warpspeed. HHS and and Pfizer did have a partnership in place, and HHS guaranteed $1.95 billion for distribution once a vaccine was complete. To claim otherwise is lying to deny the President a political win.
Election Timing of Pfizer Vaccine
There is a claim being circulated that Pfizer held this news until after the election to hurt the President’s chances. In fact, President Trump tweeted out himself:
He later continued to claim that the Democrats and FDA conspired to delay the vaccine news until after the election.
Is there any bearing to this claim? According to Science Magazine, Pfizer has said that the election had no bearing on vaccine decisions. There have been numerous timelines set and changed by the FDA, drug makers like Pfizer, and others. Specifically for Pfizer, the methods of testing the vaccine’s viability was constantly evolving based on the pandemic’s reach.
On October 16, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla released a public letter , stating that they should reach an important safety milestone in the third week of November. This milestone was reached on November 9, a week earlier than their projections.
Even earlier than that, Albert Bourla released a company memo asserting that the company wouldn’t cave to any kind of political pressure from those who would want the vaccine rushed, as well as those who would want it delayed to deny Trump.
Pfizer, however, is not an apolitical organization. From OpenSecrets.org, one could see the total political donations from employees of specific firms. In 2020, 60.3% of donations went to Democrats, and 39.6% went to Republicans.  This is suspect, but it is important to note that in 2016, 65% of donations were to Republicans, and 35% were to Democrats.
Politics is in everything, however there is just not enough evidence to prove that Pfizer purposely held the vaccine announcement until after election day.
Pfizer Vaccine Rallies the Market
When the news on Pfizer’s vaccine was made public, the market exploded. According to Bank of America, the week after the announcement saw the largest week of equity inflows ever. In other words, money poured into the stock market from this news, boosting many stocks up 5-10%.
Pfizer ($PFE) and BioNTech ($BNTX) specifically saw massive gains at market open Monday, with Pfizer gaining over 11% in minutes, and BioNTech jumped nearly 23%. Clearly, the market loved these two companies after the news.
Pfizer and BioNTech were not the only two gaining from this bull run. By the end of the week, the Dow Jones climbed nearly 400 points, and the S&P 500 hit record highs closing at $3,585. To be fair, the S&P did start rallying after major news networks called the presidential election in favor of Joe Biden as of Nov 5. However, this rally helped push the market over the hump to new highs.
Overall, the positive Pfizer vaccine news helped push the market into a bull run that could continue through the rest of the year.
Tech Stocks Sit Out of Bull Run
Not every company saw incredible gains the past week, however. Zoom ($ZM) saw a particularly turbulent week, falling almost 25% to a 3 month low of $376. It recovered slightly near the end of the week, closing at $403.58 on Friday.
This is a sign that as the pandemic comes to a resolution, “stay-at-home” stocks like Zoom and Netflix are going to become more volatile.
Conclusion and What’s Next
It’s clear that there is a ton of noise around this vaccine announcement. The market loved it, the Trump Administration claimed to have helped, and Pfizer denies this claim. From the above though, you can conclude the following facts:
- A vaccine is close, but we must continue to monitor the clinical trials.
- Pfizer did enter in a partnership with the Trump administration through Operation Warpspeed, however not to the extent that the President is claiming.
- While Pfizer, Inc donated primarily to Democrats in this election cycle, there is no concrete evidence that they delayed the announcement until after the election cycle.
- The market rallied to all time highs when the news broke on the Pfizer vaccine.
Where do we go from here? God willing, this vaccine, or another candidate by another company, will be able to see continued success in clinical trials. It is hopeful that the January 2021 timeline set by the HHS can still be met.
- Businesswire.com “https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201109005539/en/“
- Whitehouse.gov “https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-update-operation-warp-speed/“
- Hhs.gov “https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/explaining-operation-warp-speed/index.html“
- Hhs.gov “https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/07/22/us-government-engages-pfizer-produce-millions-doses-covid-19-vaccine.html“
- Nytimes.com “https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/health/was-the-pfizer-vaccine-part-of-the-governments-operation-warp-speed.html“
- Sciencemag.org “https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/11/fact-check-no-evidence-supports-trump-s-claim-covid-19-vaccine-result-was-suppressed“
- Pfizer.org “https://www.pfizer.com/news/hot-topics/an_open_letter_from_pfizer_chairman_and_ceo_albert_bourla?linkId=102134275“
- Politico.org “https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/01/pfizer-ceo-debate-covid-vaccine-424599“
- OpenSecrets.org “https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/pfizer-inc/totals?id=D000000138“
- Marketwatch.com “https://www.marketwatch.com/story/pfizer-vaccine-news-sparks-44-5-billion-flood-into-the-stock-marketits-biggest-weekly-inflow-ever-says-bofa-11605287707“