Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer's board of directors, defended the company's move to send fewer vials of its Covid-19 vaccine and count six doses per vial instead of five. This is the best way to ensure that the extra dose is received.
When the company started shipping vaccine bottles last month, pharmacists found that they could often extract an extra dose from each vial, which on paper only held five doses. That discovery meant that the United States could actually receive more doses of the vaccine than the $ 200 million the Department of Defense bought under its deal with Pfizer.
"The bottom line is that this is a very scarce resource. We need to make sure every dose is used," he said Monday in CNBC's Squawk Box. "The only way to do this is to market this as a six-dose vial and have the right equipment ready to extract that sixth dose, which is what Pfizer is actually doing."
The New York Times reported Friday that Pfizer executives in recent weeks have successfully urged Food and Drug Administration officials to revise the wording of the vaccine's emergency approval to officially include the sixth dose for the federal treaty.
Some pharmacists were confused by the extra doses or didn't have the correct syringes to extract them and threw them away.
"During this pandemic that is killing many people around the world, it is important that we use all available vaccines and vaccinate as many people as possible. To keep an extra dose in each vial that could be used to vaccinate more people would be one Tragedy, "said company spokeswoman Amy Rose.
Gottlieb said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that the move will help the US speed up vaccine doses and that Pfizer can now deliver 120 million doses of the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021, up from 100 million before the change the marking.
However, the move puts pressure on U.S. pharmacists to extract six doses from each vial, which requires some special syringes called low dead space syringes. The US government, which ships kits of syringes and vaccine doses, has signed a contract with syringe manufacturers like Becton Dickinson, the world's largest syringe maker, to ensure supplies to local authorities.
However, Becton Dickinson is not in a position to significantly increase the syringe supply in the US, Reuters reported earlier Monday, doubting how many vials the US can extract six doses from.
Gottlieb said the vaccines will only qualify as six-dose vials, which will also give local authorities the correct syringes to extract the final dose.
Gottlieb noted that when Pfizer applied for approval of his emergency vaccine, he knew that six doses could be taken from each vial, but revising the wording of the application would have delayed approval of the vaccine. The company therefore applied for approval with the intention of revising the wording later to reflect the six-dose vials.
He added that it took the U.S. FDA longer than regulators in other countries to make the change. Authorities in the UK, Switzerland and Israel have already revised the wording of their approvals for the Pfizer vaccine to take into account that each vial contains six doses.
Gottlieb, the former head of the FDA, clarified that the change should not be applied retrospectively, which means that all five-dose vials previously shipped will be counted.
But "at some point you had to set up the accommodation to take the doses into account properly," said Gottlieb.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion Inc., and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.