“At Pfizer, we referred to the development of our Covid-19 vaccine as a moonshot, shorthand for reaching big, for pursuing aspirational and difficult ventures,” Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, told the students in the New York Medical College (NYMC) 163rd graduating class. “Today, I challenge you to pursue your own moonshot, to ask yourself how you can achieve something no one else has done before.”
Bourla spoke to graduates of NYMC’s School of Medicine. Separate graduation ceremonies had been held at NYMC’s Valhalla campus for the School of Health Sciences and Practice and the Graduate School of Basic Medical Sciences and the Touro College of Dental Medicine. NYMC is part of the Touro College and University System.
Pfizer is headquartered in Manhattan and has 18 offices throughout the U.S. including in Pearl River, New York, and Groton, Connecticut.
Bourla explained that when he first asked his development team for a one-year timeline for creating a Covid vaccine instead of the usual eight or 10 years, they told him they could do it in 15 months.
“I asked them to think about how many more people would get sick or die if we didn’t deliver by the fall,” Bourla said. “Many of them thought what I was asking for was unreasonable and most thought that it was impossible. But, they went back to the drawing board. They pushed themselves outside their comfort level, outside their comfort zone and eventually advanced our science more quickly than they had ever imagined they could. They delivered a plan that would deliver a vaccine in eight months, and they did it.”
Bourla said that the rapid timeline for creating a vaccine was only part of the problem because they then had to figure a way to produce enough doses.
“The previous year of the pandemic, Pfizer was manufacturing approximately 200 million doses of all our vaccines across all our manufacturing sites in the world,” Bourla said. “What I asked the team to do was not to make 300 million doses of the new vaccine. That by itself would have been incredibly difficult but would force everyone to think how they can improve the current processes. I didn’t ask them to deliver 300 million doses. I asked them to deliver 3 billion doses in the first year of manufacturing the new vaccine, and they did it. By the end of 2021, we had produced 3 billion doses of vaccines that were distributed to 179 countries across the world.”
Bourla expressed concern about the current medical care gap that exists on the planet, deciding who can and cannot have access to the most modern and effective health care. He said that while the developed world is supplying hundreds of millions of doses of Covid vaccine to underdeveloped countries, there still is a gap in administration because of inadequate medical infrastructure.
“With all we have learned and accomplished over the past two years, we really need to do something to close this equity gap,” Bourla said. He revealed that Pfizer has agreed to provide all of its patented medicines and vaccines that are currently available in the U.S. and in Europe on a nonprofit basis, at cost, to 1.2 billion people living in the 45 poorest countries of the world. He also said that as Pfizer develops new medicines, they will automatically find their way to those countries at cost.
“As physicians yourself, you understand better than most of all professions the power of purpose,” Bourla said. “It is purpose that has you looking to the future with a great sense of hope you can make a difference in this world.”
Dr. Edward C. Halperin, chancellor and CEO of NYMC, told the graduating class, “Since its founding in 1860, New York Medical College has established itself as a leading educational institution, with graduates who become compassionate, thoughtful and resourceful medical professionals, driven to pursue groundbreaking research, advance medical practices and the highest standard of care for their patients. I am certain that the Class of 2022 will continue to uphold these expectations as they embark on the next chapter of their journeys to becoming elite scholars, professionals and community resources.”
Westchester County’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Sherlita Amler, who teaches at NYMC, was the keynote speaker for the School of Health Sciences and Practice and the Graduate School of Basic Medical Sciences graduation ceremonies. In addition, she was the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony held by the Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM), which is located on the NYMC campus.
“In my own field of public health, we recognize the vital role of dentistry, helping us lead better lives as well as longer lives,” Amler said. “Oral health affects every aspect of our lives, from diet to sleep to mental health. The future health of our people will depend in part on you and your colleagues. Some of you will go on to develop new procedures, treatments and preventive strategies. As you move ahead in your profession, always remember to treat the whole patient and recognize the value of every human being. Look beyond the oral cavity, because a tooth never walks in by itself. Many people have poor access to health care, so you may be their only doctor.”
Ronnie Myers, dean at TCDM, told the graduates, “Over the past four years, this group has grown from fresh and eager dental students to compassionate, driven and thoughtful health care providers. They have made their mark on TCDM and will now move on to make incredible strides for the betterment of oral health care and the patients they will personally treat.”