MSM President and CEO Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice and Dr. Bourla talk about Pfizer’s development of the COVID-19 vaccine and lessons learned in the pandemic
Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) today published the first edition of its 2024 “Danforth Dialogues” podcast, with a conversation between MSM’s President and CEO Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice and Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla on how the company developed the COVID-19 vaccine in record time and leadership lessons learned in the pandemic.
“Danforth Dialogues is focused on the leadership lessons learned from the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and it would be hard to find a company and CEO more in the trenches of the battle to contain the virus than Pfizer and Dr. Bourla,” said Dr. Montgomery Rice. “Refusing to accept public funds, Dr. Bourla invested $2 billion of the company’s money to develop the vaccine that helped to turn the tide against COVID and, in the process, saved thousands of lives around the world.”
A native of Greece and a 30-year Pfizer employee, Dr. Bourla became Chairman and CEO of the company in January 2019 and has accelerated Pfizer’s transformation to become a more science-driven, innovative company — divesting its non-science-based businesses and dramatically increasing its R&D and digital innovation budgets. In 2021, he was named CEO of the Year by CNN Business, included in Insider Magazine’s Most Transformative CEOs list and inducted into the Crain’s New York Business 2021 Hall of Fame.
Dr. Bourla said the decision to invest billions of dollars on the mRNA vaccine was “easy.” “People had lost hope,” he said. “A company like ours had the capabilities to produce a solution. We decided to go all in.” To bring the Pfizer vaccine to market in historic, record time, Dr. Bourla said he told his team they had an “open checkbook” and instituted new processes and procedures that help to limit bureaucracy and promote agile ways of working which dramatically reduced the time it takes to develop and deliver new medicines.
But the No. 1 reason Pfizer employees were able to quickly develop an effective vaccine was the motivation to end the most virulent global health crisis in 100 years. “I keep reminding everyone that what you are doing is going to save lives,” Dr. Bourla said, telling his team, “Grandparents are going to see grandchildren” because of their work.
One of the challenges of the pandemic was the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation. “It was a major issue,” Dr. Bourla said. “Thousands of people lost their lives that shouldn’t have. We need to understand that there is scientific truth, and we need to stand up and speak about it.” In addition to that learning from the healthcare crisis, Dr. Bourla said another was to “think big. You will be surprised how much people can deliver if you ask them.”
Launched in 2022, “Danforth Dialogues” focuses on the leadership lessons from the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and their broader implication for society. Named after the historic Danforth Chapel on the Morehouse College campus, the podcast series features a cross-section of guests and topics.
To hear this edition of the podcast, click here.
For more information about the Danforth Dialogues leadership series, click here.
To listen and subscribe to the Danforth Dialogues podcast, click here.
For more information about Morehouse School of Medicine, please visit MSM.edu.
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