By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla on Monday if the state could buy COVID-19 vaccine doses directly from the U.S. drugmaker, a move that raised ethical questions by the U.S. health department.
Pfizer told Reuters that such a proposal would first require approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
An HHS spokesman said that Cuomo was trying to circumvent the system in which the federal government, which has paid Pfizer for the United States' allotment of vaccines already, allocates doses to each state.
New York is asking to "cut to the front of the line at the expense of fellow jurisdictions," the spokesman said in an emailed statement.
"After myself and seven other governors called on the Trump Administration to release more doses, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that relief was on the way. To date, however, the federal government has not acted on that promise," Cuomo wrote.
Cuomo said he was appealing to Pfizer directly as the company was "not bound by commitments" that Moderna Inc made as part of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's program to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
No state has purchased vaccines directly from the producer and Cuomo's letter did not state how many doses he was seeking or how he would pay for it.
Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's administration had promised to administer 20 million vaccinations by the end of 2020 but only about 10.6 million people had received one or more doses as of last Friday.
Pfizer said it was open to collaborating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a way that would ensure quick vaccine distribution to as many Americans as possible.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Howard Goller, Bernard Orr)