Canada Markets open in 4 hrs 14 mins
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Influencers with Andy Serwer: Gregory Zuckerman

In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In this episode of Influencers, Andy is joined by ‘A Shot to Save the World’ author, Gregory Zuckerman, as they discuss the development of the COVID-19 vaccines and what the future holds for mRNA technology.

Video Transcript

- In this episode of "Influencers," Gregory Zuckerman, author of "A Shot to Save the World."

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think we're too close to this miraculous development of these vaccines to appreciate the enormity of it. I really do think it's modern science's greatest achievement. I believe that this pandemic is going to end, but this virus is not going away. It's going to be endemic. It's going to kind of melt into the background. But we're always going to have things cropping up.

I write the same story all over again, over and over. I write about overlooked, underappreciated individuals achieving something that the experts told them they couldn't do.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Gregory Zuckerman, award-winning journalist, special writer at "The Wall Street Journal," and author of the new book, "A Shot to Save the World-- The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine." Greg, nice to see you.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Great to see you, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: So congratulations on the book, a lot to talk about. You've noted that you wanted to focus on the triumphs of the-- triumphs, I guess I should say, of the development of the vaccine. And one thing you talked about was a lucky break that occurred with regard to mRNA research which occurred a couple years before the pandemic, which probably allowed for the rapid development of the vaccine. What would the world look like if the pandemic had arrived five years earlier? Do you think we'd still be waiting for a vaccine?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: It's a great question. So I think we're too close to this miraculous development of these vaccines to appreciate the enormity of it. I really do think it's modern science's greatest achievement. And to your point, the technology was not ready a few years ago. So we need to be grateful that the pandemic, that this virus, emerged at a time when the scientists I write about in my book thought they had an approach that would work. They weren't sure. We're talking the end of 2019, very early part of 2020. And they turned around and they created these really effective, protective vaccines. But again, a few years earlier, I don't think we would have been nearly as lucky.

ANDY SERWER: But there's a few different types of science that have been applied to the different vaccines. Do you want to just go through them in sort of layperson's term, which I know is your specialty?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Sure. So mRNA, we are familiar of that-- with that approach, that vaccine approach, because that created the Moderna as well as the Pfizer vaccines. mRNA is short for messenger RNA, which is just a molecule we have inside of us. It transports instructions from the DNA to the part of the cell where proteins are created that we live on and we depend on every day. And it was always this sort of dream of scientists to-- to create mRNA in the lab. Well, if it's so important in the body, maybe we could create a synthetic version, just like there's, you know, sugar, natural sugar, and synthetic version of sugar.

So the idea was, well, if we could create mRNA in the lab, we could tell our bodies to create any protein. And that was the idea-- that's the gist of the mRNA approach. We-- it's a vaccine. It sends a message. And the message, obviously, in this case is an instruction for the body, the immune system, to create the protein. The protein in this case is the spike protein. So like any other vaccine, it's an education for the body.

And the other approach I write about, the adenovirus approach that led to the J&J as well as the AstraZeneca vaccines-- that's a really interesting one too. That one also took years in making, and I write about how-- how that began, really, with HIV effort to-- to solve HIV. We haven't figured that one out yet. But they shifted, these scientists, and said, OK, we can't do HIV, but we're going to get a vaccine for COVID.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, Dan Barouch, one of the scientists working on that later endeavor I spoke to, has been-- and you're right-- has been working on that for a very long time. But switching back to mRNA, you do focus a lot on Moderna, which-- which could have been one of the biggest losers in the race for the vaccine. It ended up being a big winner. How much credit should the Moderna CEO get here? It sounds like, you know, his background as a salesman was sort of key in bringing this all together.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, he's a fascinating character. For years, people whispered about him. They suspected he was exaggerating Moderna's ability to create either vaccines or drugs. There wasn't much proof. They were a very secretive kind of firm. He was very hard on his employees. You can read about it in the book. People were collapsing in the office, outside the office, at home, hitting their heads, being rushed to the emergency rooms. He was firing people left and right-- very difficult and yeah, inspirational, too, and hard driving.

And he had a vision. His vision was that mRNA was going to save-- save lives. And he felt he needed to push his people hard. He's a little bit of a-- of a Steve Jobs kind of character in that regard. And he said, guys, one day, we're going to be the ones to step up in a crisis, and he was right. And maybe it takes somebody like that.

And like you said, he's a great salesman, and he raised billions and billions for Moderna over the years without any proof of concept. And people were jealous. There was a lot of envy in the industry. But it turns out that that money was well spent, and people made a lot of money investing in Moderna.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, and I heard, you know, whispers in Boston, in that biotech community, about him for a while, just what you're sort of saying, Greg. And even while they were sort of getting up to speed that, you know-- I mean, maybe "charlatan" is too strong a word, but they were serious doubters. Do you think those people, you know, are sort of eating crow right now?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So Andy, in my book, I-- people compared him to Elizabeth Holmes. They said, just like Theranos, there's nothing there to this company, Moderna. And, you know, you can understand it, to some extent. They didn't have any proof. They had spent years working on drugs, and I write in the book, they gave up on making mRNA work for a drug. They had to pivot to vaccines because it wasn't working with drugs. And vaccines is not a really popular area for a lot of pharmaceutical companies.

So are they eating crow? Yes. But, you know, there is some reason why they were skeptical all those years. But in the end, they were wrong.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Operation Warp Speed-- where do you come out on that? I mean, this was a Trump administration program-- controversial. There were some, let's just say, colorful people steering it. But was it effective, Greg?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So like most every other topic in society today, it's sort of black and white, me against you. Either Operation Warp Speed saves everything and we have to give Donald Trump all the credit, or it was useless. I come down somewhere in the middle, meaning that Operation Warp Speed was very helpful. There were a lot-- there was a lot of money that was given to these companies, resources too, little parks that were necessary from all over the country that were brought to the necessary spots by Operation Warp Speed and employees.

But you also have to remember that Warp Speed made an early bet on a different vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine. It did not give money to Moderna early on when it was desperate for money. And Moderna, as recently as May 2020, was running out of money and couldn't get money from the government, couldn't get money from private industry, from the public, from foundations, from Merck. They went to Merck. And they were almost unable to create these vaccines, one more reason to be grateful for-- for what happened. So Operation Warp Speed was very helpful. In the end, Moderna did get a lot of money from Operation Warp Speed. Others did too. But you don't want to say it was all due to Warp Speed, the success of these remarkable vaccines.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I want to turn a bit to the current state of the vaccine and the pandemic. What is your take on-- on where Pfizer stands right now? Did they lose an opportunity to grow their own strong, independent brand? Or are they, in fact, in better shape for having everything "in-house" to lead further mRNA research?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So Pfizer's an interesting story because they, too, almost couldn't pull this off. Early on, BioNTech, which created this vaccine, the German company I write about in the book, they went to-- Ugur Sahin went to a senior executive, senior scientist, at Pfizer and said, hey, let's work on a COVID-19 vaccine, and they weren't interested. At the time, that was sort of the conventional wisdom. It wasn't clear there was going to be a pandemic. There were other things that Pfizer was focused on. And they reminded Ugur Sahin of BioNTech that these things, these viruses, sometimes they dissipate-- if you remember MERS, if you remember SARS.

So it-- Ugur Sahin had to convince Pfizer. They got on board. And to their credit, they went all out helping BioNTech, and they developed it together. And not only is it the most popular vaccine in the West. Now they have a drug that they're getting closer to introducing, which seems very effective. It's going to be a real one-two punch. So Pfizer, the stock for a while, wasn't really helped by all this revolutionary work with the vaccines. Lately, it's been going up, and I think people are realizing that Pfizer has a lot-- has a lot to do with this-- with ending this pandemic.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, there's the pill now, and there is the prospective case where the government's going to suggest that everyone gets-- every person in America gets a booster, Pfizer booster, as well, right?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Or Moderna.

ANDY SERWER: Or Moderna.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: And I think that is coming, right. And also just sort of down the road, I believe that this pandemic is going to end, but this virus is not going away. It's going to be endemic. It's going to kind of melt into the background. But we're always going to have things cropping up, areas that aren't vaccinating. We're going to have issues. It's going to morph, and it's going to-- we got more strains.

I'm not saying this to-- for people to be too concerned. I do think Pfizer, Moderna, and the other companies can adjust their vaccines. So you'll go in, and they'll be second- and third-generation vaccines. You'll go into a doctor's office and get a COVID vaccine but it'll be an all-in-one, maybe with a flu vaccine. Maybe they'll throw something else in there too. So I don't want people to be too discouraged. But the vaccine research that I write about, they're trying to stay ahead of this thing.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah. I mean, is that a losing battle? Is it going to be like the flu? Are we-- we going to continue to need new vaccines all the time? I mean, this seems like it's not going to just end, as you suggest.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, it won't.

ANDY SERWER: [INAUDIBLE]. Right.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: It won't. But I wouldn't call it a losing battle. I think we'll stay ahead of it. And these vaccines are so much more effective than the flu vaccine. So if you've got protection of 70%, 80%, and it's even higher for hospitalization and-- and death, it will allow us to return to some-- to a normalcy, really, in society.

ANDY SERWER: You hear that other countries' vaccines are not as effective, you know, like the Chinese vaccine. I don't know where the Russian vaccine stands. And there was one-- I heard there was one in Cuba that was not-- not effective at all. Like, why is that?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Well, they use different approaches. So I write in the book a little bit how the Russian approach is a variation on the one that you mentioned with Dan Barouch and the J&J one. It's not quite as good, and frankly, we just don't have as much data that's reliable. It doesn't help that Putin himself didn't take the vaccine for months and months. He wouldn't take it.

So listen, if that was the only vaccine in the world, either the Russian one or the Chinese one, I think we would all embrace it and take it. It's largely effective, but it's just not as effective. MRNA, as revolutionary as it is, it just is so much better than these other vaccines.

ANDY SERWER: How come Merck and Sanofi and other companies that are known as leaders in this space were not at the fore?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: That's a great question. And frankly, when I started researching this book, I kind of expected the vaccine giants to be the ones to save us. I mean, Merck is the one that created the MMR vaccine that we're all familiar with-- the mumps, measles, rubella. They're a vaccine giant. So is Sanofi, as you say, and GSK, and yet they sort of dragged their feet. I write about some internal rift within Merck about whether to pursue a vaccine for COVID-19 or not. GSK and Sanofi teamed up, but their approach isn't quite there yet.

I would argue that vaccines, until this past year, are not a really sexy area for vaccine-- for big pharmaceutical companies. You get-- you get one every, you know, few years or one year-- once a year, once a lifetime, maybe. There's just so much you can charge for a vaccine. And as a result, I think the big pharmaceutical companies had mixed feelings about chasing after a vaccine for COVID-19.

ANDY SERWER: There's no money there?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: There is, as we're seeing this past year. But at the time, it wasn't clear. And listen, you put all this work into it-- and they've done this. Merck has chased vaccines in the past for things like Zika and-- and such that have dissipated, have gone away, and they wasted tons of money, resources, et cetera. Opportunity cost was-- was high. So if you're going to chase after a vaccine when you don't even know if there's going to be a need for it by the time you develop it, it's a risky business proposition.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Moderna just recently announced an agreement with Gavi, which is the Vaccine Alliance, to ship more vaccine doses to areas around the world that are still behind in 2022. Is this too little, too late?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I think it's popular to criticize Moderna. You see how much money they're making. There are always these suspicions about them. I think in the back of people's minds, they remember that-- those questions, and they're eager to criticize Moderna. I'm not here necessarily to defend them, but I do have to note that they didn't have a partner. Unlike BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer, Moderna couldn't find a partner. Merck turned them down, so they had to do it all themselves.

And they've been taxed. They've been going to the limit. I know the people internally. They believe that-- they wish they had been able to produce more, but their vaccine supplies were scooped up by the West. They paid the most, and they got there early. And now they're trying to help elsewhere. Is it too little, too late? I would say it's slow and happening, but I also understand what's going on internally within Moderna. They are just destroyed physically, psychologically. It's been a really difficult year, even though they've made a lot of money.

ANDY SERWER: By the way, you just solved a little mystery in my brain, Greg. "Be-yon-tech"-- that's how you pronounce it?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: You know, there are different ways of pronouncing it. Even internally, they pronounce it differently. But yes, that's why I pronounce it "Be-yon-tech." You can't go wrong that way.

ANDY SERWER: It's like Tesla and "Tez-la." We asked the people there how to pronounce it. They said, either.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Really? That's funny.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I didn't know that.

ANDY SERWER: So what about mRNA research? Where do you think the next breakthrough's going to come from there, and how will this change the development of future vaccines?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So there's a lot of excitement now about what mRNA can do besides COVID-19. Ugur Sahin and BioNTech have been working on cancer vaccines for many years. They're very excited to take the billions they're making right now and shift and focus on other pathogens, ailments. Oh, and so is Moderna.

So we're talking about everything from lupus and MS, turning off the immune system, just like we've been able to turn on the immune system, perhaps, for autoimmune kind of issues. Malaria, some people are going after. Dan Barouch, as you mentioned, AIDS. So some of these same vaccine specialists, revolutionary, pioneering researchers that I write about in my book are shifting to all kinds of new challenges.

Now, I want to caution just a little bit because, until this past year, mRNA has proved pretty disappointing when it comes to drugs. And there are some vaccines coming out, I believe, for things like RSV and CMV, some viruses that are very lethal and harmful for some people. But I want to have a little bit of caution in terms of revolutionizing the world, but I'm excited about the future.

ANDY SERWER: I want to ask you about vaccine hesitancy. As someone who intricately knows how these vaccines came to be, what do you make of these continued conspiracy theories around them, and how much are they hurting efforts to get everyone vaccinated?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So Andy, I speak to a lot of vaccine-hesitant audiences, and I enjoy doing so. There's always a split. There are some people who are reasonable and cautious. And for good reasons, they're-- they're wary. I get it. These vaccines were developed in 330 days, from the time the sequence was revealed until they were authorized. And historically, that's just remarkable. I mean, the average vaccine took 10 years until last year, and the fastest was four years. So here we are, coming in 330 days, so I understand the wariness. And mRNA has never been proved effective.

That said, one of the reasons I wrote my book is to show that it was years of research. It wasn't done quickly. They didn't cut corners in any way. What we've been able to do, and partly thanks to Warp Speed, was, we were doing things simultaneously. We were developing, testing, and manufacturing a vaccine. That's never been done before. Why would we spend billions of dollars to manufacture a vaccine if it's not even authorized or approved yet? No one ever did it historically.

So those are the kind of reasons why I think some people were hesitant, and I think they should be reassured by the fact that there weren't corners cut. And this process, this research, these vaccine approaches, took years. And that's partly why I wrote the book. Now, in terms of conspiracy people, conspiracists, you're not going to make much headway there, sadly.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, right. And some of them, I think, are just waiting for all of us who got vaccinated to sprout horns or something, and they'll say, see, I told you. Well--

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yes, and they're willing to wait years for that, yes.

ANDY SERWER: Right, exactly. Hey, you said something, that these companies are making a lot of money, right? But-- but all the vaccines are free, so how are they making all this money, Greg?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Well, the vaccines are free to us. But in terms of charging the American health system-- I mean, that actually raises the question of the new pills that are coming, which are going to be very effective. But societal costs are very high. So a regimen for the coming COVID-19 pill from Pfizer is about $1,700, whereas the vaccines are much cheaper. So we want to be a little cautious about embrace-- having everyone shift from vaccines to the drugs. Society-wise, it's very expensive.

ANDY SERWER: And so the pills, just to follow up on that, like the Pfizer pill, you would instead of getting a vaccine, theoretically, take a pill, which would provide you immunity?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Theoretically. The danger is, you need to be diagnosed with COVID. And the problem there is-- and I've talked to people, and you probably have too-- I worry about long COVID. So in other words, if you're going to say, yeah, I'm not going to get vaccinated, I'm going to wait till I get COVID, and then I'll just take these pills, there are people that are hounded by long COVID.

And I've talked to them, and their brains are fogging. They're lethargic. They're tired all the time. It's the last thing I wish on anyone. So I wouldn't advise people to-- to ignore the vaccines and to just wait for a pill, even if the vaccine-- even if the pill, I'm sorry, is going to be 90% or so effective.

ANDY SERWER: Right, OK. So the-- the patient for this would be someone who gets COVID, and then the pill kind of makes them better or makes them immune? Or what does it do exactly then?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: It stops the-- the virus spread.

ANDY SERWER: Progression.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So it makes you healthier, yeah.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: These are-- these are vaccine-- I'm sorry, these are drug approaches that were developed for AIDS, which is another reason to kind of remember and learn from a lot of efforts over the years on AIDS, which are paying off in COVID. They haven't necessarily developed a vaccine for-- for AIDS, but we have all these drugs and vaccines thanks to some of those-- that revolutionary work on AIDS.

But yes, these are drugs that will stop the virus from spreading and theoretically will make you healthy. I mean, again, I have to remind people that it's still better to, much healthier and if you want to get out of this pandemic, to get a vaccine. And you need to be tested first to know if you've got COVID in order to get these pills.

ANDY SERWER: And just to get back to the payment thing, you said the health care system. So does that mean the government, essentially, is paying the insurance companies for vaccines? Is that sort of how-- how it works? So--

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I'm not just sure, frankly.

ANDY SERWER: [INAUDIBLE]. It's gotta be--

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: --I guess, right? I mean, in other words--

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yes, yes-- for now, yes, and at some points, the insurance companies. And you know, there is talk about insurance companies saying, well, if you're not vaccinated, why are we paying this expense to take care of you? Maybe those people-- I mean, in some other countries, you're seeing that already, thankfully.

ANDY SERWER: It's really interesting. I mean, that could become a workplace issue where-- you know, or an insurance issue. Are you a smoker? Check. You know, guess what? You're going to pay higher rates.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I've been-- I've been surprised insurance companies haven't done that until now. Maybe they will at some point.

ANDY SERWER: Right. You've been skeptical, my understanding, Greg, of the-- that you've been skeptical of the so-called lab leak theory when it comes to Wuhan and China and the origins of COVID-19, the idea that it came from the Wuhan lab. But the pandemic's origin has been really difficult to pin down definitively. How much have you focused on that question in your reporting, and do you think we'll ever have a clear answer there?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So I am skeptical of the lab leak. I'm even more skeptical that China created this vaccine. And my reporting is based on talking to top virologists, structural biologists, et cetera, around the world. And the view is that it's a little bit like HIV.

HIV-- for years, there was suspicion about that as well. People accused the CIA, the US government, the US Army, the KGB of creating this virus because there was no natural host. There's no evidence of the animal that had the original virus, and then they found one. It took years, about a decade or so. And likewise, we haven't found the host here, but I think it will be identified. It takes a little bit of time.

Those people who say it was created by China and then they said, well, it won't spread in China, it will only make it spread elsewhere-- that seems preposterous. And the lab leak is a possibility. I'd say it's a 5% or 10% possibility. But if you just remember that animals-- we're encroaching on-- on wild kingdom all the time, cutting down trees. They're jumping-- viruses are jumping all the time from-- from animals. We saw it with SARS. We saw with the earlier coronaviruses, MERS, others. So to expect this one to be unusual and surprising and to have been leaked-- it's possible, but unlikely. I'm an Occam's razor kind of guy.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Is-- is the wet market-- does that come into play, you think? Or is that kind of a blind alley?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: No, I think there's a good possibility that it spread there. I'm not sure it originated there, necessarily. But historically, that's how the first one spread too, the first SARS, in China, in a wet market. There's a good chance that that's how it's spread.

ANDY SERWER: Right. And in recent weeks-- Well, we talked about the pill a little bit, and just one last follow-up question on that. And so is that a big breakthrough or not?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I think it is. I think it's going to be kind of a one-two punch that's really going to help us get out of this pandemic, as long as people continue to get vaccinated. But we've got this backup of pills that are quite effective. I think modern science is going to be fixing this thing and addressing this thing and helping us out of this-- this pandemic, yeah.

ANDY SERWER: What do you make of Tony Fauci? I mean, is he this American hero or, you know, listen, we're both journalists who are like, ah, he's not all that. Or is he all that, Greg? What do you think?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: I think Tony Fauci is a hero. His whole life is dedicated to public health. It's a remarkable and, quite frankly, just depressing idea that we as a people, or part of our-- our country, have turned on those who look out for us. Is he perfect? No. He advised us early on not to wear masks. He couldn't have been more wrong about that. There were all kinds of mistakes he and other scientists have made.

But for Tony Fauci and his colleagues at the NIH, others, they could have quit years ago and made a fortune in private industry, and they didn't. Why? Because they look out for our health, and they're trying to give us good advice and guidance. And he's also pushing the research. And he behind the scenes made a lot of contributions in terms of these vaccine approaches that I write about in my book. So we have-- we owe him and his colleagues a great deal of gratitude. They're not perfect whatsoever. They make mistakes left and right. But who doesn't?

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I think you're so right, making that point that, of course, he could have become the top scientist at a giant pharma company, be anonymous and very wealthy, living in a nice suburb, and all that. But he decided--

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: And then we would criticize him for the revolving door, and how dare he go for private industry after a public-- yeah.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: They get criticized either way.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah. After everything that's happened over the past 18 months, do you think we're better equipped now, better prepared for the next pandemic?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think so, given that mRNA has been proven. And we've figured out how to manufacture it efficiently, distribute it. Took us a little while, but we've learnt a lot of lessons in terms of trials as well. So mRNA, now we can depend on. So the next big pathogen, lethal virus, that emerges, I think we can adjust and create vaccines quite quickly.

Other lessons, I don't think we've learnt. I mean, as a nation, we don't look out for each other like we should. We're a group of individualists, and that's helped us arrive at these vaccines. And only in America could these vaccines have been created. Granted, there's one from Germany. But even the German CEO I've talked to said, without American investors, venture capitalists, people rolling the dice on their approach years ago when they went public, when they were raising money, these vaccines could not have been created.

So there's a lot to be proud of as an American, but there's also a lot to be discouraged about, about how we get advice from our brother-in-law or some video that we saw on YouTube as opposed to our own internist. It's pretty discouraging both for me, but also for the-- the creators, the pioneers, that I talked to for my book. When they see that all their hard work has led to this split and some people resistant and pointing fingers at them for their-- for their efforts, it's quite discouraging.

ANDY SERWER: In the time left-- that we have left here, Greg, I want to ask you a little bit about you and the process and writing books. How did you decide to do this particular book?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: So I was deep in my basement office in New Jersey, locked down like everybody else, and kind of discouraged about the world. And I thought it could be a fun project to trace and speak to the researchers, the scientists, the pioneering, kind of remarkable innovators that are behind these vaccines. I didn't know at the time that they'd be proven effective. But I kind of made a bet that they would, and I tracked them along the way.

So in some ways, it was a healthy distraction for me. It gave me encouragement. And my book is about what went right as opposed to what went wrong. I wanted it to be an upbeat book that gives us hope about the future because these vaccine specialists, they've turned their focus on-- on other pathogens and other-- and illnesses and viruses. And we're going to need them again, sadly, I think in the years ahead.

ANDY SERWER: And finally, Greg, so this is one of several books you've written. Is there a common thread? Or how do you choose what to write about? I mean, it's such a big commitment, you know. I read the last one that you did about-- "Jim Simons" was great. But you know, you're kind of rolling the dice yourself in the sense that, like, you're picking something, you're committing to it, and you hope that it resonates, right?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. So Andy, one can criticize me because-- and I only realize this after I've sort of passed in my manuscript-- I write the same story all over again, over and over. I write about overlooked, underappreciated individuals achieving something that the experts told them they couldn't do. And I write about that over and over again, unlike the heroes. I just happen to-- That resonates with me. I find that fascinating.

Why is it that the conventional wisdom is so wrong so often? All my books-- my first book was about the financial crisis and the individuals who anticipated it. It shouldn't have been these guys. And then I wrote about the energy revolution. It should not have been these frackers in Oklahoma who turned this country around. It should have been Chevron and BP.

And like you said, my last book, "The Man Who Solved the Market," is about a bunch of scientists who don't even care so much about capitalism and business, who have the greatest investment firm in history. And this time, it's a group of companies and approaches that were overlooked-- mRNA and these companies. Pfizer not withstanding, BioNTech is the key person-- key company behind the vaccine. Moderna and the others, I write about. So I'm taken with that theme. I think it's one that you can learn a lot from. And hopefully, readers enjoy it as well.

ANDY SERWER: Well, as one reader, I certainly have, Greg, and so keep on doing it. I didn't realize that-- I didn't notice that theme throughout. So now I will be noticing that when-- if and when you do another one.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I didn't notice it myself until I passed it in. But yeah, I love-- like that theme-- a little bit of a David and Goliath. But I think there were lessons that can be learned about overcoming obstacles and criticism even, and skepticism from the so-called experts.

ANDY SERWER: Greg Zuckerman, author of the new book, "A Shot to Save the World-- The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine." Thanks so much for joining us.

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN: Oh, great to be here.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting