TOPLINE Moderna has reached an agreement to sell up to 110 million shots of its Covid-19 vaccine to member nations of the African Union, the drugmaker announced on Tuesday, a move that comes at a time when vaccine makers and wealthy nations face increasing pressure to fulfill their commitments to poorer nations whose vaccination rates are vastly lower.
In a press release on Monday, Moderna announced that it would deliver 15 million shots by the end of this year and an additional 35 million doses by the end of March.
The company said it’s working on plans to bottle doses of its vaccine in Africa sometime in 2023 and is also working to build a mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in the continent.
Moderna’s fresh commitment is on top of its existing commitment to supply 500 million vaccine doses through 2022 to the WHO-backed Covax program, which was created to ensure equitable vaccine access, but that has since been criticized for failing poorer nations.
A White House official told Forbes that the U.S. government will defer delivery of approximately 33 million doses of the Moderna vaccine between December and February—originally intended for the U.S.—so that the African Union can instead purchase and take delivery of those doses.
Natalie Quillian, the White House’s Deputy Covid-19 Response Coordinator said: “We are grateful to have helped negotiate this encouraging step forward between Moderna and the African Union that will significantly expand access to vaccines on the continent in the near-term.”
14%. That’s the percentage of the 1.8 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines—promised by the G7 and Europe to poorer nations—which have been delivered so far, according to a report published last week by the People’s Vaccine Alliance. The report noted that Moderna has not delivered any of the vaccines it has pledged to Covax.
Tuesday’s agreement comes as Moderna faces growing criticism for not sharing its vaccine recipe or transferring its technology to manufacturers in poorer nations who could manufacture doses of its vaccine for their local markets. The drugmaker has previously said it is unable to directly supply more doses of its vaccine quickly to poorer nations as it has a limited manufacturing capacity and its current production is tied to existing orders placed by the U.S. and the European Union. A South African group called Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is currently leading an effort to replicate Moderna’s vaccine so it can be manufactured and distributed in the continent. The effort involves an attempt to reverse engineer the vaccine from bits of publicly available information. But experts have said the process would be a lot simpler if companies like Moderna or Pfizer simply agreed to share their expertise. The companies have so far not shared their know-how despite facing public pressure—including the Biden administration’s demands on Moderna.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
BioNTech on Tuesday announced plans to begin construction of a manufacturing site for their mRNA vaccine in the African Union in mid-2022. The company noted that the facility’s first production line will manufacture around 50 million mRNA vaccine doses and it could eventually expand to an annual manufacturing capacity of several hundred million doses. The facility will initially be staffed, owned, and operated by BioNTech itself and it plans to eventually transfer the manufacturing capacity and know-how to local partners.
Last week, Reuters reported that a WHO-backed initiative plans to seek funding of $22.8 billion to deliver Covid vaccines, antiviral drugs and tests to poorer nations. Earlier in the month, the WHO outlined its new global vaccination strategy, aimed at getting 40% of people in all countries vaccinated by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also noted that vaccine scarcity wasn’t an issue as currently, 1.5 billion vaccine doses are being manufactured per month. “This is not a supply problem; it’s an allocation problem,” he said.
Moderna agrees to sell up to 110 million Covid vaccine doses to African countries. (New York Times)
Africa tries to end vaccine inequity by replicating its own (Associated Press)
By Siladitya Ray, Forbes Staff