Moderna nears deal to pledge more vaccines to lower-income countries

Officials are urging Moderna to deliver these Covid-19 shots to COVAX by September 2022, a goal that would be in line with the White House’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the world by the end of this month.

Gavi, the co-leader of the COVAX initiative, did not respond to a request for comment.

A Moderna spokesperson confirmed that the company “was in direct discussions with Gavi about this change to our current agreement,” but did not provide details.

The White House, which was also involved in the discussions, declined to comment.

Those familiar with the matter said a formal announcement could be made in the coming weeks that will strengthen COVAX’s ability to serve the 92 developing countries that rely heavily on the Covid-19 vaccine access initiative.

The deal would be the result of lengthy negotiations between Moderna and representatives of COVAX – talks that people said with knowledge of the matter At some point it got so difficult that the Biden government was forced to step in to help broker an agreement.

Biden officials have had almost daily conversations with Moderna for the past few months to persuade the company to step up its international commitments, these people said – putting heavy pressure on the company behind the scenes and publicly warning the company last month that the US was expecting to play a stronger role in the global fight against the pandemic.

“We have tried to get drug companies, especially those that make mRNA, but really everyone, to step up capacity to get doses to low- and middle-income countries quickly, as opposed to a program starting in 2023,” said a senior administrator said. “We want them to increase the existing capacity essentially for the sole purpose of not selling to rich countries, but to lower the cans. [and] Middle Income Countries. “

Major obstacles include a Trump-era contract that Moderna signed in 2020 that gives the company full ownership of the technology critical to making the vaccine and control over where it has allocated its supplies , despite the extensive federal funding and research that went into its development.

Moderna has only given a fraction of its vaccine supply to low- and middle-income countries this year, trying to sell its doses to wealthy nations at higher prices instead.

The company has also turned down requests from U.S. officials to share the formula for its vaccine with outside manufacturers focused on helping poorer countries. Moderna and the US are involved in a property dispute over key patents related to the vaccine, and the federal government has announced that it will be filing a lawsuit.

Following President Joe Biden’s promise that the US will lead efforts to vaccinate 70 percent of the world by next September, government officials looking for ways to increase global supplies have put pressure on Moderna and other vaccine manufacturers to donate more cans abroad.

Moderna agreed last month to send 110 million doses to the African Union by the first half of 2022, in a deal brokered in part by US officials. The company also exercised options with COVAX in October to ship hundreds of millions of cans over the next year, which it had agreed upon as part of an earlier transaction.

Even so, a new deal between Moderna and COVAX will not reassure critics claiming the company has long missed its responsibility to support a global vaccination campaign that is lagging far behind on schedule.

While more than half of the world’s population is at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19, these vaccinations were disproportionately carried out in affluent countries. Only 4.5 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and the poorest countries struggle to do their own deals with vaccine manufacturers.

COVAX, founded to promote equity in vaccine, is suffering from a lack of financial investment and vaccine donations needed from rich countries to keep its global campaign on track. The initiative lowered its supply forecast earlier this fall and said it will now take until 2022 for the originally planned 2 billion doses to be reached by the end of the year.

Moderna has since grown from a tiny pharmaceutical company to a huge success based entirely on the development of its Covid-19 vaccine. The company, which had never launched a drug before, has increased its share price more than tenfold since March 2020. Four people associated with the company, including Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, are now billionaires.

Earlier this month, Moderna executives predicted that the company’s vaccine sales could reach $ 18 billion this year – with roughly half that amount coming from deals it closed outside of the United States

The company is aiming for an even bigger 2022 and plans to produce 3 billion doses of its Covid-19 shot. It has committed itself to distributing a third of this offer to low-income countries.

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