UN program signs Moderna agreement on 500 million doses, from fourth quarter
GENEVA (AP) – US biotech company Moderna to provide up to 500 million doses to the UN-backed program to ship coronavirus vaccines to people in need in low- and middle-income countries, but shipments won’t start until the fourth quarter, the business and program leaders said Monday.
Gavi’s advance purchase agreement, the Vaccine Alliance, comes just days after the World Health Organization announced emergency approval of the Moderna vaccine which paves the way for its inclusion in the program COVAX supported by the UN.
Gavi, a Geneva-based public-private partnership, has struggled to strike deals with vaccine makers while trying to persuade wealthy countries that have gotten millions of doses – some of which they don’t even use. – to give them to the poorest.
Also on Monday, the alliance announced that the Swedish government has pledged to donate one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “to help COVAX urgently resolve short-term supply delays.”
Moderna has already made and completed supply agreements with many wealthy countries, which have received millions of doses of its vaccine. The WHO has repeatedly denounced a lack of equity in access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Rollout of Moderna vaccines for COVAX is not expected to begin until the fourth quarter of this year, and the vast majority of the deal’s doses – 466 million – are slated for next year. The remaining 34 million are expected this year.
Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, expressed his support for the COVAX mission and called the agreement an “important milestone” in ensuring access to his vaccine worldwide.
“We recognize that many countries have limited resources to access COVID-19 vaccines,” Bancel said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing all we can to end this ongoing pandemic with our COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.”
The company said the doses were offered “at Moderna’s lowest price, in line with the company’s global access commitments,” without specifying. Gavi did not provide financial terms, but said prices per dose of COVAX vaccines would eventually be made public.
Many experts say the COVID-19 crisis is now acute, with India in particular facing an unprecedented increase in cases. The Moderna vaccine has generally been considered one of the most effective to date against newer variants like the one spreading in India.
Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, which is a public-private partnership, praised access to “yet another effective vaccine.”
“The expansion and diversity of the portfolio has always been a central goal for COVAX, and to remain adaptable in the face of this ever-evolving pandemic – including the growing threat posed by new variants,” he said. “This agreement is one more step in that direction.”
The arrangement means Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., Can join the COVAX rollout which already includes vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca, which has the largest role in the program so far, and Pfizer- BioNTech, which has committed much fewer doses.
Supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVAX which are produced in India have been limited in the past month, with the government of New Delhi and a key Indian contractor – the Serum Institute of India – diverting much of its production to combat the devastating epidemic in his country.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, a public-private partnership that co-manages COVAX with Gavi and the WHO, made an early investment in the Moderna vaccine as the pandemic struck. The first official link between the company and the program came almost 18 months after the start of the pandemic.
The WHO green light for a list of emergency uses for the Moderna vaccine, announced on Friday evening, has taken several months due to delays the WHO has faced in obtaining data from the manufacturer.
Many countries without their own advanced regulatory and medical assessment offices rely on the WHO list to decide whether or not to use vaccines. UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, also uses this list to deploy vaccines in an emergency such as a pandemic.
Gavi’s rush to get vaccines to poorer countries – especially in light of supply delays in India – was spurred when the Swedish government announced plans to donate one million doses of vaccine AstraZeneca to India via COVAX.
“We must do all we can to face this pandemic and fight it across the world,” Per Olsson Fridh, Minister for International Development Cooperation in the Scandinavian country, told Swedish channel SVT.
COVAX has shipped tens of millions of doses to dozens of low- and middle-income countries since February and plans to deploy 2 billion by the end of the year.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed Sweden’s commitment as “a superb gesture that must be repeated urgently and repeatedly by governments around the world to accelerate the equitable deployment of vaccines in the world”.
Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.
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