Covid-19 roundup: Investors call to link CEO salaries to vaccine access; Why there aren't more initial supplies of the Pfizer pill
A group of institutional investors from Nomura, BMO, GAM and more than 60 others representing trillions in assets are now calling on Covid-19 vaccine developers to link their executives’ pay to ensure the vaccines are available globally.
“It is clear that currently a large part of the world population still does not have sufficient and equitable access to vaccines,” the investors said in explaining their reasoning behind Thursday’s letter to the execs at Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J.
The push comes as all of the companies have pledged to make lower-cost versions of their vaccines available, but many countries still lack crucial supplies. The WHO has sought to reach the mark of 70% vaccinated in every country after almost half of its participating member countries failed to reach 40% vaccinated in 2021, according to the Financial Times.
House Republican calls for Omicron treatment hearing
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) is calling for a hearing with federal policy leaders to get a better understanding of how Congress can improve the US response, including via the distribution of effective treatments, to battle the new variant Omicron, according to a letter sent yesterday to House Energy & Commerce committee chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ).
“It would be beneficial to invite various agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to testify on the development process for COVID-19 therapeutics and antivirals, such as molnupiravir and sotrovimab, and how we can ensure adequate distribution of these options,” he wrote.
Burgess also noted how due to its expected effectiveness against the Omicron variant, shipments of GlaxoSmithKline and Vir’s sotrovimab were paused to ensure reserves would not be depleted as the variant spread. “Though this decision has since been reversed, I am very concerned about the limited supply currently available,” he wrote.
The Senate health committee is set to meet next Tuesday to hear from CDC, FDA and NIH officials, including acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock and President Biden’s top medical advisor Tony Fauci.
Manufacturing difficulties mean there will be a lot more of Merck’s pill than Pfizer’s in the next few months
Until at least March, the US is going to have hundreds of thousands of more courses of Merck’s pill to treat Covid-19, known as molnupiravir, than Pfizer’s pill Paxlovid, even as the US has purchased 20 million pills from Pfizer.
Part of the reason for this early discrepancy is that while Pfizer’s pill might be more effective than Merck’s pill (no one ran a head-to-head trial), Pfizer’s pill is also difficult to manufacture.
Chemist Derek Lowe wrote in Science recently about how and why Pfizer’s pill is difficult to make, and how there are shortages of the reagents used to make it.
“So there’s a shortage of the stuff, that’s used to make the stuff, that’s used to make the stuff, that’s used to make two of the starting materials for Paxlovid. And that’s just one of the reagents,” he wrote. “Remember, as complicated as this may seem, there’s a lot more to setting up a production supply chain than this! What it all means is that when someone says ‘Oh, we can just make Paxlovid in plants all over the world’, they have left out the rest of the sentence, which is ‘. . .if we can get the starting materials’.”
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients also recently said in a press briefing that the US is offering whatever it can to help Pfizer, but the complex chemistry involved in creating the active ingredient in the pill means production takes about six to eight months.