Moderna chips in further on African vaccine supply — but advocates are calling for even more
In a sign of its growing commitment to the continent, Moderna will supply up to 110 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union, the company announced Tuesday. And CEO Stéphane Bancel said it’s just the first step.
“We believe our vaccine can play an important role in addressing the needs of low-income countries given its combination of high Phase 3 efficacy against COVID-19, strong durability in the real-world evidence, and superior storage and handling conditions. We recognize that access to COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world and we remain committed to helping to protect as many people as possible around the globe,” Bancel said in a statement.
The first 15 million doses will come in Q4 of 2021, with another 35 million in Q1 2022 and up to 60 million in Q2 2022. All of those doses will be offered at the company’s lowest tiered price. It is also working on plans to allow itself to fill doses in Africa as early as 2023, in a memorandum of understanding that would add an additional 500 million doses in addition to previous deals with Covax through 2022.
The move comes as Moderna is under immense pressure from the White House and public health advocates. The company has largely exported its shots to wealthier countries so far, at a time when fewer than 6% of Africa’s entire population has been fully vaccinated. Just 4% of the world’s doses have been administered in Africa.
“It’s a drop in the ocean for what the needs are,” Fatima Hassan, the head of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, said of Moderna’s announcement to the New York Times. “It’s up to 110 million for a population and a continent of 1.3 billion.”
In an interview with Endpoints News, Bancel said that the vision for an African manufacturing site stemmed from a desire to treat tropical diseases that arose during the time he lived in Asia. Now, as the CEO of a company that’s doubled its workforce in the past year, Bancel says it seems difficult to imagine the next 10 years of Moderna without a presence in Africa.
Advocacy groups, such as Public Citizen, have called for the company to share its vaccine’s intellectual property. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s administration has questioned why the number of doses pledged to lower- and middle-income countries are much lower than other companies. The Times found 1 million of Moderna’s doses have gone to countries classified as low-income by the World Bank, compared with 8.4 million from Pfizer and 25 million from J&J.
But Bancel said that among other reasons, supply contracts and export controls with the US and Europe are to blame for the slow exports, and the size of Moderna’s staff — 1,500 total employees, compared with Pfizer’s 29,400 in the US alone — has been a contributing factor.
The continent now has two direct vaccine supply deals, as it also has agreed to 220 million doses of J&J’s single-shot vaccine, with an option for 180 million more.
The company’s booster dose was also given approval by Swissmedic Tuesday for individuals 12 years and older in patients with a weakened immune system. That is to be administered at least 28 days after the second dose.