Facing pressure for keeping its Covid vaccine out of reach of poorer countries, Moderna said on Tuesday that it had agreed to sell up to 110 million shots to African Union member nations.
The company said it would deliver 15 million of the shots by the end of this year and 35 million more by the end of March, offering a modest supply boost for a continent with severe vaccine shortages and some of the world’s lowest vaccination rates.
The New York Times reported this month that Moderna’s shots have gone almost entirely to wealthier countries. Moderna has shipped a larger share of its doses to high-income countries than any other vaccine manufacturer, according to recent data from the data firm Airfinity.
Moderna also said on Tuesday that it was “working on plans” to bottle doses of its Covid vaccine somewhere on the African continent as soon as 2023, in addition to its plans announced this month to open a factory in Africa at an unspecified date.
Also on Tuesday, BioNTech — the German company that partnered with Pfizer on their Covid shot — said it planned in the middle of next year to start building a factory somewhere in Africa to manufacture vaccines that use mRNA technology. BioNTech also said it is in talks with Biovac, a South African manufacturer, about expanding an agreement under which Biovac has been contracted to start bottling the Pfizer vaccine.
Moderna has been sharply criticized for not sharing its vaccine recipe or transferring its technology to manufacturers in poorer countries that could make its shots for local markets.
Fewer than 6 percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and fewer than a third of African nations had fully vaccinated 10 percent of their populations by the start of this month.
“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. “It’s up to 110 million for a population and a continent of 1.3 billion,” she said.
With the new deal with Moderna, the African Union now has two direct vaccine supply deals for its member countries. The African Union has ordered 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, with the option to order 180 million more. Deliveries from that order began in August.
Moderna and the African Union were in talks this past spring about a potential supply deal, but those talks fell apart because Moderna could not offer the doses until next year, according to two African Union officials. The negotiations restarted this month.
What to Know About Covid-19 Booster Shots
The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for millions of recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.
Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.
The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.
The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.
Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.
The company has repeatedly said that it is unable to supply more doses quickly to countries in need because it has limited manufacturing capacity and because all of its production this year had been locked up through existing orders from governments like the United States and the European Union.
Two officials in the Biden administration said the United States had agreed for some of its Moderna doses to be delivered several months later than planned so that Moderna could first supply the 15 million doses to the African Union. Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said in a news release that the Biden administration had helped broker the deal.
Talks are continuing about Moderna potentially supplying more shots to poorer countries through other channels, one of the administration officials said.
Moderna did not say how much it was charging for the deal with the African Union, but two people involved in the negotiations said the deal was for doses at $7 per shot. By comparison, the United States has paid $15 to $16.50 for each shot, on top of the $1.3 billion the government gave Moderna to develop its vaccine. Several middle-income countries, including Botswana, have agreed to deals for $27 to $30 per Moderna shot.
Moderna has also agreed to sell more than 210 million doses, at an average purchase price of just under $10, to Covax, the United Nations-backed program to vaccinate the world’s poor. The company has not yet supplied any of those shots, a Covax spokesman said on Tuesday.
The tens of millions of Moderna doses that have made it to low- and lower-middle-income countries have been almost exclusively through donations from the United States. Those doses were distributed by Covax.