The Biden administration is pressuring Moderna to contribute more doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to an international effort aimed at increasing inoculation in lower-income nations.
“We expect that Moderna will step up as a company,” said David Kessler, the Biden administration’s chief science officer of the COVID-19 response, on Wednesday. “Failure to do that would be unconscionable in my view.”
Kessler made his comments at “How To Vaccinate The World,” a panel hosted by the The Law and Political Economy Project. He added a thinly-veiled threat, saying “These companies understand our authorities and understand we would not be afraid to use them.” Moderna received scientific and financial help from the government to develop its COVID-19 jab.
“The U.S. government co-invented the vaccine. We’ve spent over $8 billion,” a Biden official told POLITICO.
Last week, the outlet reported that the White House – which has already purchased and donated millions of Moderna doses abroad – has been dissatisfied with Moderna’s commitment to COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative. The company has pledged to supply 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the project, including 34 million doses this year. The White House has been urging them to increase both numbers.
According to POLITICO:
The company has cited worries about its ability to balance its domestic and international responsibilities.
But administration officials privately believe the reluctance is also driven in part by financial concerns: If Moderna agreed to sell the Biden administration doses for poorer countries it would likely be asked to do so at cost, one source said, putting pressure on its bottom line.
The New York Times notes that Moderna “opts for profits” explaining:
Moderna has been supplying its coronavirus vaccine almost exclusively to wealthy nations, keeping poorer countries waiting while it earns billions in profit.
The company has shipped a greater share of its doses to wealthy countries than any other vaccine manufacturer, according to a data firm that tracks vaccine shipments.
Of the 22 countries, plus the E.U., to which Moderna and its distributors have reported selling the shots, none are low income. And most middle-income countries that have struck deals with Moderna have not received any doses.
“They are behaving as if they have absolutely no responsibility beyond maximizing the return on investment,” Dr. Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Times.
“We need them to step up to the plate in the short term and dramatically increase the number of doses they’re delivering to low and middle-income countries,” a senior Biden administration official added to POLITICO.
Amid pressure, Moderna announced last week that it was planning to build a manufacturing plant in Africa to help supply vaccines to the continent.
But that project will likely take years to complete and won’t be able to address pressing, short-term problems.
“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
The Financial Times adds:
Vaccine makers including Moderna have fiercely resisted a proposal that would force them to waive intellectual property rights to spur expanded use of their technologies, arguing that doing so would not result in the quick production of more doses.