Pfizer to supply 40 million COVID-19 doses to poor countries
(Sourced from PTI)
Pfizer on Friday committed to supplying up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organization-backed effort to provide affordable shots to poor and middle-income countries. The deal is a boost to the global program known as COVAX, as wealthy nations have snapped up most of the millions of vaccine shots.
The commitment was announced at a virtual press conference held by the Geneva-based WHO. It is being seen as important because Pfizer and its partner BioNTech got the first emergency authorization from the influential US Food and Drug Administration in mid-December. That clearance makes it easier for international health groups and poor nations to quickly approve emergency use.
Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized drugmakers for seeking profits and mostly supplying to wealthy countries. The 40 million doses for a vaccine requiring two doses are a tiny sliver for COVAX, which aims to vaccinate billions in 92 low and middle-income countries. COVAX previously secured two billion doses from five other vaccine producers, plus options on a billion more doses.
Pfizer, previously, didn't commit to providing its COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries without making a profit, as a couple of rivals have. However, Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech said they would provide their vaccine to COVAX at an undisclosed not-for-profit price. The companies still must execute a supply agreement covering distribution, but the doses will be delivered throughout 2021, starting by the end of March.
"We share the mission of COVAX and are proud to work together so that developing countries have the same access as the rest of the world, which will bring us another step closer to ending this global pandemic," Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said.
Pfizer ships the shots in special containers with dry ice, but even in the US, some doses were thrown out because they weren't at the proper temperature. Pfizer said it's been ramping up production and expects to make two billion doses in 2021, up from 1.3 billion doses. The company has slowed production at its Belgium factory while it makes changes to boost production.
Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, which is leading procurement and delivery of vaccines for COVAX, called the deal a major step forward for equitable access to vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech said they would also help health systems handle the vaccine, which requires ultracold storage. However, many public health officials expressed skepticism that the Pfizer vaccine could be successfully kept so cold everywhere.