Pfizer to supply 40m Covid shots for poor nations

Published January 23, 2021
In this Dec 13, 2020 file photo, boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, US. — AP
In this Dec 13, 2020 file photo, boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, US. — AP

GENEVA: Pfizer on Friday committed to supplying up to 40 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organisation-backed effort to get affordable shots to poor and middle-income countries.

The deal is a boost to the global programme known as Covax, as wealthy nations have snapped up most of the millions of coming shots.

The commitment, announced at a virtual press conference held by the Geneva-based WHO, is seen as important because Pfizer and its partner BioNTech won the first emergency authorisation 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 the medicine for emergency use.

Earlier this week, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticised drug-makers for seeking profits from the pandemic and mostly supplying wealthy countries.

The 40 million doses for a vaccine requiring two doses are a tiny sliver of what’s needed for Covax, which aims to vaccinate billions of people in 92 low- and middle-income countries. The global programme previously secured access to nearly two billion doses of vaccines from five other producers, plus options on a billion doses more.

New York-based Pfizer Inc. had not previously committed to providing its Covid-19 vaccine to poor countries without making a profit during the pandemic, as a couple 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 are to 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 in a statement.

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, 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 ultra-cold storage.

Many public health officials have expressed scepticism that the Pfizer vaccine could be successfully kept so cold across the globe. Pfizer has been shipping the shots in special containers with dry ice, but even in the US some doses have been thrown out because they weren’t kept at the proper temperature.

Pfizer has said it’s been ramping up production and expects to be able to make two billion doses in 2021, up from its earlier forecast of 1.3 billion doses.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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