Moderna, a U.S. biotech corporation, will supply up to 500 million doses for the United Nations-backed initiative to ship coronavirus vaccines to vulnerable citizens in low- and middle-income countries, but shipments will not begin until the fourth quarter, according to the company and programme officials.
The Vaccine Alliance’s advance procurement arrangement comes only days after the World Health Organization declared emergency acceptance of the Moderna vaccine, paving the way for its incorporation in the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.
Gavi, a Geneva-based public-private partnership, has been scrambling to negotiate agreements with vaccine manufacturers while still persuading wealthy countries who have secured millions of doses — half of which they aren’t even using — to donate them to developing countries.
Also on Monday, the alliance reported that the Swedish government had agreed to donate 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “to assist COVAX in addressing immediate-term delivery delays.”
Moderna has now struck and fulfilled supply deals with a number of wealthy nations, who have received millions of doses of its vaccine. WHO has consistently expressed concern over a lack of fairness in access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The rollout of Moderna vaccinations for COVAX is not expected to begin until the fourth quarter of this year, with the vast majority of the doses in the contract — 466 million — scheduled for the next year. The remaining 34 million will be delivered this year.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel voiced enthusiasm for the COVAX project and called the agreement a “important milestone” in ensuring global access to the vaccine.
“We understand that several countries have insufficient opportunities to access COVID-19 vaccines,” said Bancel in a statement. “With our mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, we remain committed to doing everything we can to stop this current pandemic.”
The company stated that the doses were delivered “at Moderna’s lowest tiered price, in line with the company’s global access commitments,” but did not provide further details. Gavi did not offer financial details, but has stated that the per-dose prices of COVAX vaccines will be made public in the future.
According to many analysts, the COVID-19 epidemic is at an all-time high right now, with India in particular seeing an extraordinary surge in incidents. The Moderna vaccine is widely regarded as one of the most successful so far in fighting new strains such as the one spreading in India.
Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, a public-private partnership, praised the availability of “yet another efficacious vaccine.”
“Expanding and diversifying our portfolio has always been a key priority for COVAX, as has remaining adaptable in the face of this constantly changing pandemic – including the growing challenge faced by new variants,” he said. “This resolution is a gesture in the right direction.”
As a result of the agreement, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna will follow the COVAX rollout, which now contains vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca, which has played the most significant part in the initiative so far, and Pfizer-BioNTech, which has committed far fewer doses.
In recent months, supplies of the AstraZeneca COVAX vaccine manufactured in India have been reduced as the New Delhi government and a leading Indian subcontractor — the Serum Institute of India — devote most of their supply to combating the catastrophic outbreak at home.
When the pandemic erupted, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, a public-private organisation that co-manages COVAX with Gavi and WHO, made an early investment in the Moderna vaccine. Nearly 18 months after the pandemic, the organisation and the initiative also made their first official connection.
The WHO approval for an emergency use listing for Moderna’s vaccine, which was announced late Friday, took several months due to delays in receiving data from the vendor.
Many nations who do not have their own specialised medical regulatory and evaluation offices depend on the WHO list to determine whether or not to use vaccines. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also uses the registry to deploy vaccines in an emergency, such as a pandemic.
Gavi’s rush to bring vaccines to developing countries was boosted when the Swedish government revealed plans to donate 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX, despite delays in supply from India.
“We must do everything possible to confront and combat this pandemic around the world,” Per Olsson Fridh, the Scandinavian country’s foreign development cooperation minister, told Swedish broadcaster SVT.
Since February, COVAX has delivered tens of millions of doses to hundreds of low- and middle-income nations, with plans to deploy 2 billion by the end of the year.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Sweden’s pledge as “a superb move that must be mirrored immediately and consistently by governments around the world to promote the inclusive rollout of vaccinations worldwide.”