Moderna is criticized for not doing enough to immunize the world, especially low-income countries – and the Biden administration is criticized for not doing enough to force Moderna’s hand.
Why is this important: Low-income countries are in desperate need of more vaccines, and experts warn that higher levels of global spread will increase the likelihood of emergence of a vaccine-resistant variant.
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Driving the news: A senior Biden official has publicly threatened Moderna with more aggressive government action if he does not voluntarily provide enough vaccines to the global COVAX initiative at non-profit prices, which the administration has asked him to do.
“Do not underestimate the determination of the United States government to address these issues,” David Kessler, scientific director of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, said yesterday during a panel.
“I think these companies understand our authorities and understand that we would not be afraid to use them,” Kessler added. He said Moderna has the capacity to produce at least 1 billion additional doses in the short term.
Inventory: Moderna has supplied its vaccine almost exclusively to wealthy countries, The New York Times reported over the weekend.
Pfizer, for its part, agreed to sell its vaccine at a low price to the US government for donation to low-income countries.
Tensions have been building between Moderna and the administration for some time, but previously over recalls.
Yes, but: Activists speaking to the panel said it was time for the federal government to abandon Moderna’s voluntary action and take much more aggressive action to increase global immunization capacity.
And it’s not just activists. A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to the Biden administration yesterday with a similar message, the Washington Post reports.
“Despite receiving huge sums of public money from U.S. taxpayers, Moderna has refused calls to share its technology, including from the U.S. government,” lawmakers wrote, urging administration for more information on the federal government’s contract with Moderna and its rights. to the company’s vaccine data.
What they say : “We are committed to doubling our manufacturing and expanding our supply even further until our vaccine is no longer needed in low-income countries,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel recently wrote in a letter describing the corporate strategy to increase access to vaccines.
Between the lines: It’s unclear what rights the U.S. government has to share information about how to make the Moderna vaccine with the world, which some activists want it to do.
Kessler said the Defense Production Act “is probably the strongest authority, and that gives the president the power to assign doses.”
But redirecting doses does not solve the problem of the total quantity of vaccines available in the world. Sharing the recipe for the vaccine, on the other hand, would help more manufacturers make it.
The bottom line: “We need the Biden administration to step up, because at the end of the day… we’re not sitting across from the leaders of Pfizer and Moderna,” Public Citizen’s Zain Rizvi said.
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