US to invest billions in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines to boost global supply


Pressed to tackle gaping inequalities in global COVID-19 vaccines, the Biden administration took action Wednesday to make billions of dollars available to drugmakers to increase domestic production to share with the world and prepare for the next pandemic.

As part of this new initiative, the government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is soliciting pharmaceutical companies with a proven track record of making the most effective mRNA vaccines to bid for U.S. investment to scale up their manufacturing. Pfizer and Moderna are producing the two mRNA injections approved in the United States.

The White House hopes the move will boost the capacity to produce an additional 1 billion snapshots per year.

The initiative comes as Biden’s White House faces increasing pressure at home and abroad over the unequal global vaccine supply – as the United States moves towards approval of booster injections for all adults while vulnerable people in the poorest countries await their first dose of protection.

According to an analysis by ONE Campaign, an international aid and advocacy organization, only 4.7% of people living in low-income countries received a first dose. Rich countries have given more than 173 million booster injections, while low-income countries have given about 32 million first injections.

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FILE – President Joe Biden delivers remarks on August 31, 2021, outside the Cross Hall of the White House. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

The Biden administration believes that increasing the capacity of COVID-19 injections will help alleviate a global dose shortage, especially in low- and middle-income countries, by stopping preventable deaths and limiting the development of variants potentially new and more dangerous virus.

“The goal of this program is to expand existing capacity by an additional billion doses per year, with production starting in the second half of 2022,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said.

On Wednesday, Zients announced that the United States has now donated 250 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally – the most countries – in a bid to share more than 1.1 billion doses of by the end of 2022.

There are no firm agreements yet with Moderna or Pfizer to support the U.S. in the investment, but the Biden administration hopes that improving manufacturing capacity, through facility support, equipment, personnel or training of the company, will allow by mid-2022 Doses of COVID-19 will be shared abroad and will help prepare for the next public health emergency.

The administration prioritizes mRNA vaccines, which have been shown to be more effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19 than the Johnson & Johnson viral vector vaccine, which uses a harmless virus that carries genetic material to stimulate the immune system. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA that tells the body to make harmless copies of the spike protein so that it can be trained to recognize the virus.

Robbie Silverman, senior advocacy officer at Oxfam America, praised Biden’s plan to invest in vaccine manufacturing capacity, but said it was nowhere near enough.

“What the world really needs is regional distributed vaccine manufacturing capacity, and it looks like this investment is focused on building US capacity,” he said. “We desperately need the companies that have the COVID vaccine monopoly to transfer their technology, and we need the US government to use its influence. “

Silverman estimated that without companies transferring knowledge about how COVID-19 vaccines are made, it would take manufacturers elsewhere double the time it takes to start manufacturing doses, noting that billions of vaccines against other diseases are being released. regularly manufactured in developing countries.

Silverman said that while the United States should have negotiated more vaccine equity provisions when securing its own supply, it was not too late to act. He said the United States should support the proposed waiver that was drafted by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization, calling for the suspension of patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. . And he said the United States could use the Defense Production Act to target ingredients essential for COVID-19 fire.

“The US government has many tools to push pharmaceutical companies,” he said, noting that it had invested billions of dollars in creating Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. “The United States needs to make sure that these companies, which it has funded, prioritize public health over profits.”

Ava Alkon, senior policy and research manager at Doctors Without Borders, said the billion doses that could be produced with the US investment were still far from the number needed to immunize the world. The World Health Organization has estimated that 11 billion doses are needed.

Alkon said that since all manufacturers newly recruited to manufacture COVID-19 doses would not be able to produce supplies for several months, a more immediate solution is needed. “We believe the United States can distribute many more doses than it already has on an ongoing basis,” she said, calling on the United States to be more transparent about the number of additional doses. they have. She said some estimates suggest the United States may have at least 500 million surplus vaccines by the end of the year.

The New York Times first reported on the new initiative.

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