However, administrative officials privately believe the reluctance is due in part to financial concerns: if Moderna agreed to sell the Biden administration’s cans to poorer countries, it would likely come at a cost, a source said, putting pressure on the bottom line exercised.
The company’s stance has enraged senior Biden health officials who, in recent meetings, have put pressure on Moderna executives, who one person described as “very intense”. The deliberations between the federal government and Moderna could undermine efforts by the Biden administration to ship more doses overseas as it begins distributing booster vaccinations to Americans.
“We need them to be on the plate in the short term and to dramatically increase the number of cans they deliver to low- and middle-income countries,” said a senior administration official.
The White House declined to comment on the record. Moderna has not yet responded to a request for comment on the allegations about its financial motivation.
But amid ongoing tensions, the company announced early Thursday that it would be building a vaccine production center in Africa to produce up to 500 million doses each year. However, it has not chosen a location, nor has it set a schedule for the facility to open.
“While we continue to work to increase the capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines against the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a Explanation.
The Biden government’s tense talks with Moderna are in stark contrast to their relationship with Pfizer and BioNTech. The partners turned down government aid to develop their Covid-19 vaccine, but have worked with the government to increase vaccination around the world. In September, the two companies signed an agreement with the federal government to deliver 1 billion doses of their vaccine for international donation by the end of September 2022.
The White House announced in August that it would start distributing boosters to most adults within weeks, sparking criticism from leading federal scientists and outside health experts. They argued that the US should instead focus on increasing basic domestic immunizations and donations around the world.
Since then, the Biden government has tried to work with Moderna to find new ways to increase the doses available for donation.
“The administration has long been trying to get Moderna to commit,” said one of the people with direct knowledge of the situation. “It was difficult.”
Moderna said Thursday that its proposed vaccine center would cost up to $ 500 million to build, and it could eventually produce syringes for other diseases using the same mRNA technology that underlies its Covid-19 vaccine.
However, external experts estimate that building a plant from scratch, hiring and training staff can take years. And the move is unlikely to satisfy a White House that a few weeks ago set a goal of ending the pandemic by next September.
“We want them to increase the doses which can be sufficient in the very short term,” said the senior administrator. The billions in tax dollars invested in developing the vaccine have only compounded US officials’ frustration at the company’s reluctance to continue supporting the president’s international efforts.
“The US government co-invented the vaccine. We spent over $ 8 billion,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Moderna is also facing – and resisting – growing pressure from activists and international organizations to share the formula for its vaccine with manufacturers in other countries.
Earlier this year, the Biden government formally supported the waiver of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines in order to expand production worldwide. However, this proposal is strongly opposed by both drug manufacturers and some European countries.