UN program inks Moderna deal on 500M doses, starting in Q4

GENEVA (AP): Moderna and vaccine promoter Gavi have announced a deal by which the pharmaceutical company will provide up to 500 million doses for the UN-backed program to ship coronavirus vaccines to needy people in low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2022.

The advance purchase agreement announced Monday comes just days after the World Health Organization, after weeks of delays, announced emergency approval for the Moderna vaccine that will pave the way for its rollout in the UN-backed COVAX program. However, deliveries are not set to begin until the fourth quarter of this year, and the vast majority of the doses in the deal — 466 million — are planned for next year. The remaining 34 million are expected this year.

Stephane Bancel, the Moderna CEO, expressed support for the COVAX mission and called the deal “an important milestone” to ensure access to its vaccine worldwide. “We recognize that many countries have limited resources to access COVID-19 vaccines,” Bancel said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing everything that we can to ending this ongoing pandemic with our mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.”

The company said the doses were offered “at Moderna’s lowest tiered price, in line with the company’s global access commitments,” without specifying. Gavi didn’t provide financial terms, but has said the per-dose prices of vaccines for COVAX will eventually be made public. Many experts say the COVID-19 crisis is acute now, with India in particular facing an unprecedented surge in cases. The Moderna vaccine has generally been considered among the most effective so far in combating new variants, like the one that is spreading in India.

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, which is a public-private partnership, hailed the access to “yet another efficacious vaccine.” “Expanding and having a diverse portfolio has always been a core goal for COVAX, and to remain adaptable in the face of this continually evolving pandemic – including the rising threat posed by new variants,” he said. “This agreement is a further step in that direction.” The arrangement means that Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna can join the COVAX rollout that already includes vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca, which has the biggest role so far in the program, and Pfizer-BioNTech, which has committed far fewer doses to it.

Supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVAX that are being produced in India have been limited in recent month as the New Delhi government and the Indian subcontractor divert much of that production to combating the devastating at home. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, a public-private partnership that co-manages COVAX with Gavi and WHO, made an early investment into the Moderna vaccine as the pandemic arose — and the first official link-up between the company and the program has come nearly 18 months into the pandemic.

The WHO go-ahead for an emergency use listing for Moderna’s vaccine, announced late Friday, took many months because of delays that WHO faced in getting data from the manufacturer. Many countries without their own advanced medical regulatory and assessment offices rely on the WHO listing to decide whether to use vaccines. UN children’s agency UNICEF also uses the listing to deploy vaccines in an emergency like the pandemic.

Moderna has struck supply agreements with many rich countries, which will have already received millions of doses of the vaccine. Also Monday, Gavi announced that Sweden’s government has committed to donate 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “to help COVAX urgently address immediate-term supply delays.”