Pfizer to supply 40M COVID-19 shots for poor countries

AP – Pfizer on Friday committed to supply up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organization-backed (WHO) effort to get affordable shots to poor and middle-income countries.

The deal is a boost to the global programme known as COVAX, as wealthy nations have snapped up most of the millions of coming shots.

The commitment, announced at a virtual press conference held by the Geneva-based WHO, is seen as important because Pfizer and its partner BioNTech last month won the first vaccine emergency authorisations from WHO and the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration.

Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticised drugmakers for seeking profits from the pandemic and mostly supplying wealthy countries.

Pfizer’s 40 million doses — for a vaccine requiring two doses — are a tiny sliver of what’s needed for COVAX, which aims to vaccinate billions of people in 92 low- and middle-income countries.

During Friday’s news conference, Tedros said Pfizer’s commitment and about 150 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University could enable COVAX to begin delivering doses in February, pending finalisation of a supply agreement with Pfizer and emergency use approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

He said the global programme is on track to deliver by year’s end two billion doses of vaccines previously pledged by AstraZeneca and other vaccine producers.

New York-based Pfizer Inc had not previously committed to providing its COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries without making a profit during the pandemic, as a couple rivals have.

However, Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said they would provide their vaccine to COVAX at an undisclosed “not-for-profit price”.

The companies still must execute a supply agreement covering distribution, but the doses are to be delivered throughout 2021, starting in February.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan. PHOTO: AP