Pfizer, Moderna pledge more mRNA vaccine doses to Europe after AZ supply concerns

Albert Bourla incoming Pfizer CEO
Pfizer is looking to ramp up second quarter vaccine deliveries now that it's wrapped plant upgrades at a facility in Belgium. (Pfizer)

After a coronavirus vaccine supply feud between top officials in Europe and COVID-19 vaccine player AstraZeneca, officials there are doubling down on their purchase of an alternative technology. This week, the bloc finalized the purchase of 350 million additional mRNA vaccine doses.

Pfizer and BioNTech struck a deal with the European Commission to supply 200 million more doses of their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, Corminaty, to the European Union, with the option to sell an additional 100 million doses at a later date. The move comes after a factory upgrade in Belgium prompted the companies to temporarily reduce shipments with an eye on delivering "significantly more" doses in the second quarter.

The sale comes on top of 300 million Comirnaty doses the partners sold to the EU in November, bringing the bloc's total order up to 500 million shots. The new 200-million-dose tranche will be rolled out in 2021, with some 75 million doses pegged for delivery in the second quarter.

The partners aren't alone. The other leading mRNA player, Moderna, agreed on Wednesday to sell another 150 million doses of its vaccine to Europe. Those doses are set to be delivered in the third and fourth quarter, building out to a total order for 310 million doses placed by the European Commission so far. The commission also has the option to snag another 150 million doses, which would be delivered sometime next year. 

Europe's new supply mRNA agreements come as all of the COVID-19 vaccine players work to scale up to meet global demand. Amid that push, AstraZeneca last month notified European officials it wouldn't be able to meet its first-quarter delivery target, leading to a dispute between officials and the drugmaker that played out in the media. AZ is now producing 100 million doses per month and expects to double that by April, CEO Pascal Soriot recently said.

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For Pfizer and BioNTech, the new agreement comes as the partners push to produce 2 billion doses this year. The effort includes a recent factory upgrade in Puurs, Belgium, that required a temporary reduction in supplies. 

Those Puurs production upgrades have wrapped, a Pfizer spokesperson said over email.

"Following this important upscaling work, Pfizer and BioNTech are now fulfilling deliveries to the European Union in line with the original agreed schedule, and continue to work toward increased deliveries beginning week of February 15, ensuring we will supply the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter," the spokesperson said.

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Stateside, the U.S. last week locked in a previously announced deal to buy another 100 million vaccine doses from both drugmakers, lifting the country's combined Pfizer and Moderna orders to 600 million doses. The companies are set to roll out shipments in regular intervals through the end of July, The Department of Health and Human Services said. Pfizer is receiving $2 billion for the extra doses, while Moderna will snare roughly $1.65 billion. 

So far, the U.S. government has committed $6 billion to Pfizer for shot supplies, while Moderna is in line for a total of $5.75 billion in sales and R&D investment.