Tensions are building between the White House and Moderna over the drugmaker’s apparent reluctance to commit to making more international donations of its COVID-19 vaccine available despite promises to supply millions of doses.
The spat centers on the Biden administration’s call for Moderna to up its domestic production of the vaccine to meet the White House’s promise to build the U.S. into “an arsenal of vaccines,” Politico reported.
Moderna has committed to making 500 million doses for low- and middle-income countries, with about 34 million this year alone, through the international vaccine program COVAX Facility. The administration, though, doesn’t feel that's enough given the federal government’s investment of billions of dollars and scientific help in developing the vaccine.
The company's reluctance is due to concerns about its capacity to manufacture the vaccine for both domestic and international markets; however, a source told Politico that Biden administration officials believe financial issues related to profits are partly to blame for the heel dragging.
Recent meetings between Moderna executives and White House officials were described by one of Politico's source as “very intense.”
“The U.S. government co-invented the vaccine,” a senior administration official told Politico. “We’ve spent over $8 billion.”
The official added, “We need them to step up to the plate in the short term and dramatically increase the number of doses they’re delivering to low- and middle-income countries.”
Neither Moderna nor the White House commented to Politico for the story.
Politico’s reporting on the tensions comes the same day Moderna announced it would spend $500 million to build an mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa at a location yet to be determined. Although a boon to global manufacturing for Moderna and the host country, it's unlikely the facility will be up and running for several years.
The announcement has received criticism from activist groups such as Public Citizen.
“Pledging to build a plant in the future cannot excuse Moderna’s failure to share knowledge or adequate doses today,” Peter Maybarduk, director of the group’s medicines program, said in a statement. “Moderna holds secret a vaccine recipe that humanity needs; a vaccine pioneered significantly by public science and developed in large part by billions in public money.”
The Biden administration announced this summer that it planned to give COVID-19 boosters in the fall, a program that has begun despite pushback from medical experts. That plan also was criticized not only for the science behind the program but on moral grounds that richer nations are handing out third doses while many populations in the world have still to receive a first dose.