Order up: U.S. calls on Pfizer, Moderna for 200M more vaccine doses

Syringe injection vaccine needle
COVID-19 vaccine makers Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech could deliver another 200 million doses to the U.S. in 2021.(Pixabay)

Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to deliver another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the U.S., bringing the total on tap to 600 million, or enough to vaccinate 300 million people.

President Joe Biden announced the pending deals on Tuesday, noting the extra doses would be delivered this summer. Moderna confirmed the negotiations in a press release Wednesday, although it said the discussions are for “delivery in the third quarter of 2021.” Pfizer also confirmed the negotiations but didn't specify the timing.

The stepped-up orders come as the Biden administration aims to bulk up vaccine supplies and dramatically speed up immunizations around the country. The options to buy these additional doses were included in Pfizer and Moderna's original contracts with the U.S. government.

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In Moderna’s case, the government negotiated the original 100 million dose purchase plus four options to purchase 100 million doses each. The feds exercised one of those options in early December for a total of 200 million doses. The new order would bring its total to 300 million.

In a supply update yesterday, Moderna confirmed it's on track to deliver the already purchased 200 million doses by the end of June. To date, it has supplied the government with 30.4 million doses.

Pfizer and BioNTech also upped their original agreement with the U.S.—its initial 100 million doses grew to 200 million when the government exercised an option in December. The original agreement with Pfizer specified a $1.95 billion payment upon receipt of the first 100 million doses and allowed for additional purchases up to an additional 500 million doses.

"We have an agreement with the federal government for a total of 200 million doses of our COVID-19 vaccine, which will be delivered by end of May (two months ahead of schedule). President Biden’s announcement bumps the total amount of Pfizer doses to the USG to 300 million," a Pfizer spokesperson said in an email.

Pfizer's early delivery may be due in part to extra doses in its vials. Pharmacists early on discovered they could pull a sixth dose from Pfizer and BioNTech’s vials, rather than the originally promised five. After the FDA formally approved that use, Pfizer began counting the extra doses toward its established orders.

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Meanwhile, in Europe, Pfizer and BioNTech announced a temporary shortfall in vaccine deliveries to Europe, Canada and a few other countries earlier this month while it scaled up its factory in Belgium. Deliveries were set to return to normal this week. That delay was not expected to affect Pfizer's U.S. production, which is handled by a factory in Michigan.

Along with the new vaccine purchase negotiations, Biden said his administration will increase transparency with state and local governments. His team will now give three-week forecasts to states so they can anticipate the size of weekly deliveries 21 days in advance.

Biden also announced an increase in short-term supply, bumping up the current 8.6 million doses shipped each week to 10 million doses.