Pfizer sells 500M coronavirus vaccine doses to U.S. for donation to needy countries

president biden holds chip
The Biden administration is purchasing 500 million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to around 100 countries.(WH.gov)

With the pandemic easing in the United States but raging in other parts of the world, the U.S. plans to buy 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to donate to needy countries.

Early Thursday, Pfizer and BioNTech confirmed the sale of 500 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. government at a not-for-profit price. The companies will provide 200 million doses this year and 300 million next year, and the U.S. will donate the doses to around 100 low- and middle-income countries.

The move comes as the U.S. faces pressure to do more to help vaccinate the rest of the world. More than 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S., while some countries are just getting started with their vaccination campaigns. 

Further, it comes just as patent waiver talks move forward at the World Trade Organization. Under a proposal backed by the U.S. government, vaccine manufacturers around the world could sidestep COVID-19 vaccine patents to produce their own shots. The biopharma industry strongly opposes the proposal.

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It's not just Pfizer vaccine doses the U.S. government is donating. In April, Biden pledged to donate 60 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And a week ago, Biden released a worldwide vaccine sharing plan which included the donation of 80 million doses of an unnamed vaccine by the end of June.

In response to an email, another COVID-19 vaccine producer, Moderna, said it was "interested in the possibility of partnering with the U.S. government to potentially provide additional doses" of its shot "to help address the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries."

The latest development follows calls for the U.S. and other wealthy countries to help relieve the wide vaccine gap between the haves and have nots. In the U.S. and Britain, for example, more than 40% of individuals have been fully vaccinated, while in India, where a brutal coronavirus wave has ravaged the country in recent months, fewer than 4% have been fully vaccinated.

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Despite Biden’s support for a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, health advocates and some Democrats in Washington have criticized the administration for its lack of attention to the global vaccination effort.  

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that a draft report indicated that the U.S. and European Union were set to reduce export restrictions on pandemic vaccines and drugs. The report also said that officials would encourage “voluntary sharing of knowhow and technology on mutually-determined terms.” Such efforts could boost global COVID-19 vaccine production.