- The U.S. plans to buy 500 million additional doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine for donation to lower income countries around the world, doubling a similarly sized commitment made by the White House in June.
- The agreement, set to be announced by President Joe Biden Wednesday, comes as the U.S. has been under pressure to help the many countries that are still struggling to secure sufficient vaccine supplies for their citizens.
- Pfizer and BioNTech will sell their vaccine to the U.S. at a "not-for-profit" price, which Reuters reported was about $7 per dose or $14 for a full two-dose regimen. That's far less than the roughly $20 per dose the U.S. has previously paid for doses meant for Americans. Deliveries of this second tranche of 500 million doses will begin in January and extend through September 2022, administration officials said.
Facing criticism for pushing ahead with plans to offer booster doses to Americans while vaccines remain in short supply elsewhere, the Biden administration has insisted the U.S. can do both.
"Early on, we secured enough vaccine supply for every American and took steps to secure additional supply in case boosters were needed," wrote the White House's coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an op-ed published Wednesday in The Washington Post.
"At the same time, we planned to get vaccines to the world, helping our domestic manufacturers ramp up vaccine production and purchasing hundreds of million doses for the sole purpose of giving them to others."
The new agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech brings the U.S. total planned donations to more than 1.1 billion doses, including 1 billion from the two companies and some hundred million or so from surplus vaccines from various manufacturers.
Announcement of the deal is timed to Biden's planned vaccine summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. But it also comes as the Food and Drug Administration is widely expected to soon authorize a booster dose of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine for older adults or people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19.
A group of agency advisers supported clearance of an additional third dose for those groups last Friday, and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert committee is discussing the same issue Wednesday and Thursday this week.
The doses bought by the U.S. will be donated to COVAX, a World Health Organization-sponsored vaccine purchasing coalition, and to the 55 countries in the African Union. Deliveries of the initial tranche of 500 million doses ordered in June started in August, but supplying the rest will take a full year.
So far, 160 million doses have been delivered, according to Zients and Blinken, but it's not clear how many of those have actually been administered. In August, The New York Times reported that some African countries were having trouble getting vaccines into the arms of their citizens, a bottleneck due in part to reduced funding for the vaccination drives themselves.
Disagreements between Pfizer and BioNTech on one hand and COVAX on the other, meanwhile, forced the White House to step in as an intermediary, according to The New York Times.
Advocacy groups have pressed the Biden administration to follow through on its support for an international waiver of vaccine patent rights, which the White House announced in May but has yet to lead to material action.
"The United States and the president continue to support a COVID-19 TRIPS waiver," a senior administration official said on a Sept. 21 conference call in response to a reporter's question. "We do support a waiver of intellectual property protections. And we're working in the [World Trade Organization] on that effort and we continue to."
According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 2% of the population of lower-income countries had received at least one vaccine dose through Sept. 9, compared to 54% in upper-middle-income countries and 65% in high-income countries.