One year after first shot, Moderna and Pfizer must urgently share COVID-19 vaccine “recipe”

A frontline health worker at a nursing home in Chlifa Baalbak receives her vaccine from an MSF medical staff member.

Lebanon 2021 © Tariq Keblaoui/MSF

As the omicron variant spreads, MSF calls on companies to immediately share lifesaving mRNA vaccine technology with manufacturers that stand ready to boost the global supply

NEW YORK/GENEVA, DECEMBER 8, 2021—One year since the first dose of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine was administered, only eight percent of people in low-income countries have received even one dose, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF is calling on Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to share vaccine technology and know-how to help rapidly expand the global vaccine supply. Given the substantial US taxpayer funding provided to these companies—for development and advanced vaccine dose purchases—the Biden administration must use legal leverage afforded by the Defense Production Act and other laws to direct these companies to share vaccine information. The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be over for anyone until it’s over for everyone.

“In one year, more than 8 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, but the percentage of vaccinated people in low-income countries remains in the single digits—including in many of the places MSF works,” said Mihir Mankad, senior global health advocacy and policy advisor at MSF-USA. “The US government can't allow this inequity in access to vaccines to continue. Despite what Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech want us to believe, we don’t have to rely on them alone for our vaccine supply. There are additional companies across the world that stand ready to help boost the global supply if the mRNA recipe is shared. Since Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech aren’t actively sharing this information, the Biden administration should demand they do so.”

Sharing the technology and know-how could boost global vaccine production and supply in a matter of months, supporting low- and middle-income countries to become self-sufficient in dealing with current and future pandemics—and save countless lives in the process. This is even more critical with the news of another worrying COVID-19 virus variant, omicron, since the mRNA vaccine platform allows for fast modification of vaccines against new variants and relatively short production times.

“As we face ever-evolving variants, and other new viruses that may emerge, mRNA vaccines offer a major lifesaving advantage—if only Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech would share the technology with the rest of the world,” said Alain Alsalhani, vaccines and special projects pharmacist at MSF’s Access Campaign. “Luckily, Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech's mRNA vaccine technology is well-suited for quickly responding to viral variants, if needed.”

MSF has identified seven manufacturers in Africa alone that could start mRNA vaccine production within months if Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shared the vaccine technology and know-how. As of today, not a single dose of these vaccines is being manufactured by companies in low- and middle-income countries. In the likely scenario that the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate into new variants of concern, geographically distributed access to mRNA vaccine technology is crucial in allowing rapid vaccine adaptation and a response that meets local needs.

Public taxpayer money through the US government provided Moderna with nearly $10 billion, covering almost the entire cost of clinical development of the mRNA vaccine it produces and the purchase of 500 million doses. Financial support from the German government and other public sources contributed more than $700 million to BioNTech’s development of a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer.

“MSF calls on Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to immediately share mRNA vaccine technology and know-how with the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub based in South Africa,” said Candice Sehoma, advocacy officer in South Africa for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Low- and middle-income countries must be able to be self-reliant and have ownership in producing COVID-19 medical tools like vaccines for their populations without having to depend on charity or donations from high-income countries and the pharma industry. Too many lives are at stake—we need Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to share the tech now.”

To end the COVID-19 pandemic for everyone, high-income countries, including the US, must make public and concrete commitments to redistribute excess COVID-19 vaccine doses globally. The US must also remain committed to and urge all countries to support the TRIPS waiver proposal at the WTO to waive intellectual property restrictions on all COVID-19 products during the pandemic.

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