A nurse prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center, in Sarcelles near Paris on January 10, 2021.
ALAIN JOCARD | AFP | Getty Images
Pfizer will supply up to 40 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine to a global alliance aiming to provide poor nations with coronavirus vaccines, the head of the World Health Organization said Friday.
The deal will allow Covax — co-led by the WHO — to begin delivering vaccine doses to participating countries in February, WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing. Tedros added that, pending emergency authorization, the program expects 150 million doses of AstraZeneca‘s vaccine to become available for distribution in the first quarter of this year.
The Covax program aims to provide 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to participating countries, which includes low- to middle-income nations, by the end of this year. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two shots spread weeks apart, indicating the agreement would cover just 20 million people.
Tedros said the agreement would also allow other countries with supplies of Pfizer’s vaccine to donate them to the program. The WHO chief has been critical of wealthy nations that have signed supply agreements with drugmakers for their initial doses of Covid-19 vaccines, stockpiling supplies away from poorer nations.
“This is not just significant for COVAX, it is a major step forward for equitable access to vaccines, and an essential part of the global effort to beat this pandemic. We will only be safe anywhere if we are safe everywhere,” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said during the press briefing that the company will provide the doses of vaccine to Covax and the poorer nations at a cost. Pfizer was the first company to receive a global emergency use listing for its vaccine from the WHO, allowing other countries to expedite their regulatory approval processes to begin administering the vaccine.
Bourla said the company will help deliver the doses, which require ultra-cold storage and special handling, to low-income countries. UNICEF, which is helping deliver the doses, has previously warned some of the world’s poorest countries could face challenges storing and administering the shots once they arrive.
The program’s deal with Pfizer brings its supply agreements to just over 2 billion doses total, though it will continue negotiations for additional supply. The goal is to immunize health care and other front-line workers, as well as some high-risk individuals, beginning in the first quarter this year, according to Covax.
The deal comes on the heels of the United States’ decision to remain a member of the WHO under President Joe Biden. The new administration will also join the Covax program, a move that the Trump administration resisted last year.
“I just couldn’t avoid the temptation to say that I’m very glad that this press conference is happening the day that the United States is rejoining the WHO organization. I think it’s a symbolic, great day for us,” Pfizer chief Bourla said at the briefing.