US to fund additional 1 billion COVID vaccine doses a year

Syringes filled with the Pfizer Biontech Covid-19 vaccine lie on a tray in a mobile Covid-19 vaccination centre set up in a shopping mall in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on Nov. 11, 2021, amid a surge of infections during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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Josh Wingrove Bloomberg News (TNS)

President Joe Biden’s administration will offer drug manufacturers, including Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., funding to expand domestic production capacity of mRNA vaccines by 1 billion doses a year by the second half of 2022.

The plan, described by officials familiar with the matter ahead of an announcement Wednesday, is aimed at increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines and also building capacity to address any future pandemic.

The move, if realized, could see the U.S. consolidate more production of vaccines on its home soil. Countries, companies and global health agencies continue to grapple with how to balance production increases, intellectual property rights and vaccine disparities, with low-income countries still unable to secure enough doses to widely vaccinate their populations.

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Pfizer and partner BioNTech Se have produced 2.6 billion doses globally so far, with plans to make 4 billion globally in 2022, though it’s not clear how many would be made within the U.S.

Moderna has produced 345 million doses in the U.S. since its vaccine was cleared by regulators, and another 196 million doses abroad, the company said in a Nov. 16 fact sheet. Like Pfizer, Moderna is planning to increase global production next year.

The U.S. funding — if the companies show interest — could either add to planned production totals or steer them to U.S. soil, or both. Biden has pledged donations of more than one billion doses over the next year, but wealthy countries face calls to do more to address inequities in vaccine availability. The U.S. has taken delivery of about 500 million doses domestically so far.

The government funding could be used for a wide range of purposes, including setting up factories and staff training, one official said. The administration is essentially announcing a request for expressions of interest from pharmaceutical companies, and no deal has yet been finalized.

The U.S. is seeking brief descriptions of proposed projects from companies, with a deadline of Dec. 13. The move was reported earlier by The New York Times.

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