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A healthcare professional holds vials of the Moderna vaccine

A health worker shows a bottle of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine for medical staff at Adam Malik hospital on August 4, 2021 in Medan, Indonesia. (Photo: Ivan Damanik/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

200+ Scientists, Groups Implore Biden to Ramp Up mRNA Vaccine Production for the World

"The Biden administration promised a wartime response to the global vaccine effort. It's time to deliver."

Jake Johnson

More than 200 scientists, public health experts, and global civil society organizations demanded Tuesday that the Biden administration pull out all the stops to ramp up U.S. production of mRNA coronavirus vaccines and distribute the doses to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other undervaccinated regions struggling to combat the highly virulent Delta mutation.

"In a pandemic that kills one person every 5.4 secs, we can't afford to wait any longer."
—PrEP4All

"The time is now for ambitious leadership to vaccinate the world," the experts and groups wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden. "The U.S. government has the capacity and the authority to act now and expand current manufacturing facility capacity as well as to develop mRNA vaccine manufacturing facilities, particularly as funding for this effort is already allocated by Congress."

"The emergence of the Delta variant is resulting in a surge in increasing infection rates... where vaccines are least available," the letter reads. "This highlights the risk of newer, emerging variants, some of which may turn out to be resistant to current vaccines, which will threaten the progress made to date on the pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere."

Specifically, the letter's signatories are calling on the Biden administration to:

  • Commit to establishing 8 billion doses per year of mRNA vaccine capacity within six months using existing federal resources;
  • Develop and implement training and technology transfer for the development and manufacture of mRNA and other vaccines in hubs around the world;
  • Begin the immediate export of vaccine doses—within one week—to COVAX or through other international distribution mechanisms—of at least 10 million doses per week.

"Announcing within the next 30 days an ambitious global vaccine manufacturing program is the only way to control this pandemic, protect the precious gains made to date, and build vaccine infrastructure for the future," reads the letter, which was signed by Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, former CDC director Tom Frieden, Public Citizen, the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management, and scores of others.

"Pharma took years before letting the rest of the world access their AIDS drugs. We won't let that happen with Covid vaccines."
—Peter Staley, PrEP4All

The letter was coordinated by PrEP4All, an organization of community members, academics, and healthcare professionals originally founded with the goal of expanding access to lifesaving HIV medication.

"Pharma took years before letting the rest of the world access their AIDS drugs," Peter Staley, a co-founder of PrEP4All, told the Washington Post. "We won't let that happen with Covid vaccines."

The mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have proven to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from Covid-19, but thus far the U.S. and other rich countries have swiped up most of the supply. As Bloomberg reported last month, "just a handful of facilities in the U.S. and Western Europe account for almost all of the world's mRNA vaccine supply—leaving many countries in a desperate race to catch up."

"In South Africa, where Covid shots are in such short supply they've only distributed enough to cover about 5% of the population, the government last month teamed up with the World Health Organization and local drug manufacturers on an ambitious plan to turn the country into a hub for the first Made-in-Africa mRNA vaccines," Bloomberg noted.

The problem is that Moderna and Pfizer are refusing to voluntarily participate in South Africa's effort, preferring instead to shield their profitable monopoly control over critical vaccine technology. Furthermore, a push at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive vaccine-related patent protections and allow manufacturers around the world to produce generic versions of the Moderna and Pfizer shots has stalled due to opposition from rich countries.

But as the scientists and advocacy groups point out in their letter to Biden on Tuesday, the U.S. government currently owns the patent for spike-protein technology used in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, potentially giving the administration leverage to force the companies to take part in efforts to rapidly expand global production.

"The United States should explore all legal options to compel mRNA manufacturing originators to share technology and voluntarily license their technology to contract manufacturers around the world," the letter reads.

Public Citizen's Zain Rizvi told the Post that "the knowledge that can help end the pandemic should not be a secret."

"The Biden administration promised a wartime response to the global vaccine effort," Rizvi added. "It's time to deliver."

The Biden White House has touted its recent vaccine donations to low-income countries, but the letter argues that the administration is not giving away enough, noting that the U.S. "currently has over 55 million doses of mRNA vaccines in storage, while only vaccinating approximately 900,000 people per day."

"At this rate, it would take over two months to administer just the vaccine doses currently stored," the experts and advocacy organizations write. "Despite this, mRNA vaccine manufacturers are delivering over 17 million new doses each week to jurisdictions across the U.S. Ten million excess doses could be immediately donated each week, while ensuring that the nation's mRNA vaccine dose stockpile remains constant in size."

Read the full letter:

Dear President Biden,

Despite significant progress in the United States (U.S.), the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten lives and security across the globe. Without urgent and immediate scale-up of vaccine production and distribution, millions more will be infected and die. The emergence of the Delta variant is resulting in a surge in increasing infection rates in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where vaccines are least available. This  highlights the risk of newer, emerging variants, some of which may turn out to be resistant to current vaccines, which will threaten the progress made to date on the pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere. The time is now for ambitious leadership to vaccinate the world.

The need to be on a "wartime footing" to secure the world against this pandemic viral threat is paramount. Any global Covid vaccination program must be structured to address multiple interlinked priorities. First, the manufacturing capacity of mRNA vaccines in the U.S. must be rapidly scaled up to reach approximately 4 billion people by the end of 2021. The U.S. government has the capacity and the authority to act now and expand current manufacturing facility capacity as well as to develop mRNA vaccine manufacturing facilities, particularly as funding for this effort is already allocated by Congress. Second, it is equally important at the same time to use technology transfer and financing support to allow for further scale up of vaccine manufacturing capacity in all regions of the world. The latter will address the anticipated need for continued Covid-19 vaccination efforts, as well as prepare for the next potential pandemic.

Specifically, the US government should:

  • Commit to establishing 8 billion doses per year of mRNA vaccine capacity within six months using existing federal resources. A plan for this should be announced within one month.

    While multiple types of vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective and will have an important role to play in global vaccination efforts; to date, mRNA vaccines have proven to be faster and more reliable to produce than other vaccine technologies and are more effective against current variants. The U.S. investment in the development of mRNA vaccines, along with its co-ownership of the patents of this new technology, make mRNA vaccines the best first choice for the U.S. role in global scale up. Based on past experience, newly retrofitted U.S.-owned facilities can be on-line to produce large numbers of doses within six months. Initial federal funding already allocated by Congress can help support this task.

  • Simultaneously, the U.S. government should develop and implement training and technology transfer for the development and manufacture of mRNA and other vaccines in hubs around the world. Such training and tech transfer can begin immediately in the U.S.-based facilities, at the proposed WHO-supported hub in South Africa, at facilities in India that can be quickly retrofitted for mRNA production capacity or at other locations (e.g., in South Korea). The U.S. government should also compel originators to transfer technology and, in collaboration with other governments, provide financing for vaccine manufacturing around the world.  

    The United States should explore all legal options to compel mRNA manufacturing originators to share technology and voluntarily license their technology to contract manufacturers around the world, including mRNA manufacturing hubs. Funding, along with international partners, should also be allocated to scale up manufacturing hubs around the world. In addition, training at USG owned facilities could be used to seed the manufacturing hubs. We cannot pursue one strategy alone and need to operate on multiple fronts and creating new capacity in the U.S. and abroad at the same time is the most sustainable way forward. 

  • Begin immediate export of vaccine doses—within one week—to COVAX or through other international distribution mechanisms—of at least 10 million doses per week.

    The United States currently has over 55 million doses of mRNA vaccines in storage, while only vaccinating approximately 900,000 people per day. At this rate, it would take over two months to administer just the vaccine doses currently stored. Despite this, mRNA vaccine manufacturers are delivering over 17 million new doses each week to jurisdictions across the U.S. Ten million excess doses could be immediately donated each week, while ensuring that the nation’s mRNA vaccine dose stockpile remains constant in size.

We urge you to act now. Announcing within the next 30 days an ambitious global vaccine manufacturing program is the only way to control this pandemic, protect the precious gains made to date, and build vaccine infrastructure for the future.


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