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A man appears at a clinic to receive the coronavirus vaccine

A man appears at a clinic to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on August 3, 2021 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. (Photo: KB Mpofu/Getty Images)

Doctors Without Borders to Pfizer: Share Vaccine Recipe With the World

"It really is a no-brainer—sharing mRNA technologies will increase the global production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines, saving lives in this pandemic and in the future."

Jake Johnson

Following U.S. regulators' decision to grant full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Monday, the global humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders urged the Biden administration to push the pharmaceutical giants to share their technology with manufacturers in Africa and other regions that are ready to start mass-producing doses.

"The U.S. government must immediately urge Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to share the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine technology and know-how."
—Dr. Carrie Teicher, Doctors Without Borders

According to Doctors Without Borders—known globally as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—"at least seven manufacturers in African countries currently meet the prerequisites to produce mRNA vaccines, if all necessary technology and training were openly shared."

"In fact, since July 2020, we've observed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna facilitate mRNA vaccine production with manufacturers in Switzerland, Spain, and Germany, all within eight months, so it is clearly feasible for other manufacturers to swiftly produce mRNA vaccines," Lara Dovifat, manager of MSF's Access Campaign, said in a statement Monday.

Pharmaceutical companies have thus far rebuffed calls to voluntarily take part in global technology-sharing efforts in Africa and elsewhere as they attempt to shield their profitable monopoly control over vaccine production. As such, MSF is imploring the Biden administration to do everything in its power to compel Big Pharma's participation as the highly transmissible Delta variant ravages poor nations, which have been forced to depend heavily on inadequate vaccine donations from rich countries.

"Supporting sustainable, independent vaccine manufacturing capacity in an African country would only require technology transfer from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but would be a gamechanger for equitable access to vaccines for people in low- and middle-income countries," said Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at MSF-USA. "The U.S. government must immediately urge Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to share the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine technology and know-how."

"It really is a no-brainer—sharing mRNA technologies will increase the global production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines, saving lives in this pandemic and in the future," Teicher added.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans to establish an mRNA technology-transfer hub in South Africa as part of a campaign to build out domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity on the coronavirus-ravaged continent. But as Politico reported at the time, neither Pfizer nor Moderna—which produce the only two available mRNA coronavirus vaccines—have agreed to participate in the effort.

"It is a failure for global public health that governments and mRNA vaccine producers are not doing everything they can to scale up production of Covid-19 vaccines."
—Dr. Khosi Mavuso, MSF of South Africa

Additionally, a handful of wealthy members of the World Trade Organization have blocked South Africa and India's proposal to temporarily suspend international patent protections for coronavirus vaccines, obstruction that has left pharmaceutical companies with a stranglehold over production.

For months, public health campaigners have been vocally demanding that the Biden administration use any leverage at its disposal to force vaccinemakers to share their technology and know-how with the rest of the world—and with struggling poor nations in particular.

Specifically, advocacy organizations have pointed to the U.S. government's ownership of the patent for critical spike-protein technology that Pfizer, Moderna, and other companies use to produce their vaccines. Back in March, a coalition of progressive groups urged the Biden administration to force pharmaceutical companies to share their production know-how with other countries in exchange for their continued use of the government-developed spike-protein technology.

But the Biden administration has yet to act on such calls, even as the Delta variant wreaks havoc across the globe and experts warn of the possible emergence of even more dangerous variants.

Dr. Khosi Mavuso, medical representative for MSF in South Africa, said Monday that "as new variants emerge and people continue to die from Covid-19 at alarming rates across Africa, the vaccine shortages we're seeing are incredibly concerning."

"This suffering could be alleviated if pharmaceutical companies shared the mRNA technology and know-how needed to produce more Covid-19 vaccines now, through the WHO technology transfer hub, so that local vaccine production can begin as soon as possible," said Mavuso. "It is a failure for global public health that governments and mRNA vaccine producers are not doing everything they can to scale up production of Covid-19 vaccines when there are potential manufacturers on the African continent."


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