Pfizer on Friday committed to supply up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organization-backed effort to get affordable shots to poor and middle-income countries.
The deal is a boost to the global program known as COVAX, as wealthy nations have snapped up most of the millions of coming shots.
The commitment, announced at a virtual press conference held by the Geneva-based WHO, is seen as important because Pfizer and its partner BioNTech last month won the first vaccine emergency authorizations from WHO and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized drugmakers for seeking profits from the pandemic and mostly supplying wealthy countries.
Pfizer's 40 million doses — for a vaccine requiring two doses — are a tiny sliver of what's needed for COVAX, which aims to vaccinate billions of people in 92 low- and middle-income countries.
During Friday’s news conference, Tedros said Pfizer’s commitment and about 150 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University could enable COVAX to begin delivering doses in February, pending finalization of a supply agreement with Pfizer and emergency use approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine. He said the global program is on track to deliver by year’s end 2 billion doses of vaccines previously pledged by AstraZeneca and other vaccine producers.
New York-based Pfizer Inc. had not previously committed to providing its COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries without making a profit during the pandemic, as a couple rivals have.
However, Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said they would provide their vaccine to COVAX at an undisclosed “not-for-profit price.” The companies still must execute a supply agreement covering distribution, but the doses are to be delivered throughout 2021, starting in February.