Anger at US deal for Moderna’s ‘taxpayer-funded’ COVID-19 vaccine

The US government has signed another big coronavirus vaccine supply deal, snapping up 100 million doses of Moderna’s mRNA jab for a little over $1.5 billion –around $15 per dose or $30 per course.

That’s a steep discount on the $32 to $37 price per dose in its earlier smaller deals, revealing that purchasing power will be a big factor as supplies of COVID-19 vaccines become available – and also that countries with deep pockets will be at the front of the queue.

Nevertheless, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has slammed the amount Moderna is charging the US for the mRNA-1273 vaccine, saying that as taxpayer money had funded 100% of the work done to bring it to market the US is “paying twice” for the shot.

“When the president bragged on the campaign trail about his deal-making prowess, this isn’t what people had in mind,” said the organisation.

“It is absurd that Trump and [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar] are touting $30 per course as a good deal for the American people, in light of the consistent and ongoing support from the US government towards mRNA-1273 research, development and manufacturing.”

The $1.525 billion order includes $300 million in incentive payments for swift delivery, in other words if the vaccine is approved for marketing or gets an emergency-use green light on or before 31 January next year.

It takes the total amount allocated to the vaccine by the US government to $2.48 billion, including $955 million previously awarded to Moderna to fund clinical development and manufacturing of mRNA-1273.

The shot is in a phase 3 trial called COVE which started last month with the help of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Moderna has previously said it is on track to deliver up to 500 million doses per year, and possibly up to a billion doses per year beginning in 2021, thanks to a manufacturing collaboration with Lonza.

The company also has a large-scale fill and finish contract with Catalent’s biologics facility in Indiana, following $1.3 billion in funding from investors in a public equity offering in May.

Shares in Moderna spiked up around 5% on the announcement, but fell back just as quickly to end the day only fractionally up.

Analysts said the US deal could lead to others being signed quickly as other countries try to snap up available stocks, once again raising fears of “vaccine nationalism” that will leave lower-income countries at the back of the queue when it comes to access.

The US government previously signed deals – all for 100 million doses – of a vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech at a cost of $39 per course, $21 per dose for a Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline shot, and $10 per dose for a Johnson & Johnson candidate.

It also has deals in place to supply vaccines from Novavax and AstraZeneca/University of Oxford for 100 million doses at $16 and 300 million doses at $4, respectively.

“The Trump Administration is increasing the likelihood that the US will have at least one safe, effective vaccine by 2021,” said Azar in a statement.

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