Moderna planning to send 110 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa

Moderna has reached a deal to sell as many as 110 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the African Union, the company announced.

The deal will involve the U.S. government deferring delivery of 33 million doses of the company's vaccine so that they can be purchased by the African Union. 

The company announced the deal on Tuesday morning, saying it would deliver 15 million doses in the fourth quarter of 2021, 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter of 2022.

The White House, which later took credit for helping to broker the deal, said the U.S. would defer delivery of roughly 33 million Moderna vaccine doses it had already purchased, so that the African Union can instead purchase and distribute them. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the doses were originally supposed to be delivered to the U.S. between December and February. 

"This deal will get the continent Moderna doses that have been long awaited and in high demand," Psaki said during a press briefing. 

Moderna says that the doses will be sold to the African Union at its lowest price, in accordance with its commitment to ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines. The deal is separate from the company's existing pledge to supply the World Health Organization-backed COVAX with 500 million doses through 2022.

President Biden promised the United States would be an "arsenal of vaccines" for the world, and the White House had been putting pressure on Moderna for more donations. 

David Kessler, the chief science officer for the White House COVID-19 response team, earlier this month said the administration had a meeting with Moderna's board and urged them to "step up." 

Advocates allege that Moderna has yet to deliver any of its promised doses to low-income countries directly or to COVAX, and said the latest announcement amounts to essentially a pittance.

"Zero Moderna doses have been delivered to low-income countries so far, zero to the African Union, and zero to COVAX, the global facility to distribute doses to the developing world. Why do we think Moderna will finally come through now?" Robbie Silverman, a senior advisor at Oxfam America, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Moderna has received significant government funding and assistance in its vaccine development, and advocacy groups and experts have been calling on the Biden administration to use authorities under the Defense Production Act to compel the company to share its technology with other countries to boost manufacturing.

They say the administration needs to take direct action, because the months spent seeking voluntary steps from companies have gone nowhere. Administration officials have not yet publicly said what, if any, action they will take.

Biden announced earlier this month that the U.S. would share an additional 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with the African Union, on top of some 50 million doses that have already been sent to the continent. The African Union is responsible for determining how much vaccine goes to each country.

--Updated at 4:01 p.m.