Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna refusing to share COVID-19 vaccine technology – MSF study

September 2, 2021: A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) study reveals that Pfizer and Moderna, manufacturers of the two approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, have not made any agreements to transfer their technology and increase supplies of vaccines in low income countries. They have only signed contracts for the supply of vaccine ingredients with companies in high income countries and China.

Under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, all pharmaceutical companies have 20-year monopoly control over supply and price of vaccines. Rich countries are first in line, and most people in low-income countries will not have access to vaccines until 2023.

MSF strongly supports the “TRIPS Waiver” – the temporary suspension of the 20-year monopoly patents on all COVID-19 related intellectual property at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – as the principal way to boost global vaccine supply and fair distribution. Germany, the UK, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, Norway and the European Commission have been blocking this move at the WTO for 11 months.

The pharmaceutical industry argues that they can produce enough vaccines under the current voluntary agreement rules and that no one else has the capacity to do it safely, despite the fact that India and South Africa are amongst the largest producers of generic medicines in the world.

MSF is also supporting the World Health Organisation (WHO) voluntary COVID technology sharing initiative (C-TAP) and its push for COVID Technology Transfer Hubs on each continent, starting in Africa.

The mRNA vaccines are more easily adapted for changes in the virus, and are faster to produce than older antivirus vaccine technologies. The need to store these mRNA vaccines at super-cold temperatures has been an obstacle, but the manufacturers are overcoming this problem now.

Africa is the continent most severely suffering from COVID-19 vaccine shortage. MSF identified mRNA vaccine-capable manufacturers in South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, but so far Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna have refused to share the necessary information with any of them.

MSF found that setting up the capacity to produce up to 100 million doses annually is possible for manufacturers based in countries in Africa within a 10-month timeframe, at a cost of as little as US$127 million – US$270 million. But the manufacturers would need to have full access to mRNA vaccine materials from Pfizer /BioNTech and Moderna.

MSF recommended that Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna should urgently share their vaccine technologies via technology transfer to these manufacturers.

MSF also urged the US and German governments and the European Commission to use all legal and political means to ensure that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna share their technologies with African companies. Pfizer and Moderna are refusing to share their technology even with Australian manufacturers.