The Trump administration and Pfizer on Wednesday announced an agreement for the drug company to provide an additional 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of July to address a potential shortage.
The deal, along with the ordering of another vaccine from Moderna, means that the United States has now made commitments to provide sufficient doses to vaccinate all but about 60 million of the approximately 260 million American adults who are eligible.
Pfizer agreed this summer, before its vaccine was even proven effective, to deliver 100 million doses to the United States. Under the new agreement, Pfizer will provide an additional 70 million cans by the end of June and another 30 million cans by the end of July, doubling the shipments promised in the original contract.
So far, Pfizer and Moderna, the only two manufacturers whose vaccines have been approved for emergency distribution to Americans, have pledged to ship 400 million doses over the next seven months. Both vaccines require two doses.
The U.S. government will pay $ 1.95 billion for the second order, or $ 19.50 per dose, according to a statement from the company. Pfizer's vaccine was developed with a German partner, BioNTech.
As part of the deal, the government agreed to enact the Defense Manufacturing Act to provide Pfizer with better access to around nine specialty products needed to manufacture the vaccine. Under Korean War-era law, the government can secure critical supplies faster by assigning a priority rating to a contract, forcing suppliers to put orders from that contractor at the top.
The government's promise to clear supplies is not mentioned in the statements made by Pfizer or the government, but it was vital to the deal in the view of those familiar with the negotiations.
As early as September, Pfizer asked the government for help with the procurement of supplies. This is evident from documents examined by the New York Times. By this point, the administration had already prioritized orders from Moderna and other companies that had worked more closely with it to develop their vaccines, which put Pfizer at a disadvantage. This included two companies – Sanofi and Novavax – that have not yet started large-scale clinical trials in the United States.
A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about internal discussions, said the government was unwilling to intervene earlier on Pfizer's behalf as the company refused to promise exclusively with Government help procured raw materials to use in making vaccines for Americans.
Others familiar with the negotiations said the government expressed concern that Pfizer's prioritization could put pressure on the supply chain and hinder the other vaccine manufacturers that the government supports through its vaccine development program called Operation Warp Speed.
Dec. 26, 2020, 4:42 p.m. ET
The new agreement with Pfizer includes options that could allow the government to purchase an additional 400 million doses. However, the conditions for exercising these options were unclear. The earlier July deal gave Pfizer the option to "reasonably" reject a federal government request for more doses.
The administration has been negotiating additional doses with Pfizer for more than a month. Obstacles included Pfizer's commitments to other nations that had moved faster than the United States to get large contracts, according to those familiar with the situation.
Federal officials, including Alex M. Azar II, the secretary for health and human services, have repeatedly stated that the government has made pledges of sufficient doses to cover all Americans who want to be vaccinated by June. But even with Pfizer's new contract, the government still has short doses for about 60 million Americans to be vaccinated.
A third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to release clinical trial results next month and could cover a shortage. Other vaccine manufacturers participating in Operation Warp Speed could also get through, but have seen significant delays so far.
At a briefing Wednesday, Moncef Slaoui, a director of Operation Warp Speed, said Johnson & Johnson's product looked like a "wonderful vaccine" and could significantly improve supplies to the country by spring. Instead of a shortage, he said, "The likelihood is that there will be significant redundancy in cans for Americans in the first half of next year."
Pfizer signed a deal last month to sell 200 million cans from the European Union at $ 14.50 each, according to a document posted on social media by a European official and subsequently deleted. However, it is unclear whether this price is correct. In both contracts, the United States agreed to pay Pfizer US $ 19.50 per dose.
Pfizer just said pricing is based on volume and delivery dates, and the European Union placed the largest order first.
The Pfizer contracts alone now cost the government nearly $ 4 billion. On Monday, Congress approved a stimulus package that earmarked $ 20 billion for the government to buy vaccines.
But in a surprise twist on Tuesday night, President Trump railed against the bill, hinting that he might not sign it in its current form.