Moderna has become the world's vaccine boogeyman
Moderna is under fire for not doing enough to vaccinate the world, especially low-income countries - and the Biden government has been criticized for not doing enough to force Moderna's hand.
Why It Matters: Low-income countries are desperately looking for more vaccines, and experts warn that greater global penetration will increase the likelihood of a vaccine-resistant variant showing up.
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Driving news: A senior Biden official publicly threatened Moderna with more aggressive government action if it fails to voluntarily provide the global COVAX initiative with enough vaccines at charitable prices the government has asked.
"Don't underestimate the United States government's determination to address these issues," said David Kessler, the Biden government's chief science officer for the COVID-19 response, at a panel session yesterday.
"I think these companies understand our authorities and understand that we wouldn't be afraid to use them," added Kessler. He said Moderna has the capacity to make at least 1 billion additional doses in the short term.
State of play: Moderna has delivered its vaccine almost exclusively to wealthy nations, the New York Times reported over the weekend.
Pfizer, on the other hand, has agreed to sell its vaccine at a low price to the US government to donate to lower-income countries.
Tensions have been brewing between Moderna and the administration for some time, but before that because of booster shots.
Yes, but: Activists speaking on the panel said it was time the federal government gave up on Moderna taking voluntary action and took much more aggressive steps to increase global vaccine capacity.
And it's not just activists. A group of Democratic MPs led by Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter with a similar message to the Biden administration yesterday, the Washington Post reports.
"Although Moderna has received huge public funding from American taxpayers, it has declined calls to share its technology, including from the US government," wrote lawmakers, urging the government for more information about the federal government's contract with Moderna and its rights she's got to the company's vaccine dates.
What they say: "We are determined to double our production and expand our supply even further until our vaccine is no longer needed in low-income countries," wrote Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a recent letter in which he outlines the company's strategy to improve access to vaccines.
Between the lines: It's unclear what rights the U.S. government has to share information about how the Moderna vaccine can be made with the world, which is what some activists want.
Kessler said the Defense Production Act "is probably the most powerful authority, and that gives the president the power to allot cans".
But diverting the doses does not solve the problem of the total amount of vaccines available worldwide. Sharing the vaccine prescription, on the other hand, would help more manufacturers make it.
The bottom line: "We need the Biden government to strengthen itself because at the end of the day ... we're not facing the heads of Pfizer and Moderna," said Zain Rizvi of Public Citizen.
"We can't tell them what to do. COVAX can't tell them what to do ... There is a unique power that the US government has."
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