19 september 2022 | Technology

Moderna helps WHO, Pfizer neglects request

Moderna Inc. has authorized the use of its Covid-19 vaccine to develop mRNA vaccines for the World Health Organization that will expand vaccine production and make them more accessible to poor countries.

The WHO is collaborating with Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines, a South African biotechnology company. Afrigen used the Moderna vaccine in its research to compare its effectiveness with that of its own vaccine, according to the company's managing director, Petro Terblanche. The experiments were conducted on mice.

The latest strains of the Covid-19 virus have a milder course of the disease, which has reduced the demand for vaccinations worldwide. Despite this, people in poor countries remain vulnerable to the virus, since vaccination is not common there. Afrigen aims to develop a vaccine with Moderna. The vaccine will be produced under the auspices of the WHO mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Center in Cape Town at no fewer than 15 manufacturing facilities around the world.

Moderna has not previously supplied the vaccine directly. According to Marie-Paul Kini, chairman of the UN-backed Medical Patent Pool, the French government was allowed to provide the Moderna vaccine after a request from the Pool. Pfizer Inc. denied a similar request because it did not consider the need for the vaccine urgent, she said.

Moderna and the partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech SE are under increasing pressure to allow factories in poorer countries to produce their vaccines after the world's wealthiest countries rushed to vaccinate their populations, while vaccines were virtually unavailable in much of Africa.

In response to questions, Pfizer representatives said that the company has received many offers to cooperate with the pandemic's beginnings, but unfortunately it cannot accept them all, due to the organization's focus on supplying under existing agreements with governments. 

The company said trials of the Afrigen vaccine in mice at an early stage caused a "strong immune response." According to Terblanche, Moderna has placed some conditions on the use of its vaccine in research, declining to go into detail.

Afrigen may need additional help from Moderna or Pfizer. That assistance includes obtaining approval to use the vaccine for human comparative trials. According to Kieni, this request is expected in the coming weeks.

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