ZIMBABWE – Moderna has offered to sell its COVID-19 vaccines to the African Union at US$7 a shot, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control John Nkengasong has said, half the price paid by the United States earlier in the year.

It is also a substantial discount to what other buyers like the European Union have agreed this year, part of a broader trend for drug makers to sell at lower prices to lower income countries.

I am happy to say that a dose of the Moderna vaccine will be US$7. That is what is being offered to us,” Nkengasong told a weekly virtual media briefing.

Earlier this year, Moderna said its deals outside the United States had been struck at between US$22 and US$37 per dose. As those did not include a lower income country, this is the first insight into the kind of prices Moderna is prepared to charge poorer countries.

Nkengasong said there was no doubt that a fourth wave of the pandemic was coming to Africa, where only 6% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated. Africa has to date recorded 8.5 million cases and 220,000 deaths, said Nkengasong.

Meanwhile, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck has vowed to avoid the pitfalls of the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout by ensuring its new anti-coronavirus pill is made available in wealthy and poor countries at almost the same time.

Paul Schaper, the company’s executive director of global public policy, has said that Merck, known as MSD outside the US and Canada, began working on its access strategy from July 2020, long before the efficacy results of the drug it developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics were announced in October 2021.

The United Kingdom last week became the first country to authorize molnupiravir. In a clinical trial, the antiviral was shown to cut Covid hospitalizations by 50 percent among newly infected people, and also prevented 100 percent of deaths.

The company projects it will have 10 million courses ready by the end of this year and at least double that figure in 2022, doses which it will price according to a tiered framework that is based on a country’s ability to pay, as defined by World Bank data.

Beyond its own supply, Merck struck deals with eight licensed generic partners in India and has signed a voluntary licensing agreement with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool to facilitate access in 105 countries.

On top of that, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last month announced an investment of up to US$120 million in an effort to speed access to lower-income countries through a “volume agreement” that ensures the supply of drug ingredients.

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, by contrast, has been highly inequitable, with high-income countries hoarding supply since the rollout began in December 2020.

While 51 percent of the world has now received one or more doses, that figure plunges to four percent of low-income countries, and three percent for the continent of Africa.

Pfizer has also announced promising results for its oral COVID-19 pill, paxlovid, and expects to produce 180,000 courses this year, and at least 50 million next year. It has begun talks with the Medicines Patent Pool but has not yet inked a deal.

Liked this article? Sign up to receive our regular email newsletters, focused on Africa and World’s healthcare industry, directly into your inbox. SUBSCRIBE HERE