Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for rich countries, pharmaceutical companies and others to “step up” to get the coronavirus vaccine to areas of the world that haven’t received many doses.
“How can it be that in the United States and Europe we have vaccination rates that on average are probably somewhere around 60 percent? In Africa, it is under 14 percent,” Mr. Blinken told Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Online Summit. “It’s not only wrong. It’s a huge problem.”
He pointed the blame, at least partially, on pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer, that produce coronavirus vaccines. “They have performed miracles,” Mr. Blinken said. “When it comes to distribution, with all the different actors involved — governments, companies, international organizations — we have fallen short of the mark.”
Mr. Blinken’s statement came on the same day as the United States announced a deal with Johnson & Johnson to distribute more doses of its vaccine to lower-income countries, including many in Africa. As part of that effort, Mr. Blinken announced the launch of a new tracker that makes it easier to see where vaccine doses are distributed.
Mr. Blinken also said vaccine distribution could have benefited if pharmaceutical companies had shared their intellectual property, allowing the vaccine to be manufactured in other parts of the world. This week, The New York Times reported that Moderna and the U.S. government are in a dispute over who should own the patent underlying its vaccine, which stemmed from a four-year partnership between the company and the National Institutes of Health. “I think it is critical that we do that for the next time,” said Mr. Blinken. “We have to go from, in effect, loaner-ship to ownership, so that countries around the world have the capacity to produce what’s needed on a regional basis.”
On Tuesday, Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, also speaking at the DealBook Online Summit, said that it was unfair to blame his company for the vaccine’s uneven distribution. Bourla said Pfizer had made vaccine doses available to any nation that wanted them, but rich nations had been quicker to put in orders.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bourla said that he and Pfizer had learned lessons from the distribution of the vaccine. For the company’s antiviral pill to treat Covid-19, called Paxlovid, Pfizer is working on a system that isn’t just first-come, first-served, Mr. Bourla said, adding that the company hasn’t finalized its allocation strategy.