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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Moderna is under fire for not doing enough to vaccinate the world, particularly low-income countries — and the Biden administration is being criticized for not doing enough to force Moderna's hand.

Why it matters: Low-income countries are desperate for more vaccine, and experts warn that higher levels of global spread will increase the likelihood of a vaccine-resistant variant emerging.

Driving the news: A top Biden official publicly threatened Moderna with more aggressive government action if it doesn't voluntarily provide enough vaccines to the global initiative COVAX at not-for-profit prices, which the administration has asked it to do.

  • "Do not underestimate the resolve of the United States government in addressing these issues," David Kessler, the Biden administration's chief science officer of the COVID-19 response, said at a panel event yesterday.
  • "I think these companies understand our authorities and understand we would not be afraid to use them," Kessler added. He said Moderna has the capacity to make at least 1 billion extra doses in the short term.

State of play: Moderna has been supplying 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 U.S. government to donate to lower-income countries.
  • Tensions have been brewing for between Moderna and the administration for a while, but previously over booster shots.

Yes, but: Activists speaking on the panel said that it's time for the federal government to give up on Moderna voluntarily taking action, and to take much more aggressive steps to increase global vaccine capacity.

  • And it's not just activists. A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to the Biden administration yesterday with a similar message, the Washington Post reports.
  • "Despite receiving huge sums of public funding from American taxpayers, Moderna has refused calls to share its technology, including from the U.S. government," the lawmakers wrote, pressing the administration for more information about the federal government's contract with Moderna and what rights it has to the company's vaccine data.

What they're saying: "We are committed to doubling our manufacturing and expanding supply even further until our vaccine is no longer needed in low-income countries," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel recently wrote in a letter outlining the company's strategy to increase vaccine access.

Between the lines: It's unclear what rights the U.S. government has to share information on how to make the Moderna vaccine with the world, which is what some activists want it to do.

  • Kessler said that the Defense Production Act "is probably the strongest authority, and that does give the president the authority to allocate doses."
  • But redirecting doses doesn't solve the problem of the total amount of vaccine available around the globe. Sharing the vaccine recipe, on the other hand, would help more manufacturers make it.

The bottom line: "We need the Biden administration to step up, because at the end of the day ... we're not sitting across from 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's a singular unique power that the U.S. government has."

Go deeper

Updated 17 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Booster shots overtake first doses in the U.S. — Pfizer to vaccinate entire Brazilian city as part of study — FDA panel endorses shot of J&J booster for adultsU.S. to lift restrictions for fully vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8.
  2. Health: New cases down, but the West is at risk — Low vaccination rates exacerbate America's caregiving crisis — COVID is here to stay. So what does "victory" look like? — FDA will review Merck COVID-19 pill.
  3. Politics: NHL announces all but four players have been vaccinated — WHO names new advisory group on COVID origins — Biden admin warns Moderna to "step up" global vaccine supply.
  4. Education: LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations amid staffing shortage — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive — Arizona can't use aid for anti-mask education grants, Treasury says.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
22 hours ago - Health

Appeals court declines to block Maine vaccine mandate

A health worker prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination. Photo: Camilo Freedman/APhotografia/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday denied an emergency request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from going into effect in Maine, the Associated Press reports.

Driving the news: The mandate, which Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced in August, requires health care workers in Maine to get vaccinated by Oct. 29 or face losing their jobs.

Oct 15, 2021 - Health

State COVID lotteries did not increase vaccination rates, study finds

California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a drawing for the state's Vax for the Win program in June. Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

None of the 19 states that implemented statewide COVID-19 vaccine lotteries this summer saw an increase in vaccination rates as a result of the incentive programs, according to a study published Friday in Jama Health Forum.

Why it matters: The study is the first to examine the effectiveness of 19 state-run lotteries, and offers insight into how governments can better craft incentive-based policies, said Andrew Friedson, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver.