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Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pfizer has agreed to a licensing deal with the UN's Medicines Patent Pool for its COVID-19 pill — roughly a month after Merck said it licensed its COVID pill with the MPP.

Why it matters: These antiviral pills have showed promising results in reducing the severity of infection and preventing death among the unvaccinated, and Pfizer's licensing agreement, combined with Merck's, will allow generic drug companies to cheaply produce the pills for more than 100 low- and middle-income countries.

Details: Pfizer's agreement will cover 95 countries, compared with Merck's agreement that covered 105.

  • "Pfizer will not receive royalties on sales in low-income countries and will further waive royalties on sales in all countries covered by the agreement" until the World Health Organization no longer classifies the pandemic as a "public health emergency," Pfizer said in a press release.
  • The countries included in Pfizer's licensing agreement, but not Merck's, are Armenia, Georgia, Jordan, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Ukraine and West Bank and Gaza, according to the nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International. Pfizer's agreement excludes several island nations.

Yes, but: While the antivirals are considered to be a major tool to end the pandemic, the vaccines remain the most effective way to prevent serious illness and death from, and many low-income countries included in these licensing agreements still don't have easy access to vaccines.

What to watch: Pfizer and Merck released data for their COVID pills in press releases, so it will be up to the FDA and independent experts to dig through the full data to determine how safe and effective the drugs are.

Go deeper

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."