The Army recently inked a $3.5 billion contract with Pfizer Inc. for the pharmaceutical company to produce 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.
But those shots are not planned for soldiers’ shoulders.
Instead, the contract award states, they are for “international donation” and procurement is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, according to the Pentagon.
The plan is for those half-a-billion doses to be distributed to more than 100 countries, most in Africa.
“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in a June announcement of the plan. “COVID-19 has impacted everyone, everywhere, and to win the battle against this pandemic, we must ensure expedited access to vaccines for all.”
The Army isn’t the only entity shooting for “vaccine diplomacy” efforts to help maintain, strengthen or build ties across the globe. Both Russia and China have been pushing their own COVID-19 vaccines to other nations as they become available.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was one of three early vaccines distributed for mass use in the United States to combat the global pandemic.
A study by researchers in Singapore, released last week, showed that the vaccine is “highly effective” at protecting recipients from severe disease if they are infected with even the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the virus after taking the vaccine.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
A Public Health England study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July found that the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective at preventing severe disease related to infection with the Delta variant.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it would speed up its review of Pfizer’s vaccine for full approval. The vaccine, along with its cohorts, are under Emergency Use Authorization, meaning they are allowed to be used, despite not having had the full standard vaccine review normally conducted by the FDA.
As recently as April, news reports showed that even some European Union nations were turning to China and Russia for vaccines when they could not receive what they needed from the United States.
China has reported that it was providing its Sinovac vaccine to more than 80 nations.
Yet both peer adversaries have had their stumbles in vaccine generosity. The China-made vaccine has been shown to only prevent symptomatic disease in 51 percent of the vaccinated, according to Time.com. By comparison, the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have shown rates near or above 90 percent.
Russia put its vaccine Sputnik V into close to 70 countries, but neither the World Health Organization nor the European Medicines Agency has authorized it for emergency use, due to lack of access to trials data, according to Time.com.
But even as the Army spends billions on producing and distributing the vaccine in outreach efforts, its own scientists are working on a way to make tailored vaccines such as Pfizer’s obsolete.
Army Times reported in June that scientists at the Army’s infectious diseases branch at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Maryland, had tested a “catch-all” vaccine that could protect against current and future strains of coronavirus.
By that time, researchers had already successfully tested the vaccine in mice, monkeys, horses, hamsters and sharks.
Early human testing has started and data sets on immunity are expected in the coming months.
“We know it’s safe and tolerable but we don’t know yet the immunity it confers,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of the emerging infectious diseases branch, at a June 21 defense summit.
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