The US government is buying an additional 200m doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, expanding its total order to 500m of the messenger RNA shots.
The doses — to be delivered between October and April next year — will either be the current formulation or one that has been adapted to coronavirus variants. The companies are testing whether a shot tailored to the Delta variant is more effective in studies set to begin next month.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said on Friday that the additional purchase would enable “broad access” to vaccines in the US.
“As a long term partner to the US government in the fight against this pandemic, we are proud of the impact of vaccination efforts across the country. Vaccines have been and will remain critical to protecting lives against this devastating disease,” he said.
Pfizer has assessed that people who have already received the full two-jab regimen will probably need a third shot, even though US public health officials have been reluctant to commit to a booster programme.
The UK is preparing for a booster programme for the most vulnerable, while its scientists examine emerging evidence. The EU has also made a big bet on continuing to use the Pfizer vaccine, with an order of up to 1.8bn to be delivered by 2023.
The companies are planning to apply for US emergency use authorisation for their shot to be used as a third dose. Analysts predict a booster shot market could be worth tens of billions of dollars.
About 60 per cent of US adults are fully vaccinated, and while shots are widely available, officials have struggled to overcome high levels of vaccine hesitancy.
Separately, the US government has already ordered 500m Pfizer doses at non-profit prices to provide to the developing world in 2022 and 2023, via the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative.
“It has been our consistent goal to supply as many doses of our Covid-19 vaccine as possible to people around the world to help bring an end to this pandemic,” said Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech.
Pfizer and BioNTech were the first to win approval for their Covid vaccine in many countries including the US and the UK, and more recently, the first to gain authorisation for use in teenagers.
They have capitalised on their early success and high efficacy rate by rapidly expanding manufacturing facilities to enable them to sign large contracts for the years ahead.