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U.S. Government To Buy Additional 100 Million Doses Of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal government has reached an agreement with Pfizer to buy an additional 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine. NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin is here to explore what that means for the country's vaccine supply in the coming months.

Hi, Sydney.

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what's in this deal.

LUPKIN: This is an agreement with Pfizer for 100 million doses that cost the government - taxpayers - about $2 billion. It is the second major follow-on order by the government in the last two weeks. This one was a lot harder to pull off because the contract terms were more of a challenge. With Moderna, the other vaccine maker with an emergency authorization, it was a pretty straightforward extension of the original contract. But with Pfizer, the government basically needed to negotiate a whole new agreement to buy more doses.

One of the things that could have changed was price, but it sounds like it's about the same - about $20 per dose. That's less than Moderna's, but still on the high side compared with some of the vaccines in the works. Still, that's why it took a little longer.

SHAPIRO: You know, Pfizer was sort of an outsider in its relationship with the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed. Did that make this deal harder?

LUPKIN: Well, the government had less leverage with Pfizer than it did with Moderna. Remember, the federal government has been involved with Moderna's vaccine from the very beginning, with a ton of research and development support. Pfizer elected to work independently on its vaccine and didn't get that kind of help.

And its purchase agreement with Operation Warp Speed was different. For the others, the government agreed to buy doses whether the vaccines were authorized by the FDA or not. That allowed the companies to start manufacturing so doses would be ready earlier. And the risk would fall on the government, instead of on the pharmaceutical firms.

With Pfizer, the original contract called for a purchase of doses only if the Pfizer vaccine was OK'd by the FDA. So Pfizer took on the risk of manufacturing a vaccine that might not ever be used. Of course, we now know that was a good bet. The Pfizer vaccine was the first one authorized by the FDA. That was on December 11.

SHAPIRO: So the big question I think many Americans have is when will these new vaccines be arriving? When will Americans get them?

LUPKIN: Timing has been tricky. Earlier this month, there were confusing reports around negotiations between Pfizer and the government for more vaccine doses. But the takeaway was that the United States might not be able to get them in the second quarter of the year because Pfizer had already promised doses to other countries that acted faster.

The new arrangement says 70 million doses will arrive by the end of the second quarter and another 30 million will be delivered by the end of the following month, July. The initial 100 million doses are in the process, of course, of being delivered and distributed. The country should have those by the end of March.

SHAPIRO: So there are now two coronavirus vaccines that have emergency FDA authorization. Big picture, where does that put the U.S. in its quest to vaccinate most Americans?

LUPKIN: Well, this means the country now has 400 million doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that will be delivered by this summer. It's a two-dose vaccine, but that should be enough to inoculate not quite two-thirds of the population. Obviously, there are a lot of steps between getting the vaccine doses delivered and getting them into people's arms. But overall, it's pretty good news.

This isn't going to change things overnight. We're getting there and could even have a third coronavirus vaccine authorized fairly early next year. Remember that there are more in development. It's possible Johnson & Johnson will be the next to go through the authorization process.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR pharmaceutical correspondent Sydney Lupkin.

Thanks, Sydney.

LUPKIN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.