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A nurse holds a vial of the Moderna vaccine

A nurse shows a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Bogota, Colombia on August 3, 2021. (Photo: Daniel Romero/Long Visual Press/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Moderna Founders Make Forbes 400 Richest List as Company Refuses to Share Vaccine With Poor

"A few people have made billions off the Moderna vaccine, a lifesaving technology produced almost entirely with taxpayer funds."

Jake Johnson

Two of Moderna's founders landed on this year's Forbes 400 list of the richest people in the U.S. as the Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical giant continues to rake in major profits from its coronavirus vaccine—and resists calls to share the recipe with the rest of the world.

Moderna chairman and co-founder Noubar Afeyan, board member and co-founder Robert Langer, and early investor Timothy Springer each appeared on the Forbes list for the first time.

As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, all three of the newly minted billionaires "own a stake in the biotech company, which saw its shares soar last year and which—along with U.S. drug giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech—logged billions of dollars in vaccine sales as the virus spread."

For months, Moderna—the maker of one of the two available mRNA vaccines—has come under fire from public health campaigners for spurning technology transfer efforts that would help boost global vaccine supply and equalize distribution, which has thus far been dramatically skewed toward rich countries.

To date, just 2.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.

Critics have repeatedly pointed out that Moderna's coronavirus vaccine development program was 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers. Experts have also stressed that the U.S. government owns a patent covering key spike-protein technology used in Moderna's vaccine, meaning the Biden administration has leverage to force the company to share its recipe and manufacturing know-how.

Reluctant to use such leverage, President Joe Biden has privately urged Moderna to license its technology to qualified manufacturers in low-income countries—but the company has declined to cooperate.

"A few people have made billions off the Moderna vaccine, a lifesaving technology produced almost entirely with taxpayer funds," the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of U.S.-based labor and environmental organizations, said Wednesday. "Meanwhile, the company refuses requests to share the vaccine recipe so more doses can be made in low-income countries."

Thus far, Moderna has sold the overwhelming majority of its vaccine supply to rich countries such as the United States, where more than 150 million of the company's mRNA shots have been administered.

In a report released last month, Amnesty International noted that Moderna "has not yet delivered a single vaccine dose to a low-income country, has provided just 12% of its vaccines to lower-middle-income countries, and will not deliver the vast majority of its orders for COVAX until 2022."

"Higher prices mean it is set to earn over $47 billion in revenues by the end of 2022," Amnesty estimated.

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