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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 Reports 'Obscene' Profits From Covid Vaccine Funded by US Taxpayers

"The U.S. must use its vast legal powers to force or compel Moderna to share the tech and help boost global production of the vaccine."

Jake Johnson

After Moderna announced Thursday that it expects to deliver up to 300 million fewer coronavirus vaccine doses this year than previously anticipated despite posting large profits, public health campaigners ramped up pressure on President Joe Biden to force the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant to share its recipe with the world.

Despite the lower delivery forecast, Moderna said it still expects to rack up between $15-18 billion in sales this year from its vaccine, which was largely funded by the U.S. government and developed in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"We can't keep allowing companies like Moderna to rule over our response to Covid-19."

The U.S. government owns a patent covering key spike-protein technology used in several coronavirus vaccines, including Moderna's and Pfizer-BioNTech's.

Moderna reported $3.3 billion in third-quarter profits from its coronavirus vaccine—the company's only product on the market—as it faces criticism for denying poor countries access to the shot and refusing to participate in global technology transfer initiatives.

"U.S. taxpayers made the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine possible," Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at Doctors Without Borders USA, said in a statement Thursday. "The company must absolutely be accountable to the public effort to vaccinate the world, and the U.S. must use its vast legal powers to force or compel Moderna to share the tech and help boost global production of the vaccine. Time is running out for the U.S. to make good on its claim to be a global leader on Covid-19."

Candice Sehoma, the South Africa advocacy officer for Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign, argued that "by choosing to ignore global public health initiatives and go its own way, Moderna has made it clear that it is much more interested in raking in grotesque profits than in contributing to the global vaccination effort to save lives."

In a press release, Moderna said supply-chain issues forced the company to downgrade both its sales and delivery forecasts for 2021, but CEO Stéphane Bancel insisted the problems are "short-term."

"We will not rest until our vaccine is available to anyone who needs it," Bancel said in a statement.

"Everyone, everywhere should benefit from this vaccine. Moderna owes the world."

But vaccine equity advocates said Moderna's track record thus far should cast serious doubt on Bancel's pledge. The New York Times reported last month that "Moderna has shipped a greater share of its doses to wealthy countries than any other vaccine manufacturer" and has forced middle-income countries "to pay more than the United States or European Union did."

According to Doctors Without Borders, Moderna has thus far "delivered none of its committed doses to COVAX, the global procurement mechanism that was supposed to deliver Covid-19 vaccine equity."

Tim Bierley, a campaigner with U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, said the pharmaceutical company's "disappointing production figures show Moderna is delivering for its shareholders, not the world."

"Nearly a year after we knew we had a way to end this pandemic, Moderna is still refusing to share its vaccine recipe with makers who can help speed up global production," said Bierley. "Moderna is still on track to make obscene profits from a publicly-funded vaccine, while thousands of people continue to die every day from Covid-19. Just 3.9% of people in low-income countries have received even a single vaccine dose, while Moderna shareholders and executives are stacking up monstrous riches."

"We can't keep allowing companies like Moderna to rule over our response to Covid-19," he added. "Not only is the glacial vaccine rollout around the world costing huge numbers of lives, it also encourages new variants to take hold, which threatens to extend the pandemic indefinitely. Moderna's business model is a threat to us all."

With Moderna refusing to voluntarily take part in technology transfer efforts, Biden is facing calls from advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers to force the U.S. company's hand.

Last month, as Common Dreams reported, a dozen congressional Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) pointed out that a contract Moderna entered in 2020 "may give the federal government legal authority to access and share the ingredient list and manufacturing instructions for Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine."

In an op-ed for Stat News on Thursday, Teicher of Doctors Without Borders argued that Biden "should use the significant legal leverage afforded by the Defense Production Act to force Moderna to share vaccine technology and know-how"—an approach that other experts have backed as a way to broadly distribute vaccine recipes and end the pandemic.

"Moderna has offered hollow declarations, saying it will boost its supply by creating a new vaccine production facility in Africa—fully controlled by the company—within the next four years," Teicher noted. "In a pandemic that has killed 5 million people so far, and continues to affect every corner of the globe, four years is entirely too long."

"This pandemic has laid bare the injustice of a system that makes lifesaving vaccines available to people in wealthy countries while a vast swath of the world goes without them," she continued. "Everyone, everywhere should benefit from this vaccine. Moderna owes the world."

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