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Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

A health official prepares a syringe with Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya on September 17, 2021. (Photo: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images)

Rich Nations Again Accused of Vaccine Hoarding as UK OKs Moderna Omicron Booster

"While countries like the U.K. buy updated vaccines for their fourth doses, people in low- and middle-income countries are fighting today's variants with yesterday's vaccines."

Brett Wilkins

As the United Kingdom on Monday became the first nation to approve a coronavirus vaccine that targets both the original virus and the newer Omicron BA.1 variant, vaccine equity advocates again accused rich countries of hoarding doses of the lifesaving inoculations.

"Once again, the richest countries are hoarding doses, while the poorest are sent to the back of the queue."

According to Dr. June Raine, head of the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare regulatory agency, the updated Moderna vaccine—which will be part of the country's booster regimen starting next month—represents "a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve."

However, Julia Kosgei, policy adviser to the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement that "while countries like the U.K. buy updated vaccines for their fourth doses, people in low- and middle-income countries are fighting today's variants with yesterday's vaccines."

"And they are the lucky ones. Billions of people have yet to receive a single dose of any Covid-19 vaccine at all," she continued. "Early analysis shows that high-income countries will get far more than their fair share of Omicron-specific vaccines."

"Once again, the richest countries are hoarding doses, while the poorest are sent to the back of the queue," Kosgei added. "Have we learned nothing from the brutal inequality seen throughout this pandemic?"

Moderna came under fire last week after reporting $4.7 billion in second-quarter sales—a 9% increase over the same period last year—nearly all coming from sales of its Covid-19 vaccine, which was funded entirely by U.S. taxpayers and contributions from private donors.

Additionally, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company—which recently announced a $1.74 billion agreement with the U.S. government to supply up to 300 million doses of an updated Covid-19 vaccine for use against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants—has around $18 billion in cash reserves, and intends to buy back $3 billion worth of its own stock.

Meanwhile, Moderna has been criticized for massively overcharging for its vaccine doses while CEO Stéphane Bancel, co-founder Noubar Afeyan, and founding investor Timothy Springer are among the at least nine new pharma industry billionaires created by pandemic-related capitalism.

A 2021 commitment by Moderna to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa has been dismissed by activists as largely a public relations stunt meant to stymie patent waiver efforts and marginalize a World Health Organization (WHO) messenger RNA (mRNA) technology transfer initiative in South Africa.

Moderna also long opposed a proposal by India and South Africa and backed by more than 100 nations including the United States to waive parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in order to allow developing countries to produce and distribute vaccines.

A controversial World Trade Organization agreement ostensibly meant to tackle vaccine inequities was condemned as a "sham" by activists earlier this year.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, less than half the population of more than 70 countries is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Oxfam International said in June that if the world's richest countries had fulfilled a 2021 pledge to donate 2.1 billion vaccine doses to low- and middle-income nations, nearly 600,000 lives could have been saved.

"It doesn't have to be this way," Kosgei insisted Monday, noting that the WHO "is building mRNA vaccine production in low- and middle-income countries to protect us from future pandemics."

"But Moderna has refused to withdraw broad patents it has filed in South Africa which could derail that work," she added. "History will not forgive or forget a company holding the world ransom like this."

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