Moderna, Racing for Profits, Keeps Covid Vaccine Out of Reach of Poor

Moderna’s market value has nearly tripled this year to more than $120 billion. Two of its founders, as well as an early investor, this month made Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in the United States.

As the coronavirus spread in early 2020, Moderna raced to design its vaccine — which uses a new technology known as messenger RNA — and to plan a safety study. The nonprofit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations provided $900,000 to the company to produce the doses for the trial.

According to the nonprofit group, Moderna had agreed that it would be its “equitable access principles.”According to the coalition, this meant that the vaccine would be “first available to populations when and where they are needed and at prices that are affordable to the populations at risk, especially low- and middle-income countries or to public sector entities that procure on their behalf.”

Moderna agreed in May to provide up to 34 million vaccine doses this year, plus up to 466 million doses in 2022, to Covax, the struggling United Nations-backed program to vaccinate the world’s poor. According to a Covax spokesperson, the company has not yet shipped any doses. However, Covax has distributed millions of Moderna doses that were donated by the United States.

Mr. Bancel stated that Covax would have received many more doses this year if the parties had reached a supply agreement in 2020. Aurélia Nguyen, a Covax official, denied that, saying, “It became clear early on that the best we could expect was minimal doses in 2021.”

The Tunisian government had hoped to order Moderna doses in the latter part of last year. Dr. Hechmi Louzir, who led Tunisia’s vaccine procurement efforts, didn’t know how to contact Moderna to begin talks and asked the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia for help, he said. Moderna was contacted by officials there, he stated.

“We were very interested in Moderna,” Dr. Louzir said. “We tried.”

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