As of 9 October 2021, Moderna had provided only 1 million doses to low-income countries. Less than six percent of people in low-income countries—including many places where MSF works—have received their first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna has not delivered any of its committed doses to COVAX, the global procurement mechanism that was supposed to ensure COVID-19 vaccine equity.
Moderna has instead obtained several patents with very broad claims covering its COVID-19 vaccine and other mRNA technologies in South Africa without registering the product in the country. This means that while the company is unwilling to make the vaccine available in South Africa in meaningful quantities, it is preparing to have patents in place in order to possibly enforce them once the pandemic is declared over. Considering its minimal efforts to contribute to global vaccine equity, Moderna’s recent Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union to supply up to 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine through 2022, as well as plans to scale up production in Africa, is insufficient.
In fact, Moderna’s plan to build its own mRNA facility somewhere in Africa directly undermines current global public health efforts to foster technology transfer and build independent manufacturing capacity on the continent. Since its announcement in April 2021, the WHO mRNA vaccine tech transfer Hub in South Africa has not been able to secure any mRNA technology from any corporation, and it will now instead try to develop its own vaccine candidates from scratch. Although a commendable attempt, this is completely unnecessary and an unjustifiable waste of time and effort when more advanced and approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines already exist.
“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,” said Candice Sehoma, South Africa advocacy officer for MSF’s Access Campaign. “If Moderna were to share its technology with the WHO mRNA Hub, the company could help increase the global production of COVID-19 vaccines now. Instead, by leaving the WHO mRNA Hub to try to reproduce what has already been done, Moderna is sabotaging an opportunity to foster self-sufficient vaccine manufacturing in Africa.”
Sharing mRNA technologies will increase the global production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, save lives in this pandemic and in the future, and help low- and middle-income countries to become more self-sufficient in their response to both current and future potential pandemics. According to MSF’s research, at least seven manufacturers based in Africa that produce sterile injectable medical products stand ready to produce COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
In addition to demanding Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share mRNA vaccine technology, MSF urges all governments to support the WHO COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub with financial and political support. Additionally, MSF calls on governments with sufficient COVID-19 vaccine doses to immediately redistribute excess doses to the COVAX Facility or regional bodies. MSF also urges governments to support the TRIPS Waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual-property monopolies on all COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments and other health tools during the pandemic; and to use all legal and policy tools to facilitate uninterrupted production and diversity in supply of COVID-19 medical tools.