MSF: Moderna must immediately share mRNA vaccine technology

Tackling COVID-19 in Lebanon, through prevention and vaccination

Lebanon 2021 © Tracy Makhlouf/MSF

More than 100 manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries stand ready to produce vaccines if Moderna shares technology

NEW YORK/GENEVA, APRIL 27, 2022—On the eve of Moderna’s annual shareholder meeting, where it is expected to report billions of dollars in profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called on the company to urgently make mRNA vaccine technology available to manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries. Doing so could facilitate the production of both COVID-19 vaccines and mRNA vaccines for other diseases, as well as allow countries to be better prepared to protect people from future pandemics.
Having local mRNA vaccine production capacity in place in low- and middle-income countries would be a lifesaving future prospect for many regions of the world. In the short term, regional mRNA technology can be adapted relatively rapidly to respond to emerging COVID-19 variants and supply needs. In the medium- to long-term, mRNA technology could present a promising option for developing vaccines for other longstanding deadly infectious diseases that MSF treats every day, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. It could also play a major role in future pandemic preparedness.

“mRNA technology has important technological potential to beat back not just COVID-19 but possibly other epidemics and even future pandemics,” said Alain Alsalhani, vaccines pharmacist at MSF’s Access Campaign. “We should refuse to again allow a situation where half of the world gets served first while the rest of the world looks on empty-handed.”

Moderna received substantial US government funding—approximately $10 billion, which includes almost the entire cost of clinical development and the purchase of 500 million doses—to develop a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, this technology should be shared with capable manufacturers in order to benefit as many people as possible now and in the future. Given this taxpayer support and the fact that Moderna has earned $17.7 billion in sales from the COVID-19 vaccine as of the end of 2021, the company has an obligation to stop blocking mRNA technology transfer. If Moderna refuses, the Biden administration must use legal leverage afforded by the Defense Production Act to force them to do so.

“It is unacceptable that Moderna has reaped the benefits of public taxpayer money to develop this blockbuster vaccine yet refuses to share the recipe with producers across the rest of the world,” said Mihir Mankad, senior global health advocacy and policy advisor at MSF in the US. “These producers have the capacity to make mRNA vaccines for countries’ current and future needs—for both COVID-19 and other diseases. Moderna made this lifesaving mRNA vaccine a reality with substantial US government support. Both parties need to commit to unconditional sharing of the technology for the purposes of pandemic preparedness.”

While Moderna has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenyan government to make Kenya the location of its first mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa, few details have been publicly shared about this venture. A more effective way to promote mRNA vaccine production and availability on the African continent would be for Moderna to share its technology with manufacturers that have the capacity to produce, and to not hinder efforts underway to develop mRNA vaccines at the World Health Organization-run mRNA Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa. Moderna should pledge not to enforce patents in low- and middle-income countries where manufacturers are due to produce mRNA vaccines through the hub, including in South Africa.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus the fact that concentrating production primarily in high-income countries and a handful of middle-income countries leads to a segregated rollout of lifesaving medical tools and technologies, which ultimately costs lives,” Alsalhani said. “It’s a myth that low- and middle-income countries can’t produce mRNA vaccines. We’ve identified more than 100 manufacturers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America with the capacity to manufacture mRNA vaccines. The world should learn lessons from this pandemic and move mountains to protect more people going forward.”