Oxfam Takes On Moderna in Fight for Vaccine Equity

Moderna was accused by Oxfam America of misleading investors about a continuing dispute over whether it should share its vaccine patent rights with America. Oxfam filed a shareholders complaint against Moderna with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the company’s resistance to recognizing the role played by three scientists with the National Institutes of Health in developing the vaccine. Robbie Silverman is Oxfam America’s senior corporate advocate manager. He claims that the federal government holds the right to license vaccine manufacturers. “It is simply not sufficient just to vaccinate the U.S. or just to vaccinate rich countries, because the virus knows no national boundaries,” says Silverman, who claims Moderna is “essentially doing almost nothing to vaccinate low-income countries, and that has negative impacts for all of us.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at the pandemic and the fight for vaccine equity. New research has shown that the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have received more vaccine equity funding. COVIDIn the last six weeks, more vaccines were given to Africa than any other continent, or African countries, in the past year. The research was conducted by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

This is happening as the world faces an influx of Omicron variant cases. Public health advocates have warned that the world will face new, potentially more dangerous variants if large parts of the world are not vaccinated. But, President Biden was still asked about the new variant on Wednesday by ABC’s David Muir.

DAVID MUIR: The vice president said in recent days that you didn’t see Delta coming, you didn’t see Omicron coming. How could you have done it wrong?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:How did it happen? Nobody could have predicted it. It was not possible for anyone to see it coming. Who could have predicted it?

AMY GOODMAN:Now we turn to the fight to get Moderna to share its vaccine technology in order to end the pandemic. Moderna was recently the subject of a shareholder complaint by Oxfam America to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Oxfam, a Moderna shareholder, accused the company of misleading investors regarding a ongoing dispute over vaccine patents. The National Institutes of Health says three government scientists played a major role in developing Moderna’s vaccine, but their names were omitted from the patent application.

We’re joined now by Robbie Silverman. He’s the senior corporate advocacy manager at Oxfam America.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robbie. Why don’t you start off by explaining just what this shareholder complaint is?

ROBBIE SILVERMAN:Yes, Amy, it’s great to be with of you.

Moderna is owned by Oxfam. We hold shares in all of the major U.S. vaccination manufacturers and monitor the risks they face by not doing more for the world.

And in Moderna’s case, Moderna as a company really would not exist absent the support from the U.S. government. First, Moderna was awarded $2.5 billion by the U.S. government for research and development to create its vaccine recipe. Moderna scientists co-created this vaccine with scientists from the National Institutes of Health. Moderna deliberately excluded U.S. government scientists from its patent applications when it filed them. And, what’s more, it did not fully reveal that for a year it was engaged in an active dispute with the U.S. government over who actually created the vaccine. Investors, such as Oxfam, were not able to access this information.

So we filed a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission. SECModerna was not transparent about its dispute with U.S. government, he said. This really gets to the heart of vaccine accessibility, because if the U.S. Government did in fact co-created the vaccine alongside Moderna it gives the U.S. government greater leverage and increased ability to force Moderna into sharing its technology, to allow more access and to manufacture the vaccines we so desperately need.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this issue, because if the U.S. government made this possible, why they don’t have the formula, which apparently was part of the agreement?

ROBBIE SILVERMAN: That’s exactly right. What happened was that scientists from all over the world rushed to help the victims of the pandemic. NIH and scientists from Moderna collaborated to develop the recipe behind Moderna’s vaccine. Moderna has produced doses in cell doses since then. However, it has emphasized selling to rich countries. Moderna had not provided any dose to any low-income country in the world until the fall. Even though Moderna has promised more, the majority of the doses it has promised low-income nations will not arrive until 2022.

We all know that the virus is still rampant. Variants continue to emerge. That poses a threat for global public health, especially here in the United States. Moderna, as a company, must do more in order to share its vaccine. The U.S. government, which has such a stake, must do more on its behalf to compel Moderna technology to be shared with the rest.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Moderna’s chair and co-founder, Noubar Afeyan, who recently appeared on CNNFareed Zakaria He asked him questions about patents.

FAREED ZAKARIA:Let me ask about this. Many people or some people believe that you should give this technology away and waive all intellectual patents. Explain what Moderna’s position on this is. As I understand it you are willing to state that you won’t enforce patents for as long as COVIDIt is everywhere.

NOUBAR AFEYAN: Well, Fareed, the first time we spoke was around the time a year ago when we voluntarily pledged — the only company to have done that — voluntarily pledged not to enforce our patents against anybody who uses our patents to make a vaccine against the pandemic. At that time, there had been no proof that the vaccine will work, but we did that because we thought it’s the right thing to do from a vaccine access standpoint. We believe this has enabled others making mRNA vaccinations. And if others do that even further, that’s great.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Robbie Silverman of Oxfam America, can you explain what he’s saying?

ROBBIE SILVERMAN: Yes. Moderna did not agree to enforce its patents. Moderna has not committed to actively sharing its technology. And there’s a big difference there.

Let’s take just one example: Right now, the World Health Organization is trying set up a new mRNA manufacturing plant in South Africa to produce vaccines for Africa, which, as we all know, has one the lowest vaccination rates in the world. Then there’s the WHO approached Moderna and said, “Moderna, will you collaborate with us? Will you share your technology so that we can produce doses as quickly as possible?” And Moderna said no. Moderna said no. WHOAccording to Moderna, it will take twice the time to set up this new manufacturing plant. And meanwhile, the virus is going to continue to rage, thousands will fall ill, and many will die, because Moderna isn’t actively sharing its technology.

AMY GOODMAN:Describe exactly what you can do to resolve your shareholder complaint.

ROBBIE SILVERMAN:As Moderna shareholders, we have a dual approach. First, we’re calling on the SECModerna’s failure to be fully transparent regarding its patent dispute with U.S. officials should be investigated. We urge you to SECIf Moderna was not transparent with its investors or the public, we will launch an investigation and take enforcement action.

But more than that, we’ve also filed a shareholder resolution with Moderna that calls on the company to report on the feasibility of transferring its technology to low- and middle-income countries, so we can fully leverage the world’s manufacturing capacity to produce as many doses as possible.

And we think that Moderna’s failure to do more to promote vaccine equity, first, is harming the company’s own reputation, but, second, is harming the entire global economy, because many studies, from the IMFThe OECDAccording to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), failing to vacinate all countries equally is causing the world trillions of dollars in economic loss. And we see the results of that all around us — you know, entire economies in Europe shutting down because of new variants, factories in Malaysia and Vietnam closing, supply chains snarled. And so, Moderna’s failure to do more to promote vaccine equity is harming its own reputation but is also harming the global economy in the interests of corporate investors writ large. And so we think it’s incumbent on Moderna to do much more.

AMY GOODMAN: The eight top Pfizer and Moderna shareholders — we learned this just in the past few weeks — made over $10 billion when their stock holdings skyrocketed after the discovery of Omicron?

ROBBIE SILVERMAN:It is quite absurd. Oxfam did research, and we calculated that the three mRNA vaccine producers — Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, which owns the recipe behind Pfizer’s vaccine — are earning more than $1,000 in profit every single second. These companies are incredibly profitable from the pandemic. These companies are directly benefiting from the pandemic. They are making billions of dollars every day, as they prioritize selling high-end doses to wealthy countries at exorbitant prices. And we’re now — you know, we now know we need at least three doses. Some countries are administering four doses at a time of mRNA vaccinations, while doing virtually nothing to vaccinate low and middle-income countries.

And that has negative impacts for all of us, because one of the things that we’ve learned is that many of the other vaccines that are out there — Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, the Chinese vaccines, that rely on a different technology — are simply not effective against the Omicron variant. As a result, we will need many, much more mRNA vaccines than we have currently. These companies are happy to continue selling to rich countries, even if new variants become available. That would ultimately be good for business. Their stock prices soared as you mentioned.

AMY GOODMAN: And these 120 factories around the world that are ready to make the vaccine, Moderna making it sound like, “Well, we won’t sue any company that makes it,” but they don’t share the formula, which is essential.

ROBBIE SILVERMAN: That’s exactly right. And you also now have a proposal by more than a hundred countries around the world, led by South Africa and India, with the World Trade Organization, basically saying, “Hey, give us the recipe. Give us the technical knowledge. We will manufacture our own doses for our own citizens.” And as you note, there are facilities the world over that stand at the ready to produce these doses. Over 100 countries around world are blocking this proposal from Big Pharma and rich countries.

You know, they are saying, “This donation-based model, this charity-based model to end the pandemic, where rich countries essentially give leftover doses to poorer countries, that’s not going to get us out of the pandemic. This is not a sustainable solution. What we, as low- and middle-income countries, want is the ability to manufacture our own doses for our own citizens.” And, unfortunately, Big Pharma companies, who are putting profit before public health, and rich countries, that have hoarded vaccine doses for their own citizens, are blocking that proposal.

And, ultimately, it is self-defeating, because the longer the world remains unvaccinated, the more new variants we’re going to have, and the more threats to public health we’re going to have, even in rich countries like the United States and Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go back to what President Biden said in that interview with ABC News.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:How did it happen? It was not something anyone expected. It was not possible for anyone to see it coming. Who could have predicted it?

AMY GOODMAN: “Who saw it coming?” For the last year we’ve been interviewing one world health expert after another. Robbie Silverman?

ROBBIE SILVERMAN: That’s exactly right. This was also incredibly predictable. It’s actually tragic how foreseeable this was. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been saying that nobody is safe until everyone else is safe. Many officials from the Biden administration also said the same thing. They knew that the longer that the virus mutates, the more variants like Omicron will emerge, which are potentially more transmissible, and that this will pose a threat to global public health.

It is not enough to vaccinate the U.S., or rich countries, the virus has no borders. And it will continue to recirculate and come back and threaten our own health here in the United States, as we’re seeing, you know, with hospitals filling up, thousands of people infected every day. It is truly tragic that many public health activists and advocates saw this coming, saw that new variants would emerge if we did not vaccinate the world, and now we’re living in this reality where, even with 70% vaccination rates, our own public health is threatened because of the emergence of new variants.

AMY GOODMAN:Robbie Silverman: I want to say thank you for being here, senior corporate advocacy director at Oxfam America.

In 30 seconds, we’ll look at how the Koch network hijacked the war on COVID.


AMY GOODMAN: Florence Price’s Symphony No.1 in E Minor–Finale played by The Philadelphia Orchestra. Price was the first Black composer whose work was performed by an American orchestra during the 1930s.