Moderna didn’t already produce COVID-19 mRNA vaccines before the pandemic; statement by CEO of Moderna misinterpreted
Moderna began to work on mRNA vaccines in 2010 and was already collaborating with the U.S. National Institutes of Health before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the company was able to produce around 100,000 doses of mRNA vaccines of any kind. The COVID-19 outbreak in late 2019 and the decision to produce a vaccine against COVID-19 led the company to scale up its manufacturing capacity to address the possibility of an oncoming pandemic.
Misrepresents source (Strawman): The quote from Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, commenting on Moderna’s production of mRNA vaccine doses in 2019 is taken out of context. Contrary to what is suggested in the claim, Bancel referred to the total production of doses of all kinds of mRNA vaccines, not to COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Since its beginning in early 2020, some people developed the narrative that the COVID-19 pandemic was planned. Related claims usually revolve around the alleged existence of COVID-19-related patents or products ahead of the pandemic onset. Health Feedback previously reviewed some of them and found them to be unsupported.
Another iteration of that type of claim is that Stéphane Bancel, CEO of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine company Moderna, declared that Moderna was already producing 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in 2019, prior to the pandemic. This declaration would have occurred during a panel titled “The state of the pandemic” at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 18 January 2023. However, this is a misinterpretation of Bancel’s declaration, as we explain below.
Asked about the manufacturing capacity of Moderna, Bancel said:
“The great news versus 2020, where we are today, is we’re at manufacturing capacity. As Seth knows, when the pandemic happened, Moderna had made 100,000 doses in 2019 for the whole year”.
Never did he specify that he was talking about COVID-19 vaccine doses. In fact, Bancel was commenting on the general Moderna manufacturing capacity in 2019 for any kind of vaccines. Moderna has been producing mRNA therapeutics since 2010 and was already working on mRNA vaccine candidates for other diseases in 2019. Moderna’s report to investors for the third quarter of 2019 shows that Moderna’s pipeline had at least three mRNA vaccine candidates, for Zika, RSV, and CMV. Furthermore, nowhere in the report is mentioned the development or production of mRNA vaccines for any coronavirus.
In his response to the panel, Bancel continued:
“I remember walking into the office of my head of manufacturing and I said, ‘How will we make a billion doses next year?’ And he looked at me a bit funny, ‘Say what?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we need to make a billion doses next year, there’s going to be a pandemic”.
While the posts mentioned earlier used this quote as proof that Bancel knew about the COVID-19 pandemic, this is baseless. Indeed, COVID-19 first started as an outbreak in late 2019 and was already monitored by international organizations. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), U.S. organizations decided to start working on a vaccine in late December 2019 to early January 2020.
The SARS-CoV-2 genome was then published on 11 January 2020 and on 13 January 2020, the NIH and Moderna, who were already collaborating on other mRNA vaccines, finalized the mRNA sequence that would be used for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Thus, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, it was already clear that Moderna would have to scale up its manufacturing capacity. Therefore, Bancel’s declaration shouldn’t be seen as a prediction of the pandemic but rather as an anticipation of manufacturing needs, given the epidemiological data already available at the time.
UPDATE (14 February 2023):
The title was modified to emphasize that Moderna wasn’t producing COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in 2019