Politics of Poverty

Oxfam calls on SEC to protect investors – and the world – from Moderna’s smoke and mirrors

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moderna vaccine
The consequences of Moderna's dispute with the US government are deadly. Photo credit: rafapress

Moderna’s greed and secrecy are prolonging the pandemic, putting millions of lives at risk.

No company, however powerful, should be able to dictate who lives and who dies, or exercise outsized influence over whether the global economy prospers or grinds to a halt. But Moderna is doing just that. Despite receiving $2.5 billion in US taxpayer money and co-inventing the mRNA vaccine with scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Moderna is now engaged in a prolonged dispute with the U.S. government over just who owns the intellectual property behind the vaccine – an invention that has made the company’s executives billions of dollars in profit. The human and economic toll is staggering. By refusing to transfer mRNA technology and know-how to manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, Moderna is prolonging the pandemic, ignoring the death and suffering of millions worldwide, and declining to help alleviate the stranglehold that COVID-19 has placed on the global economy.

What’s more, Moderna has not been transparent about this dispute. Instead, the company has buried critical information from its own investors. Rather than openly disclose the bitter patent dispute with the government, the company uses vague language like “from time to time, we may be subject to legal proceedings.” Indeed, Moderna’s February 2021 Annual Report and November 2021 Quarterly Report take pains to present this ongoing patent dispute as hypothetical rather than already occurring, a framing that may violate securities laws and that camouflages a battle that could depreciate the value of their stock. Given that the company’s stock dipped to a five-month low shortly after the New York Times and Forbes reported “Government Legal Battle Looms,” it is clear that investors factor this information into their valuation of Moderna’s stock.

There is a price to pay for Moderna’s lack of transparency.

For investors, that price is clear. First, the company’s refusal to transfer mRNA technology creates a reputational stain. Moderna’s greed has been widely covered by the press, derided by late-night hosts, and rebuked by members of Congress. For a company whose own CEO predicted that the pandemic will abate in the fall of 2022, the benefit of maximizing profits over the next 12 months could pale in comparison to the lingering reputational damage that such behavior may create. Furthermore, any investor with a diversified portfolio will suffer. The company’s refusal to share inventorship may help prolong the pandemic and the attendant economic damage, dragging down returns across an investor’s entire portfolio and hampering the global economic recovery to the detriment of all. Oxfam America filed a shareholder resolution asking Moderna to report on the feasibility of transferring its technology to spur additional manufacturing for just these reasons.

For communities in low- and middle-income countries, that price is even clearer. Inability to access an effective COVID-19 vaccine leaves billions of people’s lives and livelihoods at risk. It is not an exaggeration to say that any efforts by Moderna to block or deter wide vaccine distribution could cost millions of lives directly (through more cases of COVID-19) and indirectly (through severe and deadly economic hardships wrought by the pandemic).

Enough is enough.

For more than a year, we have called on Moderna to share the technology and know-how to boost vaccine production. Oxfam America is now taking the additional step of filing a whistleblower complaint against Moderna with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The complaint charges the company with filing misleading statements to the SEC by failing to disclose the long brewing patent dispute with the NIH and burying the resultant risk of litigation with the U.S. government.

Few times in history has a single corporation exercised such a massive influence on the world’s trajectory, impacting nearly all of humankind’s physical, mental, and financial health. Moderna is uniquely positioned to hasten the end of the pandemic if it is transparent and shares its technology. In light of what appears to be the company’s misguided pursuit of short-term profit over transparency for its investors, and the deadly consequences this may have for millions, Oxfam is calling on the SEC to investigate and hold the company to account.

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