COVID-19

Investors pressure Moderna to broaden global access to vaccine

Lily Jamali Dec 28, 2021
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As the omicron variant spreads, some shareholders of Moderna are criticizing the company, arguing its price for the COVID-19 vaccine is too high for low-income countries. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Investors pressure Moderna to broaden global access to vaccine

Lily Jamali Dec 28, 2021
Heard on:
As the omicron variant spreads, some shareholders of Moderna are criticizing the company, arguing its price for the COVID-19 vaccine is too high for low-income countries. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
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Omicron’s rapid spread serves as a reminder that big disparities remain in global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Oxford said that in the world’s poorest nations, just 4% of people have gotten a first dose, compared with 70% of people in the wealthiest countries.

Health experts say that lack of equal access has contributed to the rise of new variants, like omicron. Now, some large shareholders are stepping in to exert pressure on vaccine makers to turn the tide.

Few pharmaceutical companies have come under as much scrutiny as Moderna, which, like other companies, received considerable U.S. government help in developing its vaccine.

“So given that the public is underwriting the risk, what kind of considerations are they taking as they develop their access strategy?” said Meg Jones-Monteiro of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

That coalition of 300 socially minded investor groups is demanding more information on how much Moderna charges per vaccine in low-income countries. It’s reportedly shipping far fewer doses to those nations than other vaccine makers.

“If you’re saying it costs this much money to develop a drug, then be transparent about it. Disaggregate that. And as investors, let us know: What is the real cost?” Jones-Monteiro said.

The United Kingdom’s largest asset manager, Legal & General Investment Management, has taken that pressure campaign up a notch with its own shareholder proposal demanding transparency.

Moderna did not respond to Marketplace’s request for comment, but recently told the Securities and Exchange Commission it has been transparent about the pricing of sales to the U.S. government and will provide more details by mid-February.

According to Sarah Sutton, a spokesperson for the industry trade group PhRMA, the biopharmaceutical industry is “working closely with key government partners and other stakeholders to develop vaccines against COVID-19 and to help ensure they are accessible around the world.”

The debate, however, often strays into murky ethical territory, said Rob Hughes, an assistant professor of business ethics at The Wharton School.

“Pharma companies are ethically required to make life-saving drugs available to people who need them. That doesn’t mean they need to operate as charities,” he said.

Hughes added that governments and nongovernmental organizations also have a role to play in ensuring vaccine equity around the globe.

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