Did Moderna’s CEO ‘admit’ manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine before the disease had a name?

Claim:

Moderna’s CEO “acknowledged” during the 2023 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos that the company manufactured a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2020 “before SARS-CoV-2 even had a name.”

Valuation:

NOT CORRECT

context

It is neither an “actual” revelation nor an “admission” that Moderna was working on a vaccine against the newly discovered variant coronavirus (then named 2019-nCoV and later renamed SARS-CoV-2) in January 2020; Both Moderna and the federal government issued countless press releases at the time. Additionally, mRNA vaccines, like those Moderna developed well before the COVID-19 pandemic, have long been viewed as a possible route to a vaccine to halt an outbreak caused by the coronavirus.

A rhetorical tactic popular among conspiracy theorists is to present a trite statement of fact as an inadvertent admission of something shameful. A January 18, 2023 tweet by a report that often promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories is a textbook definition of this phenomenon.

“Breaking,” read the viral tweet, “Moderna’s CEO admits live in Davos that they manufactured a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2020 before SARS-CoV-2 even had a name.” Davos is referencing the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum – a meeting that takes place every January and is a frequent target of conspiracy theorists.

First off, it’s not groundbreaking news that Moderna was working on a vaccine in January 2020. This information was widely shared and never hidden from the public. It’s not even news. For example in a Scientific American interview published on January 22, 2023, Anthony Fauci specifically described the federal government’s partnership with Moderna when asked how long it would be before there was a vaccine for the then-emerging pandemic:

We have already started developing a vaccine. We have the [genetic] Sequence from Chinese. We’re working with a company called Moderna to develop a messenger RNA-based platform for a vaccine. We’ll likely have a candidate in early Phase I safety trials in about three months. This does not mean that we will have a ready-to-use vaccine in three months; even in an emergency, that would take a year or more. But we’re already there.

Second, and not to get too pedantic, the virus that causes COVID-19 did have a name then: the novel coronavirus 2019 or 2019-nCoV. That the nomenclature was later changed to SARS-CoV-2 is irrelevant to the implication that Moderna had some sort of early knowledge of a virus that by that point had already been fully sequenced and had already made international headlines.

After all, it’s no surprise that Moderna is being chosen as a partner to develop a vaccine against a coronavirus-borne pandemic. The idea that mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines could fight a coronavirus by mimicking that virus’s spike protein has since been widely considered at least 2009 in connection with the development of a vaccine against SARS. Moderna’s public business model ever since at least 2012 was the advancement of mRNA technology.

Because it is not “breaking news” that Moderna was working on a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2020, and because the repetition of publicly available information three years after it was published does not constitute an “admission” of any kind, we are downgrading it Claim as “FALSE.”

Sources:

Du, Lanying et al. “The spike protein of SARS-CoV—a target for vaccine and therapeutic development.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 7, no. 3, March 2009, pp. 226-36. www.nature.com,

Lewis, Tanya. “Infectious disease expert discusses what we know about the new virus in China.” Scientific American, accessed January 19, 2023.

Moderna enters MRNA Work+ with $40 million round | bioworld | organic world. . Retrieved January 19, 2023.

Novel Coronavirus (2019-NCoV) Situation Report – 1 . 01/21/2020,

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/moderna-ceo-davos-covid-vaccine/ Did Moderna’s CEO ‘admit’ manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine before the disease had a name?

Brian Ashcraft

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