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Michael Hiltzik: Moderna's founders are now billionaires, but where are the doses for the rest of the world?

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Let's raise a glass of congratulations to Noubar Afeyan, Robert Langer and Timothy Springer, three newly minted members of the Forbes magazine billionaires roster.

The trio owe their new wealth to the pandemic. More specifically, to the biotech company Moderna's achievement in developing and marketing one of the most efficacious vaccines for COVID-19.

Venture investor Afeyan, Moderna's chairman, is now worth $4 billion by Forbes' reckoning, based on the company's share price; MIT bioengineer Langer, a Moderna co-founder, is worth $3.9 billion; and Harvard biocehmist Springer, an early Moderna investor and owner of 3.5% of the company, is worth $4.8 billion.

They join Moderna CEO Stéphan Bancel on the Forbes list, where he landed last year. He's now worth $10.7 billion.

With the praise out of the way, let's now condemn them and their company for its failure to meet its commitments to provide its life-saving vaccines to the world.

First-world countries have generally fallen short on their promises to provide COVID-19 vaccines to less developed countries. COVAX, or COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, an initiative of the World Health Organization and other entities to distribute doses worldwide, set a goal in June 2020 to distribute 2 billion doses globally by the end of this year.

 

COVAX recently acknowledged that it will miss that goal. In fact, the initiative has delivered only 319 million doses thus far. As the medical news website STAT reports, of the 785 million doses that wealthy countries pledged to donate to COVAX as of Sept. 24, fewer than 20% have arrived. Meanwhile, 98% of the population of low-income countries are still unvaccinated.

"Of the more than 6.5 billion doses administered globally, fewer than 4% have gone to people in low-income countries," Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, observed recently. "Not only is this morally indefensible, it assures the pandemic will be needlessly extended and that millions more may die."

Frieden is currently the head of Resolve to Save Lives, a group devoted to spurring more equitable global distribution of vaccines.

Moderna has been coming under mounting pressure to increase its vaccine manufacturing, specifically to serve the needs of less-developed countries.

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