Moderna CEO’s remarks on 2019 vaccine supply mischaracterized
CLAIM: A clip shows Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel admitting the company produced 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2019, before the pandemic began.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. During a session at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos this year, Bancel was discussing the number of doses of any vaccine that Moderna produced for clinical use in all of 2019. He never specified that the 100,000 doses were COVID-19 vaccines. Transcripts of other interviews with Bancel show he has made similar remarks in the past, making clear that the 100,000 doses in 2019 refer to any vaccine.
THE FACTS: Social media users are taking a clip of Bancel out of context to suggest he publicly admitted to manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines before the onset of the global pandemic, then predicted that the pandemic would happen.
“URGENT — Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel Admits Company Produced 100,000 COVID-19 Vaccine Doses In 2019 Before The Pandemic Started,” wrote one Twitter user who shared the clip on Tuesday, receiving more than 12,000 shares and 485,000 views.
The video shows Bancel speaking on a panel titled “State of the Pandemic” during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last month.
In the 58-second clip posted to social media, the moderator asks: “Let’s talk about vaccine development because we’ve heard how it happened obviously with COVID-19, starting from 2022 and how extraordinary the process was also in terms of the speed. How is development, adoption and scaling of the vaccine going when it comes to different variants and sub-variants?”
To this, Bancel responds: “So the great news versus 2020, where we are today is that we have manufacturing capacity. As Seth knows, when the pandemic happened, Moderna had made 100,000 dose in 2019 for the whole year. And I remember walking into the office of my manufacturing and I say, ‘How about we make a billion dose next year?’ And they look at me a bit funny and say, ‘What?’ And I say, ‘Yeah we need to make a billion dose next year, there’s going to be a pandemic.’”
Social media users sharing this clip to suggest Bancel was admitting to predicting the pandemic, and preliminarily producing vaccines, ignore the fact that he does not specify what kind of doses he’s discussing when he mentions 2019 production.
Previous interviews with Bancel in which he makes nearly identical remarks also make clear that he’s comparing 2019 doses of any kind of vaccine with the upgraded capacity put into place once the virus began rapidly spreading in early 2020.
In a November 2021 interview with the American Heart Association, Bancel described a similar timeline, telling the organization that Moderna made less than 100,000 doses of any vaccine in all of 2019.
And in an August 2021 interview with Pictet Asset Management, a global financial institution, Bancel reiterated similar comments.
“In 2019, we made fewer than 100,000 doses of vaccine,” he told the group. “In the first quarter of 2021 alone, we shipped over 100 million doses and are now on a trajectory to produce 1 billion doses for this year,”
The World Health Organization formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, but cases had been rapidly mounting for weeks prior. The virus’ sequence was released in mid-January 2020. By February 2020, Moderna had begun manufacturing samples of a synthetic mRNA vaccine for the National Institutes of Health to use in animal studies, with the hopes they could be used in first-stage safety tests in people within three months, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Moderna had already been working on mRNA vaccines -- which use a piece of the virus’ genetic code, called messenger RNA or mRNA, that instructs cells to make a particular protein -- before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Moderna began research into the production of mRNA medicines in 2011, according to the company. By 2015, it had developed its first-in-human dose of an mRNA vaccine, a flu vaccine candidate. When COVID-19 was identified, Moderna was able to use its existing technology to tailor an mRNA vaccine to the novel coronavirus’ specific spike protein.
Moderna did not respond to requests for comment.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at the AP.