01:53 - Source: CNN
Moderna president clarifies CEO's remarks on vaccine's efficacy against Omicron

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

CNN  — 

President Joe Biden released a new plan Thursday to deal with an expected winter surge of Covid-19. It rejects shutdowns and more restrictions in favor of vaccines, boosters and tests.

In addition to expanding access to vaccines and boosters, the new plan requires a negative Covid-19 test within one day of departure for anyone flying into the US, regardless of vaccination status or nationality. That means Americans traveling by air will need a negative test to enter the US.

Is Biden’s plan enough? It’s not very bold, according to Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor at George Washington University.

As we’ve seen this week with the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant trickling into the US, it’s not possible to stop variants at the border.

“The biggest issue is about 55 million adults have chosen not to get vaccinated, and that is the giant pile of dried timber for this relentless fire,” Reiner said Thursday on CNN. He argued the only way to convince this group to get vaccinated is to require vaccination for air travel within the US.

RELATED: Get the full details on Biden’s plan

Public safety vs. profit margin. The Covid-19 answers always come back to vaccines. The government has put billions of dollars into developing these vaccines and billions more into producing them, but it doesn’t own them.

A recent New York Times report suggests that Moderna – whose scientists worked side by side with government scientists developing a vaccine in the frantic early days of the pandemic – is telling a different story as it seeks valuable patents for what’s been injected into hundreds of millions of American arms.

Rather than list the National Institutes of Health scientists, Dr. John Mascola, Dr. Barney Graham and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, on patent applications, Moderna left them off. Graham and Corbett have since left the NIH.

If Moderna had included them on patent applications, the government could have some measure of control over licensing and distributing the vaccine, according to the Times.

Moderna has also challenged patents owned by the company Arbutus Biopharma Corp. that cover technology used in the vaccines.

Moderna has dragged its feet in offering access to its vaccine or transferring production capabilities to poorer countries.

“This Omicron variant is a consequence of not having the world vaccinated soon enough,” Dr. Rick Bright, a former NIH immunologist now at the Rockefeller Foundation, said Thursday on CNN. “We’ll continue seeing this until we put vaccine equity at the top of our list – not just donating a few doses or even a billion doses but putting resources in place around the world,” he said.

Taxpayers helped Moderna. What makes Moderna’s omission of government scientists on its patent applications more galling is that the company got help not only from those scientists but also from US taxpayers.

  • The US government awarded Moderna $1.4 billion early in the pandemic to develop its vaccine.
  • The government further funded production of the vaccines and has nearly $10 billion invested in Moderna alone, according to estimates.
  • Taxpayers are paying billions of dollars for hundreds of millions of vaccines driving Moderna’s profits. Americans aren’t charged for getting the Covid-19 vaccine because the government is picking up the tab.

The government money has actually been flowing to the company for much longer. Back in 2013, the government awarded Moderna, then a fledgling company, $24.6 million for initial development of mRNA vaccine technology, according to an April Government Accountability Office report.

What about Pfizer? The US-based Pfizer did not take money from the US government to develop its vaccine, although the German company it works with, BioNTech, did get developmental funding from the German government.

Pfizer has, however, taken billions in US government funding for production of the Covid-19 vaccine, and it is relying on governments around the world to pay for vaccines and boosters.

Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines incorporate spike protein breakthroughs developed by government scientists working with academic researchers. Read more about the development of mRNA in the science journal Nature, and about the government scientists who helped drive these breakthroughs in The Washington Post.

Taxpayers are now paying Pfizer and Moderna billions upon billions for the vaccines. Note: It is extremely difficult to figure out how much these vaccines cost per dose.

Vaccines saved the economy. They’ve been the key turning point in dealing with the pandemic and reopening the US economy. There’s no disputing that, unless you’ve fallen into conspiracy theory rabbit holes.

Vaccines made some people very rich. That people are making billions off producing the vaccines is either distasteful or a necessary part of profit-motivated health care, depending on your economic worldview.

Forbes wrote earlier this year that five people associated with Moderna became billionaires during the pandemic. Executives at other companies, like BioNTech, have also seen their personal wealth explode, largely based on Covid-19 vaccine profits.

Covid-19 vaccines are a growth industry. Moderna’s CEO said this week that it is extremely unlikely the current vaccine will be completely effective against new coronavirus variants like Omicron – although the company’s president, Dr. Stephen Hoge, clarified during a CNN town hall Wednesday that it’s not clear how effective the current vaccine will be against Omicron.

Hoge told Reuters that Moderna could have an Omicron-targeted booster tested and ready to file for US authorization by March.

That vaccines and boosters will be tweaked in the future is assured. But Hoge’s comments were played for Bright by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Bright said to be careful with any “comments by CEOs from large companies who have a lot to gain in moving the market ahead of a data set.”

If Moderna has its way, the government will have less input in that process, unless it is to sign checks paying for what could ultimately be billions of doses in the US and worldwide.