Posts misrepresent Moderna CEO's comments on shots

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on March 13, 2023 at 23:29
  • 3 min read
  • By Natalie WADE, AFP USA
Social media users claim an interview with Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel is evidence that the biotechnology company developed a Covid-19 vaccine before the SARS-CoV-2 virus existed. These claims are false; the virus was discovered in December 2019 and Moderna began working on a vaccine in January 2020.

"BREAKING - Moderna CEO Admits On Live Air At Davos They Were Making A COVID-19 Vaccine In January Of 2020 Before Covid 19 Started," says a January 21, 2023 tweet.

Alongside the claim is a clip from a January 18, 2023 CNBC segment with Bancel.

"You were working on a vaccine for Covid and at that point, Covid-19 didn't even really exist in our minds -- we were just hearing about it," said Channel anchor Rebecca Quick, adding: "I think there was no name at that time."

Screenshot of a tweet taken March 13, 2023

Similar versions of the claim can be found elsewhere on Twitter and other social media platforms including Facebook and TikTok, in multiple languages. Other posts using the same clip include similar comments, feeding into baseless claims that the pandemic was planned.

The news outlet was covering the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, a renowned annual gathering where politicians, CEOs, high worth individuals and journalists discuss events of global impact. The event is a frequent target of conspiracy theorists.

Bancel, who appeared during a January 18 panel on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic also sat down with reporters that day.

But the online posts which include a clip of his on-air appearance, misrepresent what was said about the Moderna vaccine and include false claims regarding when its development began.

A Covid-19 timeline

Moderna started developing its Covid-19 vaccine shortly after the virus emerged in late 2019. The virus -- referred to as Covid-19 -- was labeled as 2019-nCoV, before being renamed SARS-CoV-2 on February 11, 2020.

"We got the Covid-19 genetic sequence, which was the start of our work, on January 10, 2020," Bancel told AFP in a previous fact check.

This was confirmed by a Moderna spokesperson in a March 8, 2023 email.

The company had already spent nearly a decade developing mRNA technology. These vaccines -- which Pfizer also offers -- deliver instructions to cells on how to develop spike proteins in order to develop immunity.

By February 2020, Moderna began manufacturing a potential messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for testing.

In March 2020, clinical trials for Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine began. This was after the World Health Organization(WHO) declared a global pandemic. And it was not until December 2020 that the US Food and Drug Administration first authorized the shot for emergency use. Full approval did not come until January 2022.

Since the virus was discovered, information regarding its impact and the corresponding vaccines has been shared widely by global and US public health authorities including the WHO, National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control -- including a thorough timeline of events.

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about vaccines here.

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