Social media users claim Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told a World Economic Forum (WEF) panel that the company produced 100,000 doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in 2019, prior to the pandemic. This is false; Bancel was referring to all shots produced by the American pharmaceutical company, he confirmed to AFP, noting that its Covid-19 jab was not developed until 2020.
“URGENT — Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel Admits Company Produced 100,000 COVID-19 Vaccine Doses In 2019 Before The Pandemic Started,” says James Cintolo, a Boston-based nurse who has previously spread vaccine misinformation, in a February 7, 2023 tweet.
The post, retweeted some 13,000 times, includes a clip of Bancel speaking on a WEF panel hosted by Euronews.
“When the pandemic happened, Moderna made 100,000 doses in 2019 for the whole year,” the chief executive says in the video. “And I remember walking after hours into the office of Moderna manufacturing and I say, ‘How (can) we make a billion doses next year?'”
The posts come nearly a month after the annual WEF meeting in Davos, Switzerland, during which political leaders, CEOs and celebrities spent a week discussing everything from global warming to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nongovernmental organization and its programming are frequent targets of conspiracy theorists.
Bancel made an appearance during a January 18 panel on the state of Covid-19. But the online posts, which feed into baseless claims that the pandemic was planned, misconstrue what he said about Moderna’s vaccine production.
“This is totally incorrect,” Bancel told AFP in a February 9 email. “I said that volume-wise we made in total, across all our products in 2019, around 100,000 doses … and that we had to scale our manufacturing to one billion doses with Covid. That was a big challenge.”
Below are his full remarks at the WEF, in context:
Sasha Vakulina, panel host: "How is the development, adoption and scaling of vaccine going on when it comes to different variants and subvariants? Because this is one of the big concerns, as we're all here now and we're discussing and we understand the context and this is a great deal."
Bancel: "Sure. Good morning and thank you for having me on the panel. So the great news versus 2020 where we are today is we have manufacturing capacity.
"When the pandemic happened, Moderna made 100,000 doses in 2019 for the whole year. And I remember walking after hours into the office of Moderna manufacturing and I say, 'How (can) we make a billion doses next year?' And they look at me a bit funny, say, 'What?' I say, 'Yeah, we need to make a billion doses next year, there's going to be a pandemic.
"And so where we are now is we have plants in the US and in Switzerland. We've shown this summer that we're able to adapt to variants very quickly."
It was not the first time Bancel addressed the challenge of ramping up Moderna’s vaccine production during the pandemic.
At a November 2021 event hosted by the American Heart Association, the CEO said Moderna was on track to manufacture 800 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021 compared to 100,000 doses for all shots in 2019. He made similar remarks at the Boston College Chief Executives Club in April 2022.
AFP reached out to panel host Sasha Vakulina, an editor at Euronews, for additional information, but she declined to comment.
Shot developed in 2020
Moderna started developing its Covid-19 vaccine not long after the virus first emerged in late 2019.
“We got the Covid-19 genetic sequence, which was the start of our work, on January 10, 2020,” Bancel told AFP.
By February 2020, Moderna had started manufacturing a potential messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for testing. The company had for years worked on mRNA technology, which delivers instructions to cells on how to build a piece of a virus’s protein in order to develop immunity.
Clinical trials for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine began in March 2020, after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. The US Food and Drug Administration first authorized the shot for emergency use in December 2020, with full approval issued in January 2022.
AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about vaccines here.