New documents reveal its attempts to control the vaccine debate…“vaccine opponents are celebrating” Djokovic’s Tennis Open victory “mockingly point out that Moderna is a US Open sponsor”.
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(No heart attack on the playing field here guys: Vax-free champion. Take that Moderna! MH)
Novak Djokovic’s victorious return to the US Open this year was heralded as the triumph of an “ageless” athlete. His “greatness”, The Guardian reported, “has been defined by his ability to rise from difficult losses stronger than before”. But for the pharmaceutical giant Moderna, it came as something of a blow.
“Djokovic Crowned Anti-vaccine Hero after US Open Win,” howled the title of an internal report. It continued: “The optics of Djokovic, whose vaccine opposition barred him from competing in the 2022 US Open, returning to and winning the Moderna-sponsored competition bolsters anti-vaccine claims that vaccines — and mandates — are unnecessary.”
The report rated news surrounding Djokovic as “high-risk”, noting that “vaccine opponents are celebrating” the tennis champion and that some on social media “mockingly point out that Moderna is a US Open sponsor”. Other alerts, produced by a partnership blending marketing executives with former FBI and Secret Service analysts, also cited concerns around drug industry profits as a source of misinformation.
Far from viral deception, much of the content flagged by Moderna as “misinformation” and a supposed danger to public health was nothing of the sort, it was legitimate discussion of vaccine-related issues. But the Moderna misinformation reports, reported here for the first time, reveal what the pharmaceutical company is willing to do to shape public discourse around its marquee product. And, even affect policy-making.
Moderna did incredibly well out of the pandemic. It was shot from a fledgling biotech firm to a household name, having created one of the most effective vaccines during the outbreak. The mRNA Covid-19 vaccine catapulted the company to a $100 billion valuation and minted five new billionaires, including the chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, its chairman, Noubar Afeyan, co-founder Robert Langer, president Stephen Hoge, and Timothy Springer, a Harvard Medical School professor and early investor.
But as demand for its vaccinations has diminished, inevitably, so too have its earnings. This year, its only marketable product lies unused and the company has recorded steep losses. Moderna has also been forced to pay royalty payments to NIAID, the US government agency that helped produce the basic research that underpins the mRNA vaccine technology. As a result, in January, Bancel announced a price hike of up to $130 a dose, far higher than the $15-26 for American federal contracts, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’re expecting a 90% reduction in demand,” Bancel said, when he was asked to defend the decision. “As you can see, we’re losing economies of scale.”
With its profits evaporating, Moderna embarked on a flashy new marketing campaign that features a child chasing a red string that transforms into a ribbon, which the narrator explains is an mRNA strand that could unlock cures for all types of diseases. And its latest television advert depicts the company’s coronavirus vaccine as emblematic of a healthy lifestyle. Over some cool music, the narrator says, “make vaccination against Covid-19 a part of your health routine: Spikevax that body”.
The most important thing for Moderna is that people keep having their jabs. Smart ads are part of that. But more important is to push back aggressively against any prevailing anti-vax narrative and engage where possible in any discussions around vaccine policy. That’s where the Moderna disinformation department comes in.
Behind the scenes, the marketing arm of the company has been working with former law enforcement officials and public health officials to monitor and influence vaccine policy. Key to this is a drug industry-funded NGO called Public Good Projects. According to documents we have seen, PGP works closely with social media platforms, government agencies and news websites to confront the “root cause of vaccine hesitancy” by rapidly identifying and “shutting down misinformation”. A network of 45,000 healthcare professionals are given talking points “and advice on how to respond when vaccine misinformation goes mainstream”, according to an email from Moderna…
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Meanwhile, the Big Pharma ferals have turned on each other!