By Erik Sass
When nations known for transparent government and assiduous public safety all point their fingers at the same public health threat, it’s safe to conclude something is up. So other nations should have taken notice last week that all the Scandinavian countries simultaneously halted or discouraged use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine among young people due to unacceptably high rates of myocarditis and pericarditis – potentially fatal inflammation of the heart tissue or the membrane lining the heart.
The news came in a rapid-fire series of announcements last week, with Sweden suspending the Moderna vaccine for individuals under age 30, Finland for males under age 30, Denmark for all individuals under 18, and Iceland for all age groups. While not officially suspending the vaccine, Norway discouraged those under age 30 from getting the Moderna shot. In issuing its decision the Swedish health agency explained: “The connection [with heart inflammation] is especially clear when it comes to Moderna’s vaccine Spikevax, especially after the second dose.”
The public health announcements pointed to the results of a forthcoming study conducted jointly by Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut, Sweden’s Medical Products Agency, Norway’s National Institute of Public Health, and Finland’s Institute for Health and Welfare. The report has already been sent to the European Medicines Agency for evaluation.
The Scandinavian decisions echo warnings from other governments. In August the Canadian government noted higher rates of myocarditis with the Moderna vaccine, especially among male adolescents and adults under the age of 30, and the provincial government of Ontario warned against Moderna for individuals ages 18-24. Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, stated: “I’m not holding any facts back, there is a risk.”
A higher incidence of potentially deadly heart inflammation isn’t the only problem associated with Moderna’s vaccine. On multiple occasions manufacturing and packaging mistakes resulted in contamination of millions of doses, some of which have been used before they could be recalled, with potentially dangerous outcomes.
In August Japan ordered the withdrawal of 1.63 million doses of Moderna after they were discovered to be contaminated with small particles of stainless steel, but only after half a million people had already received the shots; the deaths of three Japanese men who received the Moderna vaccine in August are still under investigation.
Moderna’s record is questionable in other ways, reflected in a series of ethical red flags. Having never brought a product to market over several decades in existence, in 2020 the company received nearly $2.5 billion in U.S. government funding to jumpstart its experimental mRNA vaccine technology. Last year, its executives cashed out well over $100 million of stock before the vaccine even hit the market. The sales were considered “well outside the norm” and prompted Wharton accounting professor Daniel Taylor to tell NPR: “On a scale of one to 10, one being less concerned and 10 being the most concerned, this is an 11.”
The suspicion that Moderna operates on purely mercenary motives is confirmed by the scathing account of Dr. Ayoade Alakija, Nigeria’s former chief humanitarian coordinator and now a member of the Africa Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance. She worked closely with the company and summarized its ethos in an interview with the New York Times: “We’re here to make money. We’ve stumbled upon a good thing, and we’re not even trying to pretend that we’re trying to save the world.”
On that note the Times reported that the company’s vaccine deliveries are sharply skewed towards high-income countries: “Of the handful of middle-income countries that have reached deals to buy Moderna’s shots, most have not yet received any doses, and at least three have had to pay more than the United States or European Union did, according to government officials in those countries.”
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel acknowledged the situation is “sad” but blamed lack of official funding from these governments to expand the company’s production in their countries. This is in light of the company’s projected revenues of at least $20 billion this year, making the vaccine “one of the most lucrative medical products in history.”
In this context the cascade of suspensions by Scandinavian regulators should give their counterparts in the rest of Europe and the U.S. pause, especially as Moderna’s leadership mounts a high-profile campaign to push even more shots, apparently envisioning repeated boosters, delivered semiannually, into an indefinite future.
Over the summer Bancel said the company hopes to produce a combined flu and COVID shot, adding that the COVID boosters will probably be needed every one to three years. Public health authorities should think twice about locking themselves into a long-term public health strategy that guarantees collateral damage to a substantial number of adolescents and young adults, at the behest of a company that seems to view human beings as little more than profit centers.
Erik Sass is Editor-in-Chief of The Economic Standard.