Did Moderna CEO 'Admit' to Making COVID-19 Vaccine Before the Disease Had a Name? – Snopes.com

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It is neither a “breaking” revelation nor an “admission” that Moderna was working on a vaccine for the newly discovered coronavirus variant (then called 2019-nCoV and later renamed SARS-CoV-2) in January 2020; both Moderna and the federal government issued myriad press releases at the time. Further, mRNA vaccines like the ones Moderna had been developing well before the COVID-19 pandemic had long been considered a possible pathway to a vaccine to stop a coronavirus-driven outbreak.
A rhetorical tactic popular amongst conspiracy theorists is to paint a banal statement of fact as an accidental admission of something nefarious. A Jan. 18, 2023 tweet by an account that frequently promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories is a textbook definition of this phenomenon.
“Breaking,” the viral tweet read, “Moderna CEO admits on live air at Davos they were making a COVID-19 vaccine in January of 2020 before SARS-CoV-2 even had a name.” Davos refers to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum — a meeting that occurs in January of each year and is a frequent target of conspiracy theorists. 

First of all it is not breaking news that Moderna was working on a vaccine in January 2020. This information was widely announced and never hidden from the public. It’s not even news. For example, in a Scientific American interview published on Jan. 22, 2020,  Anthony Fauci explicitly described the federal government’s partnership with Moderna when he was asked how long it would take for there to be a vaccine for the then-emerging pandemic: 
We’ve already started to develop a vaccine. We got the [genetic] sequence from the Chinese. We’re partnering with a company called Moderna to develop a messenger RNA–based platform for a vaccine. We will likely have a candidate in early phase I trials for safety in about three months. That doesn’t mean we will have a vaccine ready for use in three months; even in an emergency, that would take a year or more. But we’re already on it. 
Second, and not to get too pedantic, the virus that causes COVID-19 did have a name at that time: the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV. That the nomenclature later changed to SARS-CoV-2 is not relevant to the implication that Moderna had some sort of early knowledge of a virus that — by that point in time — had already been sequenced in its entirety and had already made international news. 
Finally, it is not a surprise that Moderna would be selected as a partner for the development of a vaccine against a coronavirus-borne pandemic. The idea that mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could combat a coronavirus by mimicking that virus’ spike protein has been widely considered since at least 2009 in the context of creating a vaccine for SARS. Moderna’s public business model since at least 2012 has been the advancement of mRNA technology. 
Because it is not “breaking” news that Moderna had been working on a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2020, and because repeating publicly available information three years after its release does not constitute an “admission” of any kind, we rank this claim “False.”
Du, Lanying, et al. “The Spike Protein of SARS-CoV — a Target for Vaccine and Therapeutic Development.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 7, no. 3, Mar. 2009, pp. 226–36. www.nature.com, https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro2090.
Lewis, Tanya. “Infectious Disease Expert Discusses What We Know about the New Virus in China.” Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/infectious-disease-expert-discusses-what-we-know-about-the-new-virus-in-china1/. Accessed 19 Jan. 2023.
Moderna Makes Entrance with $40M Round for MRNA Work + | Bioworld | BioWorld. https://www.bioworld.com/articles/355400-moderna-makes-entrance-with-40m-round-for-mrna-work, . Accessed 19 Jan. 2023.
Novel Coronavirus (2019-NCoV) SITUATION REPORT – 1 . 21 Jan. 2020, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-r.
Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.
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