A fieldworker prepares HIV test kit which forms part of MSF's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vulnerable populations can be screened for COVID-19 and other diseases like HIV and Diabetes.
Access To Medicines

Open Letter to Moderna CEO and Chair

Dear Stephan Bancel and Noubar Afeyan 

Civil society groups in South Africa call on Moderna to immediately withdraw the mRNA vaccine patents it has filed in South Africa and to provide technical expertise to the WHO mRNA Hub in South Africa

We write to you as concerned civil society organisations in South Africa, representing affected communities regarding several patents, which have been filed and granted in South Africa, without due examination.

The patents were filed and remain in place despite the ongoing United States Government’s National Institutes of Health (USG NIH) and Moderna technology ownership dispute; the refusal by Moderna to issue non-exclusive licences for use in South Africa, and in other African countries; the refusal by Moderna to file its regulatory dossier with the medicines regulator in South Africa; the refusal by Moderna to sell its vaccine to several African governments and other poorer countries, as recently reported by the New York Times

It is important to state that these patents pose long term barriers to scaling up the supply of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and to diversifying local production in the continent. Analysis shows that there are a number of capable manufacturers which meet both the technical requirements and quality standards to manufacture mRNA vaccines. However, Moderna’s refusal to share the technology, and opting instead to build its own facility from scratch, further delays access to these life-saving vaccines.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, people in Africa have undeniably been the hardest hit by vaccine inequity, with 3 out of 4 health workers and 9 out of 10 people not yet fully vaccinated, by the end of 2021. At the same time, companies such as Moderna have prioritised supplies to wealthy nations; millions of people in high-income countries (HICs) have already had their third vaccine administered; all while only 11% of people on the African continent are fully vaccinated. 

Moderna belatedly allocated a mere 110 million vaccines for a continent with an estimated population of 1.3 billion people and via the few bilateral deals of which we are aware, even charging countries such as Botswana twice the price paid by the United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU). 

In response to ongoing global vaccine inequity and nationalism inherent in this pandemic, South Africa was selected to host the first World Health Organisation (WHO) mRNA Technology Transfer Hub (‘Hub’) to fast track the supply of vaccines to the rest of the continent, as well as other low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). However, Moderna’s patents in South Africa have created legal risks and uncertainties for any outputs of the Hub.

 We note that Moderna has also withdrawn or abandoned equivalent patents in multiple countries, including Canada and Australia, while actively maintaining the equivalent patents and applications in South Africa. The only conclusion we can draw from Moderna’s selective patent filings is that Moderna does indeed intend to enforce these patents, despite public announcements to the contrary. Given that Moderna itself may decide when the ‘pandemic is ‘over’, this is hardly a reassuring pledge and may potentially undermine the Hub’s current and future functioning and research, at the expense of all LMICs.

The Moderna vaccine was publicly funded and co-developed by the U.S. government. Moderna has now made over $10 billion in profits from this vaccine. 

We urge Moderna to desist from continuously putting Africa last in line, due in part to Moderna’s limited capacity to fulfil production demands.  It is time that Moderna acts in the interests of people, not profits, and immediately agree to: 

  • Withdrawing and abandoning all patents and patent applications in South Africa related to the Moderna Covid-19 mRNA vaccine technology [as already done in several HICs]. 
  • Immediately lending technical assistance to the Hub in order to guarantee its success within an expedited period. 
  • Allowing the Hub, the freedom to continue its vital work now, will help to potentially develop vaccines against other high burden diseases in Africa, such as tuberculosis (TB), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Malaria.

History will remember which side Moderna stood on in this pandemic, and there is still time to stand on the side of saving lives. 

For purposes of corresponding, please use: candice.sehoma@joburg.msf.org


1. Action Against NCDs in Eswatini
2. African Alliance
3. Afya na Haki – Kenya
4. Alternative Information and Development Centre – AIDC – South Africa
5. BMS World Mission
6. Cancer Alliance – South Africa
7. Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) – Uganda
8. Civil Society SDGs Campaign -GCAP -Zambia
9. Community Working Group On Health – Zimbabwe
10. Council for NGOs in Malawi – CONGOMA
11. Covid-19 People's Coalition – South Africa
12. Disability Connection
13. Eagle Lead Development Initiative (ELDI)
14. Extinction Rebellion – South Africa
15. Frontline AIDS - South Africa
16. Global Call to Action Against Poverty
17. Global Justice Now
18. Global South Against Xenophobia (GSAX)
19. Good Health Community Programmes
20. Halley Movement – GCAP - Mauritius
21. Health Action International Asia Pacific (HAIAP)
22. Health GAP
23. Health Justice Initiative – South Africa
24. Health Poverty Action
25. ICWK - Institute of Clerks of Work Kenya - ICWK
26. International Labour Research and Information Group – ILRIG - South Africa
27. Institute for Economic Research on Innovation - Tshwane University of Technology, SA
28. Just Treatment
29. Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society
30. Médecins Sans Frontiers - Southern Africa
31. National Association of NGOs
32. Network of TB Champions
33. Norwegian People’s Aid
34. OXFAM International
35. OXFAM South Africa
36. Patient and Community Welfare Foundation of Malawi
37. People Against Apartheid And Fascism
38. People’s Health Institute, Korea
39. People’s Health Movement - South Africa
40. People’s Health Movement Korea
41. People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA)
42. People's Vaccine Alliance (PVA) – Africa
43. Public Eye
44. Public Health Innovations
45. Public Service Accountability Monitor – PSAM – South Africa
46. SA National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI)
47. Salud por Derecho – Spain
48. Section 27 – South Africa
49. South Africa NCD Alliance
50. South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication - SAAPE
51. Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance – SAAPA
52. The Anti-Repression Working Group (ARWG) – South Africa
53. The Rights Initiative
54. The Yunus Centre
55. Treatment Action Group – TAG
56. Umvoti AIDS Centre – South Africa
57. Underprivileged Welfare Support Development Association
58. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) / Free the Vaccine
59. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, UK
60. Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group – Africa
61. Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability (WCFID) – South Africa
62. Third World International
63. Amnesty International