WHO says pandemic justifies leader’s pitch at Moderna meeting

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization will present a shareholder resolution at the annual meeting of Moderna Inc on Thursday, a rare step into investor advocacy by the United Nations agency.

At the virtual meeting of the Cambridge, Mass. Company, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will call on shareholders to vote for the company to study transferring knowledge to facilitate the production of COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries as a way to combat the global pandemic.

Peter Singer, a special advisor to Tedros in Geneva, Switzerland, said it was the first time the agency had made such a move at the meeting of a publicly traded company.

“It is an appearance for an unprecedented,” Singer said in a telephone late on Wednesday. “What WHO cares most about is saving lives.”

The resolution is part of a continuing debate over how to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries, where vaccination rates have lagged far behind wealthy countries.

Moderna has urged investors to vote against the proposal, saying it “asks for a report on a solution that will not address the realities of the pandemic as it exists today,” according to its proxy statement.

Moderna spokesperson Colleen Hussey said the company has already maximized its manufacturing capacity with partners, and that poorer countries have declined millions of doses that Moderna was prepared to deliver.

The company has cited problems like a lack of refrigeration and vaccine hesitancy.

“Moderna is dedicated to addressing long-term issues causing vaccine inequality,” Hussey said.

The proposal is one of three sponsored by the nonprofit Oxfam America, which has related proposals pending Thursday at Pfizer Inc and at Johnson & Johnson. Top proxy advisor Institutional Shareholder Services has recommended investors vote “for” the resolutions.

In support of the Moderna resolution, for instance, ISS wrote in a recent report that “additional information would allow shareholders to understand how the company is managing related risks.”

(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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