Moderna released a statement Tuesday disclosing that it is making its COVID-19 vaccine available to its US-based workers, contractors, and board members, as well as the adults those people live with.
The Cambridge biotech’s plans put some individuals ahead of the country’s vaccine distribution plan, which at least in Massachusetts puts the general public in the last phase of the rollout. Massachusetts is prioritizing health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities, and the general public is not expected to receive the vaccine until at least April.
The company said its effort would “provide an additional layer of COVID-19 protection as Moderna workers conduct essential services in developing, manufacturing and delivering a COVID-19 vaccine.” Moderna has about 1,200 employees worldwide, and the company said the supply needed for its internal distribution is separate from the amount it committed to the US government.
The company said “all costs for the program are being paid for by Moderna, including the supply of vaccine and its administration.” A spokesperson for Moderna said the first recipients were on-site employees within its manufacturing facility, and it will broaden out from there. (The company runs a manufacturing site in Norwood.)
Still, the news sparked backlash on Twitter from some who believe Moderna should not prioritize its workforce — and their families — especially when many high-risk individuals and those living with health care workers have yet to receive the vaccine.
Jake Becraft, the cofounder and chief executive of Cambridge-based Strand Therapeutics, said via Twitter on Tuesday that Moderna prioritizing board members “seems selfish...honestly, even executives, who have spent the entire pandemic isolated.”
Moderna’s management team and board of directors make up less than 20 people.
When asked at a press conference Wednesday about Moderna’s vaccination plans, Governor Charlie Baker said he supports keeping workers in the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain healthy.
“I don’t want anything to happen that slows down the ability of any of these companies to manufacture vaccine and get it to people,” he said. “My view would be, if you are part of the team that’s actually making vaccines, or providing the materials that are critical to making vaccines, I think we should all want those people to be as healthy as possible.”
Michael Gilman, the chief executive of Arrakis Therapeutics in Waltham, said on Twitter that he sees “no real problem with them moving their employees to the front of the line.”
“I mean they’ve earned it and it’s not going to materially impact vaccine rollout,” he said. “But board members, man, that’s a stretch.”
Meanwhile, Pfizer, which also has its vaccine authorized for emergency use in the US, plans to vaccinate its employees as they become eligible based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a company spokesperson said. Last week, the CDC recommended that the next individuals to receive the vaccine should include essential front-line workers — such as firefighters, manufacturing workers, and teachers — as well as those who are 75 or older.
“The first group is expected to be the company’s essential workers, especially in manufacturing, who are critical to the vaccine effort and the continued supply of all Pfizer medicines,” the spokesperson said. “There are no plans to prioritize the vaccination of our executives or board members ahead of other high-risk groups.”
Gilman added that a similar move from Pfizer to provide the vaccine to all employees would be “more disruptive,” since the company is much larger than Moderna. In a Dec. 2019 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pfizer said it had more than 88,000 employees globally; it developed its vaccine with another company, Germany-based BioNTech.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do in that position,” Gilman said. “As CEO, you do feel a strong sense of obligation to your employees.”