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Moderna is spying on you New documents reveal its attempts to control the vaccine debate

An anti-vaccine hero. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

An anti-vaccine hero. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images


and
November 20, 2023   7 mins

Novak Djokovic’s victorious return to the US Open this year was heralded as the triumph of an “ageless” athlete. His “greatness”, The Guardian reported, “has been defined by his ability to rise from difficult losses stronger than before”. But for the pharmaceutical giant Moderna, it came as something of a blow.

“Djokovic Crowned Anti-vaccine Hero after US Open Win,” howled the title of an internal report. It continued: “The optics of Djokovic, whose vaccine opposition barred him from competing in the 2022 US Open, returning to and winning the Moderna-sponsored competition bolsters anti-vaccine claims that vaccines — and mandates — are unnecessary.”

The report rated news surrounding Djokovic as “high-risk”, noting that “vaccine opponents are celebrating” the tennis champion and that some on social media “mockingly point out that Moderna is a US Open sponsor”. Other alerts, produced by a partnership blending marketing executives with former FBI and Secret Service analysts, also cited concerns around drug industry profits as a source of misinformation.

Far from viral deception, much of the content flagged by Moderna as “misinformation” and a supposed danger to public health was nothing of the sort, it was legitimate discussion of vaccine-related issues. But the Moderna misinformation reports, reported here for the first time, reveal what the pharmaceutical company is willing to do to shape public discourse around its marquee product. And, even affect policy-making.

Moderna did incredibly well out of the pandemic. It was shot from a fledgling biotech firm to a household name, having created one of the most effective vaccines during the outbreak. The mRNA Covid-19 vaccine catapulted the company to a $100 billion valuation and minted five new billionaires, including the chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, its chairman, Noubar Afeyan, co-founder Robert Langer, president Stephen Hoge, and Timothy Springer, a Harvard Medical School professor and early investor.

But as demand for its vaccinations has diminished, inevitably, so too have its earnings. This year, its only marketable product lies unused and the company has recorded steep losses. Moderna has also been forced to pay royalty payments to NIAID, the US government agency that helped produce the basic research that underpins the mRNA vaccine technology. As a result, in January, Bancel announced a price hike of up to $130 a dose, far higher than the $15-26 for American federal contracts, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’re expecting a 90% reduction in demand,” Bancel said, when he was asked to defend the decision. “As you can see, we’re losing economies of scale.”

With its profits evaporating, Moderna embarked on a flashy new marketing campaign that features a child chasing a red string that transforms into a ribbon, which the narrator explains is an mRNA strand that could unlock cures for all types of diseases. And its latest television advert depicts the company’s coronavirus vaccine as emblematic of a healthy lifestyle. Over some cool music, the narrator says, “make vaccination against Covid-19 a part of your health routine: Spikevax that body”.

The most important thing for Moderna is that people keep having their jabs. Smart ads are part of that. But more important is to push back aggressively against any prevailing anti-vax narrative and engage where possible in any discussions around vaccine policy. That’s where the Moderna disinformation department comes in.

Behind the scenes, the marketing arm of the company has been working with former law enforcement officials and public health officials to monitor and influence vaccine policy. Key to this is a drug industry-funded NGO called Public Good Projects. According to documents we have seen, PGP works closely with social media platforms, government agencies and news websites to confront the “root cause of vaccine hesitancy” by rapidly identifying and “shutting down misinformation”. A network of 45,000 healthcare professionals are given talking points “and advice on how to respond when vaccine misinformation goes mainstream”, according to an email from Moderna.

Moderna’s disinformation arm is perpetuating the public discourse wars that have been raging since early in the pandemic, aimed at shutting down anything that might undermine Covid-19-related policies, including lockdowns and efforts to encourage mass vaccinations. These documents provide a new window into the process that has roiled speech debates over the last three years.

With PGP, Moderna is monitoring a huge range of mainstream outlets, as well as unconventional ones, such as the Steam online gaming community and Medium. Meanwhile, Moderna also retains Talkwalker which uses its “Blue Silk” artificial intelligence to monitor vaccine-related conversations across 150 million websites in nearly 200 countries. Discussions around “competitor” issues, including discussions of Pfizer are flagged as well as vaccine hesitancy.

Their monitoring team includes Moderna’s global intelligence division, which is run by Nikki Rutman, who spent nearly 20 years as an analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rutman was working from the FBI’s Boston office during the COVID-19 effort known as “Operation Warp Speed”, which involved the FBI conducting weekly cybersecurity meetings with the Boston headquartered Moderna. She is among many former law enforcement agents now with the vaccine maker. The involvement of former law enforcement reflects a wider trend in the misinformation-space, as the Department of Homeland Security and FBI have increasingly leaned on social media platforms to shape content decisions as a national security issue.

Suggested reading
Moderna is spying on you

By Lee Fang

The reports issued by the department, which are circulated around staff, include colour-coded warnings about the severity of various anti-vaccine narratives. The high and medium alerts include explanations of the news source and why it matters, followed by a listing of “low-risk narratives we are monitoring” that “don’t currently warrant any action”. If and when a response is needed, “our team will notify the appropriate stakeholders with recommendations”.

According to one report we have seen, Musk is deemed to be “high risk”. Specifically, a Musk video that ridiculed media and government officials who claimed the Covid-19 vaccine was “100% effective” against the virus. The report did not identify any false statements, but warned that his video highlighted the fact that “deception by health authorities and health care providers during the pandemic” would “lay the groundwork to sow distrust in credible sources on vaccine safety and effectiveness”.

Another high profile critic of Big Pharma featured in a Moderna report is Russell Brand. In September, he was flagged because some on social media suspect that he has been targeted for his “anti-vaccine beliefs”.

The report featured a video of Brand decrying pharmaceutical profits and making the claim that Moderna and Pfizer made “$1,000 of profit every second” from the pandemic. The claim is bundled into a “high-risk” alert that warns Brand’s views are “circulated in anti-vaccine spaces where he is viewed as a truth-teller and threat to authority”. Moderna further notes that Brand received support from “high-profile” figures such as Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson.

None of the reports that we have seen makes any attempt to dispute the claims made. Rather the claims are automatically deemed “misinformation” if they encourage vaccine hesitancy. We approached Moderna for comment, but they didn’t respond.

“What often flies under the banner of combating disinformation is, in this case, nothing but corporate public relations, trying to spin public narratives in directions favorable to the corporation’s interests,” said Aaron Kheriaty, a bioethicist, and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Does anyone really want to live under a regime where their social media feed is essentially curated by government or by multinational corporate interests that stand to profit, influencing opinion on these issues?”

This is where the line between PR and lobbying gets blurred for Moderna. It’s all very well for a company to be information gathering, and attempting to send out a positive message. But it’s quite another for it to be using that information for more problematic purposes. Of particular interest in this respect is PGP — the company at the heart of Moderna’s misinformation department.

Financed through a $1,275,000 donation from the Biotechnology and Innovation Organization, lobbyists representing Pfizer and Moderna, PGP maintains close ties to government and media. Moderna first worked closely with PGP on a programme called “Stronger” in 2021-22 in which it identified misinformation and shaped content decisions on social media. PGP was particularly well-equipped to help with this since it had backdoor access to Twitter data, known as the “firehose”, and helped Twitter formulate its pandemic-related speech policies.

We have discovered, through internal emails from Twitter, that PGP’s misinformation reporting team was frequently in contact with Todd O’Boyle, a lobbyist at Twitter, and sent him periodic Excel sheets with accounts to amplify or censor. Their intention, as we have gleaned from the emails exchanged, was not only to combat misinformation, but also to affect the content and tenor of public debate. While PGP identified some obvious falsehoods, such as claims that the vaccines contained microchips or were devised intentionally to kill patients, many tweets flagged as misinformation were simply critical of vaccine passports and other policies designed to coerce vaccination.

The relationship may have extended into the law enforcement space. Last year, Vijaya Gadde, then serving as Twitter’s general counsel, advised the Department of Homeland Security’s task force on combating misinformation on trusted fact-checking organisations. In an email to her colleagues, reported here for the first time, Gadde recommended that the government meet with PGP to decipher Covid-19 speech issues.

Moderna’s corporate intelligence and marketing team has worked closely with PGP again this year in its bid to shape the vaccine discourse as take-up drops off a cliff. The partnership expanded again in October with an official training programme, developed by Moderna and PGP, alongside the American Board of Internal Medicine, to help healthcare workers identify medical misinformation. The online course, called the “Infodemic Training Program”, represents an official partnership between biopharma and the NGO world. But none of PGP’s recent work with Moderna is disclosed on its website or in the Infodemic Training Program. PGP did not respond to requests for comment.

As the pandemic abates, Moderna is, if anything, ratcheting up its surveillance operation, with a keen interest in anything relating to policies designed to coerce vaccination. In particular, the company is closely tracking elected officials and recently passed laws in Arkansas and Texas which restricted vaccine mandates.

“Politicians attempting to ban COVID-19 mandates — or at least claiming to — signals growing resistance to COVID-19 mitigations,” reads one of the Moderna alerts. Given the company avoided publicly commenting on the mandate debate, this is revelatory.

This attitude is borne out in a report from October 5, which flags an Elon Musk message on X that elaborates on the billionaire’s opposition to mandates. Musk expressed outrage at the “demand that people *must* take the vaccine and multiple boosters,” adding that, until the courts overturned the Biden employer mandate, “SpaceX and many other companies would have been forced to fire anyone who refused to get vaccinated.”

The report notes: “Musk has one of the largest platforms in the world—literally and figuratively. He increasingly uses that platform to elevate fringe vaccine opponents and conspiracy theorists.”

But despite the growing backlash against social media censorship, the network of fact-checking nonprofits has grown at an industrial pace, providing opaque opportunities for private and public interests to take subtle control over the public discourse. Such sophistication in blending public-health messaging and corporate advertising should concern anyone with an interest in how government controls free speech.

“This is an interesting peek behind the disinformation industry, what it actually does,” said Kheriaty, the bioethicist. ”It’s about controlling a narrative, controlling the flow of information, controlling how people think about public policy, like the vaccine mandate, and how people think about a particular product that a corporation is profiting from,” he added. “It’s deeply disturbing.”


Lee Fang is an investigative journalist and Contributing Editor at UnHerd. Read his Substack here.

lhfang

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Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago

What strikes me is the close to criminal behaviour of both Moderna (helped by the NIH and Biden administration) and Pfizer, marketing a product that was known to be defective from the first RCTs (the full contents of which were only released thanks to a federal judge). The claim of 95% efficacy was never true, and the mRNA vaccines (and for that matter the DNA-based AZ adenovirus vaccine) were never safe and effective. This sorry state of affairs simply reflects the hubris of the elites and the permanent civil service typified by the likes of Toni Fauci and Francis Collins in the US, all of whom were fixated in a complete and unfettered belief in new, untested biomedical high tech at all costs. It will be good if law suits are brought that get round the exemptions that Pfizer and Moderna were given by the federal government, and that the magnitude of the damages is such as to make these companies and their founders/executive in the case of Moderna go bankrupt. Then perhaps, and only then, will pharma realize that marketing dangerous products is not to their long-term advantage, and hiding inconvenient facts is thoroughly unethical.

Last edited 8 months ago by Johann Strauss
Simon S
Simon S
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

What is so odd about this article is that it says Moderna “created one of the most effective vaccines during the outbreak”. It supports the lying mantra that the vaccine was safe and effective! Maybe just another Unherd edit?

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

Unsafe, almost wholly ineffective and for any healthy person under 60, completely unnecessary and demonstrably counter-productive, suppressing the lasting, broad-spectrum natural immunity they would otherwise have obtained. Any intelligent, numerate layman could work this out for himself, from official stats, within a few months of these pseudo-vaccines first becoming available.

Last edited 8 months ago by Peter Joy
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

What’s so odd is how matter of fact this seems now but there’s no outcry about this and Andrew Bridgen has been sidelined as an embarrassment. It will only get bigger of course and class-action lawsuits have the best chance of eviscerating the beast.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
8 months ago

It doesn’t alarm me that Moderna wants to persuade people to buy its product. The danger lies in (1) the government trying to force private companies to favor or disfavor particular speech, and (2) the public’s tendency to forget that there is no such thing as a disinterested public voice – there’s either a direct monetary incentive, or a reputational one, or a professional one, or an ideological one, etc.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

I agree. It’s easy to spot the self interest of corporations. The growth and influence of NGOs, often covertly financed by corporations and other self-interested parties, is much more dangerous. We need some laws or regulations to make the funding and support of NGOs more transparent.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

There’s a difference between “persuading people to buy” and “corrupting public policy making to compel people to accept”, isn’t there?

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

There is. The other comments (‘it’s easy to spot corporate self-interest’) overlook that when corporate self-interest is hidden behind ‘the public good’, it’s harder to spot.

John Curry
John Curry
8 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

While I agree with you on the Government corruption/ Criminal violation of the U.S. Constitution aspect, I disagree with you on Moderna trying to persuade people to buy a produce which they knew was not only ineffective but was HARMFUL and Dangerous as their own studies pointed out.

Greg Wangler
Greg Wangler
7 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

We can see the new paradigm: Empower the Multinat corporations to do what it’s illegal for the government to do directly (not that that’s stopping them). Give them qualified immunity, high-tech surveillance tools, access to data bases and staff of ex-deep state operators to consummate the Corporate/Central government bedding ceremony.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
8 months ago

Lest anyone forget: this is a company that proudly described its product as being like a computer “operating system” for the human body, on to which various “apps” could be downloaded. Make no mistake, this is a spiritual battle for the minds, bodies and souls of mankind.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago

Meanwhile Sir Novak – the poster boy of the pushback, is going from strength to strength.
Last night another record – most ATP Finals ever won. This on the back of 4 Grand Slam finals in 2023 (of which he won 3), the most Grand Slams ever won, the most ATP Masters titles ever won, finishes the year at No 1, has the record for the most weeks ever at number 1. On it goes, as does he.

Jeff Hansen
Jeff Hansen
8 months ago

He’s certainly the best hardcourt player. Fed the best grass player and of course Rafa the finest on clay. All the overall numbers dominant for Nole. No gaps in his game, clinical efficiency. Not the most loved, but the most wins.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Hansen

Yes Novak can get wins on all surfaces. The best all round. He is only one behind Federer on grass slams…. Rafa almost, but not completely the one trick pony. I am certainly a fan of Novak’s, especially because he is giving the US and Aus the middle finger. Who knows where he would be if he hadn’t been banned over the last couple of years.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago

Yes. And I doubt he’ll become one of those professional athletes who collapse on the pitch/ court/ course with sudden out-of-the-blue heart attacks .

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago

No amount of slick advertising or government pressure convinced me or my husband to submit to the jab. We got the virus last month (according to a home test kit, so it could have just as easily been a regular flu). It was largely three days of fatigue and chicken soup.
Everyone we know who has submitted got the virus post-jab, often more than once. Nearly all have had odd health issues, from tinnitus to strange body aches to period stoppages. They also seem to get sick every few months with sore throats, sinus infections, and coughs.
It seems to me these drug companies, with government help, devised a way to keep everyone profitably ill, since their shots don’t protect anyone from C19. Sort of like Planned Parenthood rebranding itself as a provider of the nonsensically-termed “gender-affirming care” now that its lucrative abortion money is drying up.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago

On your first two pars, exactly so. I resolutely refused their rubbish jabs and while I finally contracted a sniffle that tested as ‘Covid-19’ at the very tail end of the ‘pandemic’, it was no worse than a slight flu or average cold, and I have been 1 since. Like you, many I know who had the jabs – the terminally credulous, sadly – seem to keep catching Covid again and again, even as late as this autumn.

Lee Wood
Lee Wood
8 months ago

The heroes of anti vax resistance are confirmed ! No matter other flaws of conduct or ethics which might be used to deflect support – these heroes are creating very justifiable reaction and debate in the media, albeit fringe. The authors efforts provide valuable and tangible evidence of just how the corporatocrats go about their grisly business, which not only leads to higher profits, but also greater public control of discourse, public health, behaviour and ultimately genomic steering. Bravo !

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
8 months ago

The vaccine matter is only the beginning. The Forever Government and its outside-the-gate allies in media, academia, and entertainment have discovered the key to a problem they’ve been worried about – increasing public skepticism about the scope and independence of government. Hampered by the annoying First Amendment, they’ve turned to private entities to crush speech that challenges them.

Peter Christine
Peter Christine
8 months ago

And of course Moderna has a amenable partner in the U.S. government that certainly doesn’t want to risk a major scandal around its own false narratives, Biden’s deliberate vilification of 1/3 of its citizens, and the mis-handling of the Covid scare.

Richard C
Richard C
8 months ago

A more complete explanation of the financial fall of both Pfizer and Moderna is provided in the Wall Street Journal.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-covid-vaccine-windfall-turns-on-pfizer-and-moderna-pandemic-booster-73b2903a?st=9gi1h2sk1ybcvow&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

The financial markets correct for the lies and respond appropriately by dumping the stock. By contrast, multiple governments, their agencies and the other authoritarians amongst us continue to try to defend the indefensible.

Guy Johnson
Guy Johnson
8 months ago

My word, investigative journalism.

Peter Joy
Peter Joy
8 months ago
Reply to  Guy Johnson

Yes. A few pars of that is worth a tonne of opinion.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago

Shock horror! Big Pharma is in league with government and Big Tech to push their evil products on an unsuspecting public and suppress any dissenting views as disinformation. Is there really anyone left who hasn’t realised what’s been going on for the last two years?
This article is poorly written and seems to be claiming some sort of scoop for what has been common knowledge for most of that time.

J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

I would say the value added by this article is they provide hard evidence of the conspiracy you describe and also the extent of ongoing collusion between government and corporations. If anything, the push to take the covid vaccines is increasing even as the lethality of the disease decreases.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

…..and the lethality of the jabs becomes harder and harder to deny:
https://www.coffeeandcovid.com/p/revenge-plots-tuesday-november-7

John Riordan
John Riordan
8 months ago

Corporatism in action.
Are we really going to have to learn this the hard way again?

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
7 months ago

There are brave people out there who are fighting this giant dystopian anti science culture. There’s the likes of Prof Angus Dalgleish who told the useless Whitty and Valance that the Virus was created in the Lab. Although a practising Oncologist he has thirty years experience in Virology.
The Guy has created an HIV vaccine that attacks the core of the virus while the “Club” persist with their Mrna antigen based vaccines(Covid) attacking the envelope of the virus which actually acts as a decoy. He’s also developed a Cancer vaccine that successfully treats Skin Melanomas by firing up the immune T cell response. It also stops Covid and Flu in its tracks.
Well it did until his cancer patients started getting relapses. Yes you guessed it, they’d had their Covid Boosters and he found after two boosters the immune system just shut down something called antigen resistance enhancement whereby the immune system says I’ve had enough of this abuse and shuts down.
This month he is publishing a book with co Authors called The death of Science. But you won’t find it in any Bookshops because our dystopian Government has banned them from selling it.

Gerard A
Gerard A
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

The book is available from Bookshop.org, Waterstones, Abebooks and Amazon

Jane In Toronto
Jane In Toronto
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

Antigenic sin maybe the term. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28479213/ Autoimmune Sept 2017 

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
8 months ago

Two perfectly healthy UG males died on the dehree.programme I teach on. Cobort size 126 students. Myocarditis.

james elliott
james elliott
8 months ago

“The most important thing for Moderna is that people keep having their jabs”

And that’s the whole problem.

Why are we allowing manufacturers of *vaccines* (particularly ones that have demonstrably maimed and even kill people) behave as though they were Nike or Pepsi?

Why are we allowing them to bribe corrupt politicians and doctors?

Last edited 8 months ago by james elliott
si mclardy
si mclardy
7 months ago

Why people believe “fact checking” sites with little to no accountability is beyond me! We have junior medical journalist critiquing experts like Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Batacharia etc. I really do want to see some of the criminals in Jail. And yes it is criminal to lie about a medical product. Throw the books at these depraved actors.

Last edited 7 months ago by si mclardy
Jane In Toronto
Jane In Toronto
6 months ago

We need evidence that this network of professionals who jump on anyone who denigrates a pharma product are paid or compensated (or coerced) in some way.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
8 months ago

Nothing in this article surprises me anymore. I would expect nothing less from Moderna. In the neo-liberal, economic order profit is everything, truth and ethics are nothing. Government has become a tool corporations use to maximize profit. Government by the corporation and for the corporation. People are mere consumers and Guinee pigs.
There is no politician on the horizon who is willing or capable of breaking their grip on power and return us to a regulated, fairer form of capitalism. I don’t see ethics making a comeback either, in our reality TV world. We are decadent and we are corrupt that is just the way it is. There is no revolution in sight, yet.
That being said, I just had my sixth shot (not Moderna, Pfizer). I have to live in the real world, and I have to weigh risk. I see less risk in being vaccinated than in not being vaccinated. I hate food companies too, but I have to eat.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

I’m not sure why you’re being downvoted.
I agree wholeheartedly with your first two paragraphs. Your vaccine preference is your own personal choice and has no bearing on your well-expressed views on the state-corporate axis (which is actually the definition of fascism).

starkbreath
starkbreath
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

You have to eat, you don’t have to eat shit.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
7 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Benjamin, see my comment above you. After two boosters your immune system shuts down. We still cannot talk about this on MSM. It seems our politicians are intellectually dim when it comes to science and are being led like sheep. In the UK our Government has set up the Counter Disinformation Unit, something out of 1984. BTW I’ve just had Covid and it was no more than a heavy cold. Remember Omicron only affects the upper airways unlike the other variants. Stay well topped up with Vitamin D3 which is more important than these Mrna vaccines

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

My immune system has not shutdown.