The American Prospect: A Shot in the Arm

January 21, 2021 COVID-19 EconomyHealthcare

The CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, reads The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Timesevery morning, searching for evidence of a developing pandemic like a meteorologist scans morphing weather patterns for a hurricane. So when Bancel saw a small column in December 2019 announcing a few strange respiratory illnesses in Wuhan, China, he took notice.

By January 11, a team of scientists in China had published the first draft of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s genome. About 48 hours later, Moderna’s bank of computers, with assistance from NIH scientist Barney Graham and his research colleague Jason McLellan, had developed the molecular structure of a proposed vaccine to combat the virus that was causing the illness soon to be called COVID-19. “The vaccine that was reviewed by the FDA on December 17th, it’s exactly the same vaccine that our guys designed in January in silico, we never changed one atom,” Bancel said on a podcast.

Less than a year later, the first semi trucks stocked with an approved, mass-distributed vaccine began rolling away from a plant in Portage, Michigan, manufacturing another vaccine, from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, had crushed the traditional vaccine timeline and kick-started the process of saving us from the perpetual fugue state of a coronavirus-dominated world.