A shareholder proposal calling on Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) to study transferring production of COVID-19 vaccines to less-developed countries won 24% support from investors on Thursday after it received a rare endorsement from the World Health Organization.
Proponents say production shifts could help combat the global pandemic. Moderna of Cambridge, Mass. opposed the measure, saying among other things it already maximized its manufacturing capacity with partners, and that poorer countries have declined millions of doses that Moderna was prepared to deliver.
In a statement giving the vote tally from its virtual annual meeting, Moderna said the result "indicates that the significant majority of our shareholders are supportive of the approach we have taken, and we will continue to address issues related to vaccine access."
The result was still a good showing for a first-time shareholder proposal, said Paul Hodgson, an independent corporate governance expert, and considering that Moderna insiders own 17% of the company's shares.
The message for management from the result is "there are more important things to think about than just returns to investors," Hodgson said.
The resolution was 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.
The proposal was one of three sponsored by the nonprofit Oxfam America. Another filed at Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) won 27% support, a company spokesperson said. A related proposal at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) did not pass and a final tally will be posted in the coming days, a representative said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had called on shareholders to vote for the measure at Moderna, the first such investor advocacy by the United Nations agency.
His appearance via video was "an unprecedented appearance for an unprecedented pandemic" said Peter Singer, WHO special advisor.