(Trump Chief Adviser Monecef Slaoui with Trump, speaking on vaccine development on May 15, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.)
The Trump administration has announced an ambitious plan to develop and produce millions of doses of a new COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020, a lofty and risky process that stands to shift conventional wisdom about the vaccine process and seems to have yielded substantial stock profits for the pharmaceutical executive Trump has appointed to lead the initiative.
On May 15, in a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump and his deputies rolled out an initiative to speed up access to a vaccine for the novel coronavirus while calling it, “Operation Warp Speed.” At the time, Trump admitted the project was “risky and expensive” and Gustave Perna, a four-star general who oversees logistics for the U.S. Army, called the task “Herculean.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper has pledged to deliver a vaccine to the U.S. and its foreign partners by the end of the year.
Interestingly, this new messaging on the “impending” vaccine has been hyped by the White House at the same time that some states with Republican governors have been re-opening businesses within their localities, despite the warnings from the CDC and the guidelines set out by the White House.
(Trump delivers remarks and an update on COVID-19 vaccine development from White House Rose Garden on May 15, 2020.)
This announcement directly contradicts top top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has long since cautioned that a vaccine will take between 12 and 18 months to develop. Fauci now says that completing a viable vaccine within this new Trump timeline would constitute a biomedical miracle of sorts. This is likely the reason why the reputable medical experts on the situation remained silent at the press conference, while Trump allowed executives to sell his plan.
Former GlaxoSmithKline executive Moncef Slaoui spoke at the conference and declared that, “I have very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine…we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.” Slaoui was likely referring to biotech giant Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which was the first in the U.S. to enter a Phase 1 clinical trial.
Slaoui recently resigned his position on the board of the Moderna to accept the government appointment from Trump and according to federal financial disclosures, he still held over 156,000 Moderna stock options at the time of the press conference, worth over $10 million at the company’s current stock price.
Moderna stock had been on the rise for months previously — in April, Moderna stock jumped after CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC the company had received as much as $483 million in taxpayer funds to accelerate development of a coronavirus vaccine. Moderna stock continued to soar over that weekend, jumping from a Friday, May 15 close at $66.69 a share to $80 at the conclusion of trading that next Monday.
Public outrage over the possible conflict of interest forced Health and Human Services to make an announcement that Slaoui would be divesting all of his equity holdings in Moderna by May 19 and that he would be donating any profit he may have received, estimated to be close to $2.4 million, to cancer charities.
“Dr. Slaoui has resigned from his position as an independent member of the Board of Directors for Moderna. Further, he has directed the divestiture of his equity holdings in Moderna and that sale should be effective tomorrow morning. Furthermore, Dr. Slaoui has committed to donate to cancer research all incremental value accrued from his Moderna shares between the evening of Thursday, May 14, prior to the announcement of his position on Operation Warp Speed and the time of sale, scheduled for tomorrow morning.” — statement from Caitlin Oakley, HHS spokeswoman in response to May 15 Press Conference
It has been confirmed that Moncef Slaoui is volunteering his time, and will not be paid by the government. Yet, he has had to resign his lucrative positions and allegedly divest his Moderna stock in order to donate his time.
(Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020. Photo by Drew Angerer, via Getty Images.)
There has also been no detailed analysis of the actual profit Slaoui did receive, that he is not donating to charity, after he divested his Moderna stock. The stock began to rise in February, presumably with the announcement of the impending pandemic — shares of Moderna jumped substantially on February 26 to $29.16 a share, up from $18.59 on February 24 of this year.
The Moderna stock has steadily climbed for several months. According to the HHS statement, Dr. Slaoui committed to donate “all incremental value accrued from his Moderna shares between the evening of Thursday, May 14, prior to the announcement of his position on Operation Warp Speed and the time of sale.”
Slaoui resigned from the board of Moderna a week before the Rose Garden vaccine announcement, when President Donald Trump appointed him to lead Operation Warp Speed. On May 6 the stock was selling at $48.95 per share, but by May 11, the stock was selling at $66.90 per share. According to these numbers, and the statement from HHS, we can conclude that Slaoui obviously netted a substantial profit from his Moderna stock from May 6-11 in the week he may have worked for the White House, before the announcement of the vaccine.
Considering that his profit margin the week that Slaoui resigned and apparently began working for the White House could stand in the millions, it is critical to know exactly when he undertook his position within the Trump White House. The stock should have been divested immediately upon his resignation, especially considering he knew he could be influencing the market with his work.
(Market summary of the Moderna stock graph from the NASDAQ: MRNA from earlier this year to May 18, 2020.)
It’s easy to donate millions to cancer charities and work for free when your stock has more than doubled in the last three months. Given the estimates that Slaoui would have made a $2.4 million profit on a jump in Moderna stock from May 14-15, it would be fair to say that he made close to $3 million when the Moderna stock increased between May 6-11.
If this is the case, and Slaoui took in approximately $3 million that he is intending to keep, he has now made millions while allegedly working for the White House. He also has secured himself a hefty tax deduction in the millions in satisfying the public with his donation to cancer charities. Once again, it looks like another Trump official is netting a tidy profit.
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