Pharmaceutical giant Moderna appears to have suddenly reversed course on its plan to multiply the price of its COVID-19 vaccine, declaring that the vaccine will remain free for all Americans just hours after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced that he will be grilling the company’s CEO in a hearing before Congress next month.
Last month, Moderna’s CEO, pandemic billionaire Stephane Bancel, said that the company was planning to multiply the price of its COVID vaccine by five times when the federal government runs out of its supply in the coming months, from about $26 per dose to about $130. Notably, it costs the company only $2.85 to manufacture each dose.
But, just after Sanders announced that Bancel would be testifying in a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Moderna announced that the vaccine will continue to be free for all Americans, and that it will grant uninsured or underinsured patients access to the vaccine through its “patient assistance program.”
It’s currently unclear whether the company is still planning on increasing the price for its vaccine for insurance companies or for government insurance programs. As health writers and public health experts have pointed out, Moderna’s statement is likely a public relations attempt to fight back at Sanders without making meaningful change; patient assistance programs run by pharmaceutical companies are notorious for requiring uninsured patients to jump through hoops to access health products.
The pharmaceutical industry — and Moderna in particular — has faced increased scrutiny in the weeks since Sanders took the helm of the HELP Committee.
“We’re going to ask them, ‘Hey, you made billions of dollars in profit on a vaccine that was developed because of taxpayer support from the [National Institutes of Health], you’ve become a multibillionaire, and you think it’s appropriate to cost the federal government even more money by quadrupling prices?’” Sanders said of the hearing on Wednesday, per The Washington Post. “And I hope, I really do hope, that these people will reconsider this outrageous decision and decide not to raise prices for the vaccine.”
Sanders was outraged over the decision when Bancel announced it in January, pointing out in a letter at the time that the vaccine was funded in large part by public funding and that the government provided billions of dollars to the company to develop and purchase advance doses of the vaccine. The plan meant that Moderna would be double dipping into the wallets of the public, taking public funding to develop and manufacture the COVID vaccine while also charging people out of pocket or increasing prices for their insurance company, which could raise premiums in response.
In a report on the “pharma pandemic profiteers” released by the Democrats on the HELP Committee on Wednesday, Sanders and his colleagues pointed out that Big Pharma executives have become astonishingly wealthy on the backs of the public during the pandemic.
As pharmaceutical companies have done enormously well during the pandemic due to corporate subsidies and public investments, the Democrats wrote, their executives have turned around and pocketed billions of dollars in newfound wealth.
This has amounted to “one of the most significant transfers of wealth in modern history — billions of dollars flowing out of the pockets of millions of Americans who are sick and desperate and into the stock portfolios of a tiny handful of wealthy pharmaceutical executives,” the report says. “That is absolutely unacceptable.”
The report finds that in 2021, as the vaccines were first being rolled out to the public, just 50 pharmaceutical executives across 10 pharmaceutical companies were given $1.9 billion in compensation — and are slated to receive more than $2.8 billion in “golden parachutes” upon their departure from the companies. Bancel alone, who became a billionaire during the pandemic, has a nearly $1 billion golden parachute waiting for him when he leaves Moderna.