Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is calling on Moderna not to quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Tuesday that the plan amounts to “unacceptable corporate greed.”
In a Tuesday letter sent to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Sanders urged the company to reconsider its decision and refrain from any price increase “in light of the role the federal government has played in the development of the vaccine.”
Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said the company’s decision to charge up to $130 a dose once the shots move to the commercial marketplace is “outrageous” and will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“As you know, the federal government, over the years, has supported Moderna every step of the way going back to 2013 when your company reportedly only had three employees. Now, in the midst of a continuing public health crisis and a growing federal deficit, is not the time for Moderna to be quadrupling the price of this vaccine,” he wrote. “Now is not the time for unacceptable corporate greed.”
Moderna did not immediately return a request for comment.
Bancel told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Moderna is considering charging between $110 to $130 per dose in the U.S. when the government’s contract ends and the vaccine shifts to commercial distribution.
The price range would match what competitor Pfizer said it is considering charging, though both are far more than what the federal government pays. Moderna’s updated booster shots cost about $26 per dose, and the federal government distributes the shots for free.
“I find your decision particularly offensive given the fact that the vaccine was jointly developed in partnership with scientists from the National Institutes of Health, a U.S. government agency that is funded by U.S. taxpayers,” Sanders wrote, adding that the government invested $1.7 billion into the company for vaccine research and development.
“Let’s be clear: The purpose of the recent taxpayer investment in Moderna was to protect the health and lives of the American people, not to turn a handful of corporate executives and investors into multi-billionaires,” he said.
Vaccines will still be free to people with private insurance once the public health emergency ends and the federal supply of vaccines runs out, though the cost will likely be reflected in premiums. Even with insurance, patients will likely see costs if they go to an out-of-network provider.
During the pandemic, the federal government has required all health care providers participating in the vaccination campaign to provide the shots to patients for free regardless of their health insurance status.
As new chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sanders is expected to focus on the cost of prescription drugs, among other priorities.
While most progressive policies won’t get traction in the GOP-controlled House, Sanders will still be able to call hearings and cause headaches for industry executives.