Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged Moderna not to quadruple the price of its Covid-19 vaccine once shot distribution moves to the commercial market.
In a letter to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, Sanders called the price hike “outrageous.” The independent Vermont senator and future chair of the Senate Health Committee said such a sharp rise in prices would make the vaccines unavailable to millions of uninsured Americans and potentially put their lives at risk if Covid continues to spread.
Sanders, who has become an influential national figure after his two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nomination, has repeatedly denounced the drug industry for high drug prices in the powerful Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Sanders said an increase in vaccine prices would also negatively impact Medicaid and Medicare budgets, which will continue to cover the vaccines at no cost to the programs’ beneficiaries. Sanders wrote that private health insurance premiums would also rise as a result of a price increase for vaccines.
“Your decision will cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” Sanders wrote to Bancel.
Bancel told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Moderna is considering a price in the range of $110 to $130 per Covid vaccine dose if the recordings are sold in the commercial market. The federal government, which has handled vaccine procurement and distribution during the emergency phase of the pandemic, currently pays about $26 per vaccine dose.
“I find your decision particularly offensive given that the vaccine was co-developed in partnership with scientists at the National Institutes of Health, a U.S. government agency funded by U.S. taxpayers,” Sanders wrote to Bancel.
Bancel told the Journal that he thought the price matched the value of the vaccine. Pfizer is also considering raising the price of its Covid vaccine to $110-$130 per dose.
dr Ashish Jha, who heads the White House Covid task force, told the US Chamber of Commerce in August that the administration plans to bring the vaccines to the commercial market sometime in 2023. This means that patients would receive the vaccine like any other medical treatment, with the cost depending on their insurance company.
During the pandemic, the federal government has required all healthcare providers participating in the vaccination campaign to make the vaccinations available to patients free of charge, regardless of their health insurance status.
Moderna’s Covid vaccine is the company’s only commercially available product. The Boston-based biotech posted a profit of $12.2 billion in 2021, the first year of the vaccine campaign, and an additional $6.9 billion through September 2022.
CNBC reported in March that Bancel sold more than $400 million worth of Moderna stock during the pandemic.