Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged Moderna not to quadruple the price of its Covid-19 vaccine once distribution of vaccinations moves to the commercial market.
In a letter to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, Sanders called the price hike “outrageous.” The independent senator from Vermont and incoming chairman of the Senate health committee said such a steep price increase would make the shots unavailable to millions of uninsured Americans, potentially putting their lives at risk as Covid continues to spread.
Sanders, who has become an influential national figure after his two failed attempts to win the Democratic presidential nomination, has repeatedly criticized the pharmaceutical industry for high drug prices in the US. He is expected to take a hard line on industry when he takes over leadership of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Sanders said higher vaccine prices would also have a negative effect on the budgets of Medicaid and Medicare, which will continue to cover vaccines at no cost to the programs’ beneficiaries. Private health insurance premiums would also increase as a result of a vaccine price hike, Sanders wrote.
“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 between $110 and $130 per dose of the Covid vaccine when the vaccines are sold on the commercial market. The federal government, which has handled the purchase and distribution of vaccines 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 developed in collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health, a US government agency that is funded by US taxpayers,” Sanders wrote in bench
Bancel told the Journal he thought the price was consistent with the value of the vaccine. Pfizer is also considering raising the price of its Covid vaccine to $110 to $130 per dose.
Dr. Ashish Jha, who heads the White House’s Covid task force, told the US Chamber of Commerce in August that the administration plans to move the vaccines to the commercial market sometime in 2023. That wants say patients will receive the vaccine like any other medical treatment with the cost depending on their health insurance plan.
During the pandemic, the federal government has required all health care providers participating in the vaccination campaign to provide vaccinations to patients for free, regardless of their health insurance.
Moderna’s Covid vaccine is the company’s only commercial product. The Boston biotech posted profits of $12.2 billion in 2021, the first year of the vaccine campaign, and another $6.9 billion through September 2022.
CNBC reported in March that Bancel had sold more than $400 million in Moderna stock during the pandemic.