Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged Moderna not to quadruple the price of its Covid-19 vaccine once distribution of the shots moves to the commercial market.
In a letter to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, Sanders called the price increase “outrageous.” The independent senator from Vermont and incoming chair of the Senate’s health committee said such a steep price increase would make the shots unavailable for 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 unsuccessful bids to win the Democratic presidential nomination, has repeatedly excoriated the pharmaceutical industry for high drug prices in the U.S. He is expected to take a hard line with the industry when he assumes leadership of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Sanders said raising vaccine prices would also have a negative effect on the budgets of Medicaid and Medicare, which will continue covering the vaccines at no cost to the programs’ beneficiaries. Private health insurance premiums would also rise as a consequence 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 in the range of $110 to $130 per Covid vaccine dose when the shots are sold on the commercial market. The federal government, which has handled procurement and distribution of the vaccines during the emergency phase of the pandemic, currently pays about $26 per vaccine dose.
“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 to Bancel.
Bancel told the Journal that he thought the price is consistent with the vaccine’s value. 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 Covid task force, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in August that the administration plans to move the vaccines to the commercial market sometime in 2023. That means patients would 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 the shots to patients for free regardless of their health insurance status.
Moderna’s Covid vaccine is the company’s only commercially available product. The Boston biotech booked a profit of $12.2 billion in 2021, the first year of the vaccination 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.