In the face of senators’ criticism, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel did not agree to lower the commercial cost of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine in a hearing Wednesday on the vaccine’s price.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, opened the hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by slamming “an unprecedented level of corporate greed” and highlighting the personal wealth amassed by top Moderna executives after the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
“As soon as Moderna started to receive billions of dollars from the federal government, Mr. Bancel literally became a billionaire overnight and is now worth over $4 billion. He was also able to secure a golden parachute for himself worth another $926 million after he leaves the company. But let’s be clear: Mr. Bancel is not alone,” said Sanders, who is chairman of the committee. “None of these four individuals were billionaires before the taxpayers of our country funded the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Moderna has proposed a price of $130 per vaccine dose.
Sanders highlighted the taxpayer-funded partnership between the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies with Moderna to develop the Covid-19 vaccine.
US taxpayers paid $12 billion for the research, development and procurement of the vaccine, Sanders said.
The federal government has spent more than $30 billion on Covid-19 vaccines and ensuring people can access them without charge, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“And here is the thank you that the taxpayers of this country received from Moderna for that huge investment: They are thanking the taxpayers of the United States by proposing to quadruple the price of the Covid vaccine to as much as $130 once the government stockpile runs out – at a time when it costs less than $3 to manufacture the vaccine,” Sanders said.
Bancel said that after 10 years of losing money, Moderna created a vaccine that “ended the pandemic.”
He explained why his company has proposed a $130 vaccine price tag: This round of Covid-19 vaccinations will be made for the commercial market, meaning they would be packaged in single-dose vials, affecting the price. Until this point, the shots have been made to be sold to the government in vials of 10 doses.
Additionally, Moderna is adjusting for decreased demand.
“The volume we had during the pandemic gave us economies of scale that we won’t have anymore. That is what is different,” Bancel said.
When Sanders asked, Bancel would not commit to lowering the price of the shot or ensuring that it will cost less than it does in other countries.
“I cannot say the price will be lower than other countries,” Bancel said.
In February, Moderna announced an assistance program that will provide free vaccinations for uninsured people as the federal health emergency declaration expires.
Committee member Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, questioned the program, asking whether it might include an administration fee that would carry a cost. Bancel said he would need to look into the question.
Fellow member Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, shifted the focus away from the cost of the Covid-19 vaccine and questioned its safety and a potential conflict of interest.
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“You think it creates a conflict of interest for the same people deciding the policy of how often we have to take the vaccine to also be making money the more times we take the vaccine?” Paul asked.
Bancel replied that the government is tasked with this decision.