Facing Senators, Moderna CEO Defends Quadrupling Cost of COVID-19 Vaccine

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel defended his company’s decision to drastically increase the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine in a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on March 22.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ranking Member Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) both thanked Bancel for his company’s work to push out a vaccine at the request of the United States government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moderna has proposed that when the government stops its involvement with the procurement and delivery of the vaccine, the price will increase to $130, per dose, which is roughly four times the price at which it was sold to the government during the pandemic.

Sanders’s remarks, however, focused on the massive profits the company has, and will likely continue to bring in, due to the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Sanders accused the pharmaceutical industry of an “unprecedented level of corporate greed.”

“Today, while 37 percent of the American people could not afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe, 10 major pharmaceutical companies made over $100 billion dollars in profits in 2021–a 137 percent increase from the previous year,” Sanders said.

“In these corporations, the 50 top executives made over $1.9 billion in total compensation in 2021 and are in line to receive billions more in golden parachutes once they leave their companies. In other words, Americans die because they cannot afford the outrageous cost of prescription drugs, while the drug companies make huge profits.”

Sanders also asserted that Moderna benefited from the aid of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies that worked with Moderna to research, develop, and distribute the vaccine.

Bancel objected to the NIH’s characterization that they are co-authors of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. While the NIH worked with Moderna, the CEO seemed confident that their work was redundant and that Moderna alone was responsible for the vaccine.

Republicans’ Defense of Capitalism

Cassidy and his fellow Republicans were quick to come to the defense of capitalism during the hearing. Cassidy, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), and others were more supportive of the CEO’s decision to increase the price of the vaccine.

Several Republicans on the committee gave Bancel a chance to elaborate on what his company was doing to further expand the use of mRNA in medical research, including research into cures and mitigation for several types of cancer and heart disease.

Romney’s time included allowing the CEO to speak to how he made his money, which was not via a salary, but rather by retaining stock in the company, which saw massive increases when it was announced they would be partnering with the government to create the vaccine.

During his exchange with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) the Moderna representative, clarified some of the details of the government investment in vaccine research.

According to Bancel, the U.S. government invested $1.7 billion in Moderna’s vaccine development. When the product was being sold back to the government in September of 2020, Moderna proposed a discount on the product to return the capital investment.

The CEO asserted the government received roughly $2.9 billion in discounts on the Moderna vaccine, pointing to the end of that discount as part of the reason for the price increase. Bancel also pointed to potential gains, claiming their vaccine kept Americans out of the hospital during the pandemic.

In addition to the end of the discount that was previously given to the government once the product is sold in the private sector to hospitals and pharmacies, the pharmaceutical executive pointed out that their company will now have to assume the risk of loss.

Bancel also noted that when the government was distributing the vaccine, they were delivering multi-dose vials to just three locations nationwide. When they move to sell in the private sector, they will not only have to change their packages, they will need to create a distribution path to deliver to individual hospitals and pharmacies.

There is also the possibility of loss, as was experienced by the government. The pharmacy executive said he believed about two-thirds of the 160 million doses of their vaccine that was bought by the government went unused. Only roughly 50 million doses “got into arms,” according to Bancel.

The CEO’s statistics point to the actual cost per used dose being about $80. Moving into the private sector, Moderna will now take responsibility for that potential loss in the future.

Call to Moral Obligation

On the Democrat side, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) made an appeal to the witness’s religious beliefs. Casey referenced the extended version of Bancel’s testimony provided to the senators.

Casey pointed out Bancel’s assertion that “the continuous pursuit of excellence, service of the greater good, and social responsibility” have shaped his leadership at Moderna. Given those values, the lawmaker asked if it was the company’s obligation to make their product inexpensive and accessible.

In his response, Bancel pointed to the price of other vaccines, saying the price of the flu vaccine is around $95, and that there are many more people hospitalized due to COVID-19 than the flu, saying it was “important” that they move into the market at a price based on value.

“A lot will change for our company as we step into the shoes of the U.S. government to ensure that everyone who wants a vaccine has access in a convenient location,” Bancel said in his written testimony. “One thing that will not change is our commitment to delivering the greatest possible impact to people through our mRNA medicines.

“We are committed to ensuring anyone who wants a vaccine can get one, without price posing a barrier. Our vaccine will continue to be available at no out-of-pocket cost to insured people. For the uninsured (or underinsured), our free drug program will ensure access by providing COVID-19 vaccines at no cost.”

From The Epoch Times

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