On March 22, 2023, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel will testify at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to defend Moderna’s proposed price hike on the NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna has long attracted criticism from Public Citizen and other advocacy groups for its high prices and failure to support vaccine equity, but now Moderna wants to quadruple the price of the vaccine, from $26.36 per dose to as much as $130 per dose once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends in May. The announcement led HELP Committee Chair Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to express outrage and call Moderna “a poster child for corporate greed.”
Here are three things you need to know before the hearing:
1. It’s the NIH-Moderna vaccine for a reason: It was developed through public funding and federal science.
- Moderna has received more than $12 billion from U.S. taxpayers. This includes $2.1 billion for Moderna’s research and development of the vaccine, and roughly $10 billion in advance purchase commitments and purchases.
- While the vaccine was developed through a four-year partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Moderna fought against naming federal scientists co-inventors of the vaccine sequence, as Public Citizen revealed in 2021. Rather than credit the federal government for its role, Moderna quietly abandoned these patents earlier this month.
- In 2020, Public Citizen revealed that Moderna and others also relied on a separate technique discovered by federal scientists and academic researchers to stabilize spike proteins and elicit an immune response. Columbia Law School clinical professor Christopher Morten demonstrated that Moderna likely infringed the NIH-owned patent. Moderna eventually agreed to pay NIH $400 million plus future royalties for its use of the technique. Professor Morten will testify at the March 22 hearing, where he is expected to speak to the public’s investment in the development of the NIH-Moderna vaccine.
2. Moderna and its leadership have already made enormous profits off the vaccine.
- Stéphane Bancel and three additional investors and executives affiliated with Moderna became billionaires during the pandemic. Their financial success has come largely on the backs of U.S. taxpayers, without whom the NIH-Moderna vaccine, and perhaps even Moderna itself, would not exist.
- Moderna has sold roughly $36 billion worth of coronavirus vaccines worldwide.
3. A Price Hike Would Be Nothing Short of Profiteering at Taxpayers’ Expense
- Public Citizen researchers estimate it costs $3 or less per dose to manufacture the vaccine, and at the height of the pandemic Moderna charged the United States from $15 to $26 per dose, accumulating $ billions in profits. The proposed hike to $110-$130 per dose is completely unjustified and has no plausible explanation beyond profiteering.
- The planned price increase has health experts concerned that many people may fall through the cracks as the uninsured or underinsured will face a significant cost barrier to accessing vaccines.
- Because many opting for future booster shots will likely be over 65, Medicare stands to bear a disproportionate burden of payments. Taxpayers will once again bear the expense due to the impact on Medicaid and Medicare.
- Even for people with private health insurance, price spikes that are picked up by these insurance companies could lead to higher premiums hitting the pockets of everyday Americans.
- Moderna is, in many ways, the house that NIH built with taxpayer money, and has already accumulated billions as a result. Instead of hiking the price, Moderna should make the NIH-Moderna vaccine available for free, or at cost.