Vague Promises Won’t Make Coronavirus Vaccine Affordable

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, said today at a U.S. House Ways & Means Committee hearing that the federal government will commit to ensuring the affordability of a federally funded coronavirus vaccine. This comes a day after he refused to guarantee its affordability and a week after Public Citizen released a report finding that taxpayers had spent $700 million on coronavirus research and development since 2002.

C’mon Secretary Azar, we don’t need vague commitments to obtain “appropriate protections to ensure the affordability of any vaccine produced out of joint-venture work.”

The U.S. government is driving coronavirus vaccine research, having spent $700 million since the SARS outbreak with President Donald Trump now asking for a billion more. Since We the People are paying to develop the vaccine, we can and must ensure it is affordable.

The government should commit to nonexclusive licensing of whatever vaccine is developed – so that it is available to any manufacturer that can produce a quality product – and insist all manufacturers commit to reasonable pricing.

Let’s get real about “incentives,” research and development, and addressing public health. The monopoly-based patent system does little or nothing to incentivize research into vaccines and infectious diseases. It’s the public sector that does the hard work.

And the imperative of ensuring reasonable and affordable pricing is not just a matter of justice and avoiding profiteering, it’s a matter of public health urgency. If the vaccine is not made affordable around the world, then it won’t work to stop what could turn into a global pandemic.