Sens. Press Moderna Chief Exec on COVID Vaccine Price Hike
WASHINGTON — The chief executive of Moderna Inc. defended his plan to quadruple the price of the COVID-19 vaccine during a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying his company is preparing for a sharp decline in demand.
With as much as a 90% drop in customers as the pandemic subsides, the pharmaceutical company needs to raise its price from $15 per dose to $130, said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.
“As you can see, we’re losing economies of scale,” Bancel told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
He did not say when demand would fall by 90%, only that it is coming.
In February, Moderna predicted $5 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, a drop from $18.4 billion in 2022.
The company is spending $4.5 billion this year on research and development to refine its vaccines and other pharmaceutical products, Bancel said.
“The company might be at a loss this year,” he said.
Some of the senators were unconvinced, instead accusing Moderna of profiteering off the death and devastation of the pandemic.
The criticism also fell on Bancel, who became a billionaire as Moderna’s fortunes rose during the pandemic. Bancel’s personal assets are estimated as high as $4.7 billion.
“Mr. Bancel literally became a billionaire overnight,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Now Moderna wants to raise its vaccine prices to levels that many Americans can barely afford, potentially leaving families without the protection they need to avoid serious illness or death, he said.
“This type of profiteering and excessive CEO compensation is exactly the kind of thing that the American people are sick and tired of,” Sanders said.
Taxpayers spent $12 billion for development and purchases of the Moderna vaccine, he said. In addition, three scientists from the National Institutes of Health turned their mRNA research over to Moderna for free, which the company then claimed as its own under patents it filed.
Moderna remains in a lawsuit with rival Pfizer Inc. over who owns patent rights to key components of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“In the pharmaceutical industry today, we are looking at an unprecedented level of corporate greed. And that is certainly true of Moderna,” Sanders said.
Republican senators were more tolerant of Moderna’s race to profits, describing the record time to develop the lifesaving vaccine as a triumph of free enterprise. It hit the market less than a year from the time the pharmaceutical industry started working on a vaccine, compared with the normal three to 10 years for other vaccines.
“We should not hate the idea of a person or a company making a profit,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
During the shutdown at the height of the pandemic, the U.S. economy was losing $26 billion a day, he said. American vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson put a stop to continuing losses of lives and income.
He expressed concern that a government backlash against Moderna could frighten away other private sector organizations that might help the government in an emergency.
“It is important that we not send a hostile signal … to prospective partners,” Cassidy said.
Other countries produced vaccines but none as effective as the American vaccines, said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
“It is a stark demonstration of the difference between free enterprise and socialism,” Romney said.
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