Senate Panel to Hold Hearing on Moderna COVID Vaccine Pricing
WASHINGTON — The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled a hearing next Wednesday, March 22, on the proposed future pricing of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
The session, which is being held in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, is expected to begin at 10 a.m.
The hearing will also be livestreamed on the HELP Committee’s website and on the social media pages of the panel’s chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
In early January, Moderna disclosed that it planned to price its COVID-19 vaccine at anywhere from $110 to $130 per dose when the company pivots from a focus on government contracts to commercial distribution. Previously, Pfizer-BioNTech had announced its similar intentions for its vaccine.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, who is scheduled to participate in the hearing, has since announced the company will create a “patient assistance program” to provide free vaccines to uninsured Americans.
Also participating in the hearing, pointedly entitled, “Taxpayers Paid Billions For It: So Why Would Moderna Consider Quadrupling the Price of the COVID Vaccine?” by Sanders, is an expert panel.
It will consist of Christopher J. Morten, Ph.D., J.D., associate clinical professor of Law, Columbia Law School, New York City; Ameet Sarpatwari, Ph.D., J.D., assistant professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; and Craig Garthwaite, Ph.D., M.P.P., Herman Smith Research professor in Hospital and Health Services Management, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
Sanders has been particularly vocal and aggrieved about the fact the price of the COVID vaccines appears poised to quadruple when a dose costs about $2.85 to manufacture.
According to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the federal government has so far purchased 1.2 billion doses of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines combined, at a cost of $25.3 billion, or a weighted average purchase price of $20.69 per dose.
In mid-2020, months before any COVID-19 vaccine was yet authorized or had even completed clinical trials, the government purchased an initial 200 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna (100 million each), at a price of $19.50 per dose and $15.25 per dose, respectively.
This guaranteed an advance market for the vaccines, should they prove safe and effective and receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, as each did in December 2020.
In total, the federal government has made six different bulk purchases from Pfizer, totaling 655 million doses, and five bulk purchases from Moderna, totaling 566 million doses, for a total of 1.2 billion doses.
Subsequent federal government purchases were made at a higher price per dose, with a weighted average across these purchases of $20.69.
Last year, the Biden administration announced that it no longer had funding, absent further congressional action, to make additional purchases and it began preparing for the transition of COVID-19 vaccines to the commercial market.
Since then, the manufacturers have been negotiating prices directly with insurers and other purchasers and prices are inevitably expected to rise to some extent.
Acknowledging the commercial price ranges announced by Moderna and Pfizer, the foundation noted that “even at higher spending levels driven by commercial pricing, COVID-19 vaccination is likely to be cost-effective compared to not vaccinating, given the effectiveness of these vaccines at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”
In conclusion, the Kaiser Family Foundation said, “While most consumers with public and private insurance will be protected from having to pay directly for vaccine costs, those who are uninsured and underinsured may face cost barriers when the federally purchased vaccine doses are depleted. In addition, as private payers take on more of the cost of vaccinations and boosters, this could have a small upward effect on health insurance premiums.”