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Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing with Moderna CEO on COVID-19 Vaccine Price Increase

Mar 24, 2023 | Katie Ghougasian

On March 22, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions convened a hearing titled “Taxpayers Paid Billions for it: So Why Would Moderna Consider Quadrupling the Price of the COVID Vaccine?” to hear from Stéphane Bancel, CEO and Director of Moderna Inc., about the anticipated price increase of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine when it moves into the private market later this year.

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), denounced corporate greed in the pharmaceutical industry, citing that 37 percent of Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs, while major pharmaceutical companies’ profits increase. He then described how Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was developed in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and therefore with support of U.S. taxpayer funds. Moderna plans to raise the cost of their coronavirus vaccine to $130 for a single dose when the government stockpile runs out, compared to the roughly $20 a dose they charged the federal government during the pandemic. Chair Sanders warned that this price increase will cost the government and insurance companies millions of dollars. Chair Sanders acknowledged that Moderna has said they want the vaccine to remain free to Americans, including the uninsured, through a patient assistance program, but questioned if such a program would be easy for patients to access. Chair Sanders closed his opening statement by tying the COVID-19 vaccine price to a larger question that he hopes the Committee will address in the future: should Americans get sicker and sometimes die because they cannot afford their prescribed life-saving medication?

Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said he agreed with many of Chair Sanders’ concerns and hoped the Committee would better understand after the hearing why Moderna is changing the price of its COVID-19 vaccine and how they will provide the vaccine at no cost to patients. However, Ranking Member Cassidy criticized Chair Sanders’ framing of the hearing and his opening statement, saying it seemed like the hearing was intended to publicly shame and guilt Moderna instead of seeking to find information. He also spoke about how the government investment into the Moderna vaccine was paid back through the vaccine shortening the pandemic, allowing the U.S. economy to revitalize sooner than if the vaccine had not been invented. Ranking Member Cassidy said he understands the problem of patients not being able to afford their prescriptions, but also praised the pharmaceutical industry for its constant research and development into life-saving medications.

During his witness testimony, Mr. Bancel touted the quick work of Moderna to develop its COVID-19 vaccine and the positive impact on the U.S., through lives saved, hospitalizations avoided, and overall societal economic value. He defended the vaccine’s proposed price increase, saying it is necessary as the product switches to the commercial market where the company will be assuming more risk and working with a new range of customers.

Throughout the hearing, members of both parties criticized Moderna’s proposed price hike, particularly in light of the support Moderna received from the federal government. Some Committee members also highlighted the continued importance of maintaining public-private partnerships to develop life-saving interventions such as vaccines.

A second panel of witnesses also testified to share their opinions about the vaccine price increase:

  • Dr. Christopher Morton, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
  • Dr. Ameet Sarpatwari, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Dr. Craig Garthwaite, Herman Smith Research Professor in Hospital and Health Services Management, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Dr. Morton shared his belief that this spike in Moderna’s vaccine price is unjustified and will encourage other pharmaceutical companies to follow suit. He suggested that the American government continue to purchase the vaccine from Moderna on the behalf of the American people so that the government can leverage its purchasing power. Dr. Sarpatwari made the same suggestion in his testimony, where he also reiterated that the increased price would cause gaps in access to the vaccine for certain populations. Dr. Garthwaite had a different perspective and shared that he believed that government intervention into setting the price of the vaccine could hinder trust in government and be detrimental to future drug development. He said that the government should not intervene because it did not include price restrictions in the contract with Moderna when developing the vaccine.


About Katie Ghougasian

Katie is an intern with NACCHO’s Government Affairs team for the Spring 2023 semester.

More posts by Katie Ghougasian

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