Massachusetts newspaper urges Joe Biden to 'play hardball' against Moderna COVID vaccine price hikes
The largest daily newspaper in Moderna's home state of Massachusetts published an editorial on Sunday urging the Biden administration to "play hardball" with the pharmaceutical giant over its plan to raise the price of its Covid-19 vaccine by up to 4,000% over the cost of production, a proposal that has drawn backlash from vaccine equity campaigners and members of Congress.
The Boston Globe noted in its editorial that Moderna's reported plan to charge between $110 and $130 per dose for its mRNA vaccine—which was developed with the critical aid of U.S. government funding and scientific advances—would mean "more than quadrupling" the price compared to what the federal government paid in its latest contract with the company.
The coronavirus vaccine is Moderna's only product on the market, and stock price appreciation resulting from the development of the shot helped make CEO Stéphane Bancel a billionaire.
"In 2021, Moderna made over $12 billion in profits, the first year it turned a profit since it was founded in 2010," the Globe's editorial board observed. "While Moderna's proposed sticker price mirrors Pfizer's commercial plans for the Covid vaccine that it developed with BioNTech, Moderna is in a worse position to defend such a drastic increase. Unlike Pfizer's vaccine, the clinical development of Moderna's mRNA vaccine was almost exclusively funded by the US government and included collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health."
While the White House has voiced concerns over Moderna's planned price hike, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre telling reporters earlier this month that it is hard to "understand or to justify," the Globe noted that "the Biden administration has not taken any serious steps to ensure that Moderna's vaccine will be reasonably priced—let alone accessible to anyone who wants it."
Citing public health advocates, the Globe argued that "the administration should be willing to play hardball" with Moderna, which has rebuffed pressure from governments and global institutions such as the World Health Organization to make its vaccine technology widely available, particularly for developing nations that have struggled to access a sufficient quantity of doses.
The editorial continued:
As Asia Russell, the executive director of the public health advocacy organization Health GAP, pointed out to the Globe editorial board, there is precedent for doing so.
In the midst of the 2001 anthrax attacks that targeted media and government offices, the U.S. government sought to boost its stockpile of Cipro, a drug that treats anthrax. Bayer, which produced the drug under a patent, balked at the George W. Bush administration's request for a discount. So Tommy Thompson, then secretary of Health and Human Services, threatened to bypass Bayer's patent and allow both production and purchase of generic alternatives. He didn't have to follow through on his threat; Bayer quickly agreed to dramatically reduce the drug's price.
The administration can also take—or deter Moderna's price hike by simply threatening to take—steps to slash the company's share of the market overseas.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the first member of Congress to publicly denounce Moderna's coming price hike, welcomed the Globe's editorial.
"The Boston Globe is right," Sanders wrote on Twitter. "The Biden administration should not allow Moderna to more than quadruple the price of the Covid vaccine to $130 when it costs just $2.85 to produce. The Covid vaccine must be used to save lives, not to further enrich the billionaire owners of Moderna."
Moderna's plans to raise the price of its coronavirus vaccine come as the Biden administration is shifting away from purchasing the shots and Covid-19 treatments and toward commercialization. As White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha put it in August, Covid-19 vaccines and treatments will be moved "into the regular healthcare system"—a hotbed of dysfunction, price gouging, and deadly denial of care.
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently noted that "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 a letter to Moderna's CEO last week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) warned that the firm's proposed price hike "threatens to reduce access to a lifesaving vaccine while boosting your company's profits."
"Thanks to billions of federal dollars used to support production and delivery of Moderna's vaccine product, Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine is currently free for patients in the United States," the senators wrote. "Over 665 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S., and many million more worldwide, and more than 80% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose."
"This is a landmark public health achievement," they continued. "But this progress may be put at risk because of Moderna's greed, which has the potential to increase vaccination costs for millions of un- and underinsured Americans."
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