Sen. Bernie Sanders denounced "drug company profiteering" on Wednesday as he called for a guarantee from the Trump administration that a coronavirus vaccine, once developed, will be free to all people in the U.S., regardless of "income, immigration status, or health insurance coverage."
"Let me be clear: This pandemic must not become another opportunity for the pharmaceutical companies to engage in profiteering and make billions," Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday.
We must do everything possible to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus. And, when we do, it must be provided free of charge to ALL Americans. This is not a time for drug company profiteering.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 13, 2020
"With efforts underway—often with federal funding—to develop a coronavirus vaccine, we must guarantee that it will be available to every man, woman, and child in this country without cost," wrote Sanders. "That is the moral thing to do. That is good public health policy."
The Vermont senator pointed to the high death toll from Covid-19 in the U.S.—over 83,000 as of this writing—and said Americans should not have to "pay obscene prices in order to protect their lives."
Sanders's message comes roughly one month after he wrote in a New York Times op-ed that, given the coronavirus pandemic, "The absurdity and cruelty of our employer-based, private health insurance system should now be apparent to all."
The economic fallout including business shutdowns as a result of the ongoing pandemic has meant over 12 million people have lost their employer-tied health insurance—though a study out earlier this month estimates that the figure may shoot up to as many as 43 million. The situation means throngs of people are forced to navigate a labyrinth to acquire health insurance. The new figures add on to a pre-Covid-19 health coverage crisis: Census data shows that in 2018, 27.5 million Americans had no health insurance.
"At a time when so many people are worried about whether they will be able to afford the testing and treatment they need if they or a loved one shows symptoms of the coronavirus, one thing that we absolutely must guarantee in this country is a cost-free coronavirus vaccine," the senator said.
Sanders's new message comes a day after he pressed Trump administration officials including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to guarantee that a future Covid-19 vaccine would be free to all Americans.
"What I'm asking is if and when the vaccine comes, it won't do somebody any good if they don't get it," Sanders said to Hahn at a Senate hearing. "And if they have to pay a sum of money for it in order to profit the drug companies, that will not be helpful. Are you guaranteeing the American people today that that vaccine will be available to all people regardless of their income?"
The senator did not get the assurance he sought, as Hahn replied that "the payment of vaccines is not a responsibility of FDA but I'm glad to take this back to the task force."