Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to guests during a campaign stop on January 11, 2020 in Newton, Iowa.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Sanders Wants Answers Over 'Unconscionable' Moderna Vaccine Price Gouging

"How many of these Americans will die from Covid-19 as a result of limited access to these lifesaving vaccines?" asked the senator. "The number could well be in the thousands."

Expressing "very deep concerns" about the effects of corporate price gouging on public health and the financial well-being of working people, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday called on Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer Moderna to reverse its reported plan to significantly increase the price of its vaccine, representing a 4,000% markup over its estimated production cost of less than $3 and a quadrupling of the $26.36 the U.S. government has previously paid for each dose.

As Common Dreamsreported Tuesday, the company is planning to raise the price to as much as $130 per dose—a price hike the Vermont Independent senator called particularly "outrageous" considering the role the U.S. government played in the development of the vaccine.

"The vaccine was jointly developed in partnership with scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a U.S. government agency that is funded by U.S. taxpayers," wrote Sanders in a letter to Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna. "The federal government directly provided$1.7 billion to your company for research and development, and guaranteed your company billions more in sales. In other words, you propose to make the vaccine unaffordable for the residents of this country who made the production of the vaccine possible."

"The purpose of the recent taxpayer investment in Moderna was to protect the health and lives of the American people, not to turn a handful of corporate executives and investors into multibillionaires."

The message Sanders, who is the incoming chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, intended to send was simple, he said on Twitter: "In the midst of a public health crisis, quadrupling the price of a publicly funded Covid-19 vaccine is unacceptable corporate greed."

Sanders warned that the company's price gouging is certain to cause a strain on the federal budget as well as households across the country and could lead to an untold number of preventable deaths as Americans struggle to pay for a vaccine that has been distributed free-of-charge since late 2020.

"The huge increase in price that you have proposed will have a significantly negative impact on the budgets of Medicaid, Medicare, and other government programs that will continue covering the vaccine without cost-sharing for patients," wrote Sanders. "Your outrageous price boost will also increase private health insurance premiums. Perhaps most significantly, the quadrupling of prices will make the vaccine unavailable for many millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans who will not be able to afford it."

"How many of these Americans will die from Covid-19 as a result of limited access to these lifesaving vaccines?" he added. "While nobody can predict the exact figure, the number could well be in the thousands. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, restricting access to this much needed vaccine is unconscionable."

Sanders also pointed out that Moderna and its top executives owe much of their financial success to the vaccine they produced with the help of the U.S. government, with Bancel himself reportedly becoming a multibillionaire "as a direct result of Moderna's Covid vaccine."

Other co-founders are now worth more than $2 billion each, he wrote, adding that "Moderna approved a$926 million golden parachute for you once you leave the company along with $160 million for Stephen Hoge (Moderna's president) and $53 million for Juan Andres (Moderna's chief technical officer)."

Sanders' letter suggests that Bancel, in light of his company's reported pricing decision, "is a corporate ingrate for the ages," tweeted science writer Antonio Regalado.

"The purpose of the recent taxpayer investment in Moderna was to protect the health and lives of the American people," wrote the senator, "not to turn a handful of corporate executives and investors into multibillionaires."

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