In February, Moderna announced it would continue to offer its COVID-19 vaccines for free, even after the U.S. government officially ends its public health emergency in May. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
March 22 (UPI) -- Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel defended the pharmaceutical giant Wednesday afternoon, after being grilled by a Senate panel over the drugmaker's plan to quadruple the cost of its COVID-19 vaccine.
Moderna confirmed plans to increase the price of its mRNA vaccine to around $130 come the fall, which would equate to a 400% increase. The company said it expects demand for the shots to drop by as much as 90%.
"To protect people, we need to make more than we think is going to be needed. We are going to have to pay for it," Bancel told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Wednesday.
"Quadrupling the price is huge," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the committee told Bancel.
"I would hope very much you would reconsider that decision. It's going to cost taxpayers of this country billions of dollars. Is that something you can do?"
In January, Sanders sent a letter to Bancel urging him to call off the price hike, saying "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 multi-billionaires."
In February, Sanders' committee released a scathing report on the lucrative compensation packages that have been paid to pharmaceutical executives throughout the pandemic.
Also last month, Moderna announced a new patient assistance program to provide free vaccines to all Americans, even after the U.S. government officially ends its public health emergency in May.
"As the public health emergency ends, the United States government will no longer be providing vaccines at no cost. Moderna remains committed to ensuring that people in the United States will have access to our COVID-19 vaccines regardless of ability to pay," the drug company said in a statement.
Before Bancel's appearance, Sanders' office issued a statement claiming the executive "became a billionaire during the pandemic after U.S. taxpayers gave his company billions of dollars to research, develop, and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine."
The federal government purchased millions of vaccine doses from Moderna, which have been provided to the public for free to curtail the spread of the virus, with Moderna sharing in $102 billion in total revenue from the purchases in 2021 -- 137% above the previous year.
"I don't know how much money is the right amount of money," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said while addressing his fellow committee members.
"But the idea that somehow corporate greed has just been invented in America is absurd. It's been there since the beginning of free enterprise - individuals investing, hoping that if it succeeds they'll do very well financially."
In recent interviews, Moderna president Stephen Hoge has brushed off criticism about the imminent price hike, noting that moving a government-funded product into the commercial market was a risky and unprecedented business proposition for the company.
"This has literally never happened before. And so what we are trying to do, as one of the many manufacturers in the space, is to pick a price we think reflects the value of the vaccine ... but also reflects the complexity of moving from this pandemic market to a commercial market," Hoge told Yahoo News.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has also indicated a plan to sell its vaccine for as much as $130 per dose on the open market.
Previously, Sanders called on Moderna not to raise the price of the vaccine -- which he said costs the corporate giant $2.85 to make, but would be unaffordable to everyday consumers at the $130 cost.