Mar 23, 2023 - Health

Moderna stands its ground at Sanders hearing

Stéphane Bancel. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel would not commit during a Senate hearing Wednesday to reconsidering the decision to roughly quadruple the price of his company's COVID-19 vaccine once government purchases end.

The big picture: Ire over high health care costs is one of the few topics uniting Democrat and Republican lawmakers these days, and Moderna’s price hike has lawmakers concerned.

  • "This is indicative of a much bigger problem faced with health care," Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said during the Senate HELP Committee's hearing. "You're one small part of it."
  • But some Republicans, including the committee's top Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, showed a more sympathetic view.
  • "This is more like a show trial and a public shaming than a fact-finding mission. And it should be the goal of this committee to first fact-find before we attempt to hold someone guilty," Cassidy said during his opening remarks.

What Sanders is saying: The progressive chair of the HELP panel, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, didn't buy Bancel's argument that supply chain complexity, wastage risk and other factors justify a $130 list price.

  • "What do you think about those guys, and those scientists who said you know what, our function in life is to create wonderful drugs that will ease human suffering and save lives, not to become excessively rich? You think they were crazy?" Sanders asked, referring to Jonas Salk, who did not patent the polio vaccine he developed, and other scientists.
  • Bancel answered that his predecessors were "very noble," but his charge now is to invest in technology. Without the right technology, there won't be more vaccines, he said. Bancel has an estimated net worth of $4.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Details: Bancel would not commit to reconsidering the price of the vaccine, and wavered on negotiating with payers for lower prices.

  • Asked by Sanders if he'd rethink a $130 price tag, Bancel deflected, saying the delivery process for the vaccine is very different in an endemic market than it was during the height of the pandemic.
  • He also said he couldn't guarantee the U.S. would pay less than other countries for the jab. "The price will depend on the value in each country. The cost of health care is different in each country," he said.

Zoom out: Sanders called the hearing last month to press Bancel on his plans to bump up the price of its COVID-19 vaccine after the federal government — and taxpayer dollars — helped fund the vaccine’s research and development.

A version of this story was published first on Axios Pro. Get news like this by subscribing. Use code POLICY100 which gives you $100 off.

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