Moderna now in the crosshairs of Sens. Warren, Welch over price tag for COVID vaccine

In December, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Peter Welch, D-Vermont, sent a letter to Pfizer admonishing the company for a proposed increase in the price of its COVID-19 vaccine for up to $130.

Six weeks later, they've turned their attention to the world’s other leading producer of COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna, which also has said it might charge up to $130 per dose when the U.S. stops providing shots for free and goes to a commercial model.

In a letter to CEO Stéphane Bancel, the senators reminded (PDF) him that development of the vaccine was facilitated in part by a massive government grant. Warren and Welch also pose nine questions to the CEO, most of them asking about the company’s pricing strategy on the vaccine and whether it conspired with Pfizer in arriving at its price.

“Your company has already earned billions in profits from the vaccine, which benefited from extensive taxpayer support for research and development,” the letter reads. “And your proposed price increase threatens to reduce access to a life-saving vaccine while boosting your company’s profits.”

The letter stops short of accusing the company of “deadly greed,” as Warren and Welch did on Dec. 13 with Pfizer. But it does pose many of the same questions.

“Moderna is committed to pricing that reflects the value that COVID-19 vaccines bring to patients, healthcare systems, and society,” the company said in a statement.

Moderna also pointed out that “upon transition to a commercial market” its shot “will continue to be available at no cost for the vast majority of people in the United States.” 

During its third-quarter earnings report, Moderna slashed its annual sales projection for Spikevax from $21 billion to a range of $18 billion to $19 billion. In 2021, the vaccine generated $17.7 billion in sales.

With the public admonishment of Moderna, Warren and Welch have joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. Two weeks ago, Sanders called out Moderna, pointing out that it received $1.7 billion in public funds to research and develop the shot.

“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,” Sanders wrote to Bancel.

Sanders also pointed out that manufacturing the vaccine costs approximately $2.85 per dose.

The letter from Warren and Welch comes as the FDA’s Vaccines and Relate Biological Products Advisory Committee is slated to meet Jan. 26 to discuss simplifying the COVID-19 vaccine schedule to once a year, mirroring that of the flu shot.