Sen. Sanders asks Moderna not to hike COVID vaccine price

By Michael Erman

(Reuters) -U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sent Moderna Inc a letter this week asking the drug company to halt planned U.S. price increases on its COVID-19 vaccine, saying price hikes could make the shot unaffordable for millions of Americans.

Sanders said in his letter that raising prices would be particularly egregious after the U.S. government provided around $1.7 billion to fund development of the vaccine. The letter was addressed to Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel.

"You propose to make the vaccine unaffordable for the residents of this country who made the production of the vaccine possible," wrote Sanders, who is set to become chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions later this month. "That is not acceptable."

Moderna has not settled on a price yet, but Bancel has said that a range of $110 to $130 a dose for the vaccine once the United States moves to a commercial market for the shots is reasonable given the value they create.

The top end of that range is around eight times the price in the earliest U.S. contracts for the vaccine and nearly five times the roughly $27 a dose the government paid for booster shots last year.

"While we are still in discussions with stakeholders on the price of our COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna is committed to pricing that reflects the value that COVID-19 vaccines bring to patients, healthcare systems, and society," Moderna said in an emailed statement.

The company said that under the Affordable Care Act, its COVID-19 shots will continue to be available at no cost for most Americans.

Sanders is a democratic socialist whose presidential campaigns have pushed the U.S. Democratic Party agenda leftward. The Vermont senator has railed against high drug prices and backed Medicare-for-all, and his chairmanship of the HELP committee could put drug companies in his crosshairs.

Sanders wrote that Bancel and several of Moderna's founders have become billionaires after the vaccine's launch. He said the higher prices would cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and make the shots too expensive for uninsured and underinsured Americans.

"Now, in the midst of a continuing public health crisis and a growing federal deficit, is not the time for Moderna to be quadrupling the price of this vaccine. Now is not the time for unacceptable corporate greed," Sanders wrote.

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine sales were around $18.4 billion in 2022. That is expected to fall sharply next year even with the price increases, as demand for the shots has dropped off. The drugmaker said on Monday it expects a minimum of $5 billion in revenue from the shots this year.

(Reporting by Michael Erman in New JerseyEditing by Nick Zieminski and Josie Kao)