Moderna boss defends Covid-19 vaccine price of more than $170 in US Senate hearing

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel testifying before the US Senate Committee in Washington on March 22 after his company flagged plans to raise the vaccine’s price to as much as US$130 (S$173) a dose. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Moderna’s chief executive on Wednesday defended the company’s plan to quadruple the price of its Covid-19 vaccine, telling a United States Senate committee hearing that it will no longer have the economies of scale from government procurement when the shots move into the private market.

Mr Stephane Bancel was called to testify after his company flagged plans to raise the vaccine’s price to as much as US$130 (S$173) a dose, drawing the ire of Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the influential Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions (Help).

Mr Sanders asked him on Wednesday to reconsider the price increase, saying it could make the jabs unaffordable for millions of Americans and was unjustified, given the government’s research contributions and US$1.7 billion in assistance in developing the vaccine. The senator’s comments echoed his January letter to him.

Mr Bancel said Moderna’s next Covid-19 shots will be more expensive because they will be sold in single-dose vials or pre-filled syringes for the commercial market, versus the 10-dose vials it has sold to the US government up until now.

The government in May plans to end the Covid-19 public health emergency, putting much of the vaccine purchasing in the hands of the private sector.

Mr Bancel said the company anticipated that it was likely to make more doses than needed to ensure it had enough for the private market, and had calculated wasted shots into the price.

“On top of all this, we are expecting a 90 per cent reduction in demand,” he said.

“As you can see, we are losing economies of scale.”

Moderna in February forecast US$5 billion in Covid-19 vaccine sales in 2023, far less than the US$18.4 billion windfall in 2022, due to decreasing demand for the shots.

Mr Sanders has for years railed against high US drug prices, and backed Medicare for all. Medicare is the national health insurance programme in the US.

The senator’s chairmanship of the Help committee has further put drug companies in his cross hairs. REUTERS

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