The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is set to grill Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel on Wednesday after reports the company is considering quadrupling the price of its COVID-19 vaccine.
“On one of the most important matters facing our country the American people – Democrats, Republicans, independents, progressives, and conservatives – could not be more united. And that is the need to take on the unprecedented corporate greed of the pharmaceutical industry and to substantially lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs,” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, remarked on the Senate floor on Feb. 15 — the date Bancel accepted an invitation to testify before the committee. The same day, Moderna announced a patient assistance program that would provide its vaccine to uninsured or underinsured patients at no cost starting in May.
The pharmaceutical industry consistently spends more money on federal lobbying than any other industry. Pharmaceutical companies and industry groups spent a combined $373.7 million on federal lobbying in 2022, $152.2 million more than the electronics manufacturing and equipment industry, the second biggest federal lobbying spender last year.
Moderna reported paying federal lobbyists for the first time ever in the months leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, quickly ramping up federal lobbying spending that did not slow when the pandemic subsided.
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology company spent $690,000 on federal lobbying in 2022, more than it’s spent in any single year.
Moderna first hired federal lobbyists during the second quarter of 2019 to lobby Congress on the Reauthorization of Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act. The act originally passed in 2006 and the first reauthorization passed in 2013; the 2019 reauthorization implemented improvements to national preparedness and response to public health threats like the pandemic that hit six months later.
When the pandemic shut down the world during the first quarter of 2020, W Strategies, a government relations firm hired by Moderna, reported lobbying and education on “potential COVID-19 vaccines” in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Moderna also hired Avenue Strategies during the second quarter of 2020, and both lobbying firms reported lobbying Congress on COVID-19 vaccines starting that quarter.
As the coronavirus vaccines rolled out in 2021, Moderna hired additional firms to lobby the federal government on issues related to vaccine technologies and mRNA drug discovery and development. It also significantly bolstered its roster of lobbyists from two in 2020 to 15 in 2021.
In 2022, 17 lobbyists hired by Moderna homed in on legislation that includes funding for coronavirus research and vaccines, a new OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found. Moderna lobbyists mentioned the COVID Supplemental Appropriations Act and the PREVENT Pandemics Act in federal lobbying disclosures more than any other bills last year. The appropriations bill approved billions in new funding for research and clinical trials for emerging coronavirus variants and international vaccination efforts, among other coronavirus-related activities.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions passed the PREVENT Pandemics Act in March 2022. The omnibus bill passed in late 2022 included portions of the PREVENT Pandemics Act to strengthen the supply chain and government stockpiles of medical products, including vaccines, among other provisions.
Moderna received billions of dollars from the federal government during the pandemic as it raced to develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. On March 27, 2020, Trump signed the CARES Act, which included $8.3 billion to fund vaccine development, stockpiling equipment, and state and local health departments. As of March 10, 2023, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government spent $25.3 billion on 1.2 billion doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which account for 97% of the vaccines purchased by the federal government.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health policy analysis and polling, also found the federal price paid per dose of both vaccines has generally increased over time. Both Pfizer and Moderna recently indicated they expect to increase the commercial price per dose to between $110 and $130 per dose, up from the weighted average price per dose of $28.90.
A February report released by the majority staff on the Senate committee found profits at 10 pharmaceutical companies – and executive compensation – skyrocketed during the pandemic. While Moderna reported a net loss of $747 million in 2020 during the vaccine development phase, it rebounded to report a $12.2 billion net profit in 2021. Bancel “became a billionaire after U.S. taxpayers gave his company billions of dollars to research, develop and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine,” the report found.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board blasted the hearing as a “Moderna Show Trial” on Tuesday, lamenting “no good treatment goes unpunished for pharmaceutical companies these days.”
“How is the CEO of this company thanking the taxpayers of this country who are responsible for making him and his colleagues incredibly rich?” Sanders asked on the Senate floor last month. “He is thanking them by proposing to quadruple the price.”