Moderna Plans 4,000% Markup for Covid Vaccine

The Biden administration is going to stop providing Covid vaccines for free—and Big Pharma is ready to profit from the change.

Jake Johnson

An illustrative image of a person holding a medical syringe and a Covid-19 vaccine vial in front of the Moderna logo. Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Update: Since Moderna’s price hike was announced, U.S. lawmakers — including Bernie Sanders, who is the incoming chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — have urged the company to reverse its move, arguing that a vaccine that was developed with public funds and costs just $2.85 per dose to produce should not be sold for $130 a dose.

The Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical giant Moderna faced angry backlash on Tuesday following the CEO’s announcement that the firm is considering pricing its Covid-19 vaccine somewhere between $100 and $130 per dose in the U.S.

The upper end of that range, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), would represent a 4,000% markup above the cost of manufacturing the shot, which experts have pegged at roughly $2.85 per dose.

The sheer greed is obscene,” said PVA policy co-lead Julia Kosgei, who stressed that billions of taxpayer dollars went into the development of mRNA vaccines.”

This vaccine isn’t just Moderna’s, it was developed in collaboration with a government agency based on decades of publicly-funded research,” Kosgei said. It is the people’s vaccine — and it should be available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”

Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s billionaire CEO, defended the proposed price range in an interview on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, telling The Wall Street Journal that he believes this type of pricing is consistent with the value” of the vaccine. 

The vaccine in question was developed with the crucial help of government scientists. In 2020, Moderna admitted that 100% of the funding for its Covid vaccine development program came from the federal government — which, despite its leverage, has refused to force the company to share its vaccine recipe with the world.

Stephane Bancel, Moderna's billionaire CEO, said that "this type of pricing is consistent with the value" of the vaccine, even as the company admits that 100% of the funding for the vaccine's development came from the federal government.

Moderna’s pricing plans come as the Biden administration is transitioning away from its free coronavirus vaccine program, shifting costs onto insurers and patients — and leaving the uninsured and underinsured with potentially significant bills.

In August, the Health and Human Services Department announced that as early as January 2023, the administration anticipates no longer having federal funds to purchase or distribute vaccines and will need to transition these activities to the commercial market, similar to seasonal flu or other commercially available vaccines.”

The Washington Posts Rachel Roubein noted Tuesday that the federal government has paid far less for the company’s vaccine than the potential price for commercial insurers. Moderna’s updated booster shot cost the Biden administration about $26 per dose last summer, according to federal supply contracts.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) warned in a recent policy brief that the commercial price of coronavirus shots could discourage vaccination.”

The suggested average price for Covid-19 vaccines after commercialization ($96 to $115 per dose) is significantly higher than the commercial price for the annual flu vaccine ($18 to 28 per dose), and could be a cost barrier for the uninsured and underinsured, who have no guaranteed mechanism for receiving COVID-19 (or any) vaccines once federal supplies are depleted,” KFF observed. While most consumers with public and private insurance will be protected from having to pay directly for vaccine costs, those who are uninsured and underinsured may face cost barriers when the federally-purchased vaccine doses are depleted. In addition, as private payers take on more of the cost of vaccinations and boosters, this could have a small upward effect on health insurance premiums.”

In a statement, Kosgei argued that it doesn’t have to be like this.”

The World Health Organization is supporting a program to share mRNA vaccine technology with producers in low and middle-income countries,” said Kosgei. In a future pandemic, this could rapidly supply doses for the entire world, but Moderna’s patents are standing in the way. We need to learn from this pandemic and break big pharma’s monopolies.”

A version of this article first appeared in Common Dreams.

Help In These Times Celebrate & Have Your Gift Matched!

In These Times is proud to share that we were recently awarded the 16th Annual Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. The Izzy Award goes to an independent outlet, journalist or producer for contributions to culture, politics or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures.

Fellow 2024 Izzy awardees include Trina Reynolds-Tyler and Sarah Conway for their joint investigative series “Missing In Chicago," and journalists Mohammed El-Kurd and Lynzy Billing. The Izzy judges also gave special recognition to Democracy Now! for coverage that documented the destruction wreaked in Gaza and raised Palestinian voices to public awareness.

In These Times is proud to stand alongside our fellow awardees in accepting the 2024 Izzy Award. To help us continue producing award-winning journalism a generous donor has pledged to match any donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,000.

Will you help In These Times celebrate and have your gift matched today? Make a tax-deductible contribution to support independent media.

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.