March 23, 2023

Moderna on Trial

Bernie Sanders berates the company’s CEO for its big price hike on the coronavirus vaccine.

We’re well aware that the COVID vaccines have become a tar baby. It seems as if there’s hardly a quicker way to either end a conversation or send it into a heated dispute than to bring them up. There’s also no faster way to a “fact-check” than to post something about them on social media. The news is that Moderna’s CEO appeared before a Senate committee yesterday.

Everyone knows the name Pfizer. It’s the pharmaceutical company with all the money and all the advertisements, and a majority of COVID vaccines given to the American population came from Pfizer. Yet Moderna was actually first out of the gate with its version, which also has proven a bit more effective and durable than either Pfizer’s or Johnson & Johnson’s. Collectively, Americans have taken more than 250 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

None of the vaccines, by the way, are as effective as we were promised in 2020 and 2021. Neither are they as effective or durable as natural immunity, though until recently that was not even allowed to be considered by the thought police and the tyrannical mandaters. The same goes for any talk of side effects.

Donald Trump deserves a share of the credit for initiating Operation Warp Speed, which aided in the quick development of these vaccines. It’s definitely ironic that the most vigorous opponents of these vaccines tend to be his most devoted supporters, though we can thank Democrats for so thoroughly politicizing the vaccines.

In any case, this story isn’t meant to relitigate all that. Take the vaccine if you want. Don’t take it if you don’t want. This is America.

This story is about how Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Wednesday that his company is perfectly justified in raising the price of its vaccine from $26 to $130 per jab (though it’ll be $0 for the uninsured or underinsured). “We are losing economies of scale,” he explained. “We must deal with supply chain complexity, and we must assume the wastage risk and cost that the U.S. government used to assume.”

It is true that the government will no longer be buying most vaccines and that Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J will soon compete only in the private sector. It’s also true that each company invested in years of research and development to be able to develop these vaccines as quickly as they did. As Bancel put it, “We made these investments before most people had heard about mRNA.” Recouping and profiting from investments is what capitalism is all about, especially for a company that reported losses of $747 million in 2020. That turned to a net profit of $12.2 billion in 2021, thanks to taxpayer money.

Moderna argues that it gave the government a pretty sweet deal — better than Pfizer did — though Moderna also took at least $900 million from the government for development and Pfizer did not because, as CEO Albert Bourla noted in September 2020, “When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings.” You don’t say.

As if to illustrate that point, the only reason Bancel appeared before the Senate is that the committee’s chairman, Bernie Sanders, hauled him there as “a poster child for corporate greed.” Sanders’s entire goal was to demand answers for the price increase while scolding a capitalist for the cameras. “We are looking at an unprecedented amount of corporate greed, and that is certainly true with Moderna,” Sanders said. “While Moderna may wish to rewrite history, it is widely acknowledged that both Moderna and the NIH [National Institutes of Health] created this vaccine together.”

It’s unclear why Sanders never mentioned Trump.

What is clear is that Democrats are still playing both sides. Just as they promised never to take a vaccine Trump had anything to do with creating, they then mandated that vaccine, ruining public trust. Now senators are decrying “corporate greed” while the Biden administration is working on a plan to financially “relieve” Moderna of any liability regarding patent violations during development of the vaccine.

No wonder pretty well no one likes pharmaceutical companies. If they’re not the literal villains in the movies or the crony capitalists fleecing taxpayers, they’re the ones we all like to gripe about for charging us too much for medication we need, costing us either directly out of pocket or via far higher insurance premiums. That latter factor is why it’s almost hilarious that Bancel promised consumers wouldn’t pay anything out of pocket.

Even Democrat Senator Ed Markey understands that. If people “can afford” the higher price, he complained, “it’s only because insurance premiums are going to be going up for them and for Americans across the country.” If only Markey and his Democrat pals always understood such basic economic principles.

As for pharmaceutical companies, how many lives have been saved or improved by their work? Though leftists may wish it, these companies are not charities. They’re for-profit companies that have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders. Saving and improving lives isn’t cheap, and it’s also not wrong to reap a profit for providing such valuable products.

How much is justified or fair? And are there really any good guys in this story?

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