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Moderna is planning to dramatically raise the price of its COVID vaccine. Biden shouldn’t let it.

As private companies get ready to move COVID vaccines, treatments, and tests to the commercial market, the Biden administration must ensure that these lifesaving tools remain accessible to anyone who needs them.

Moderna, the pharmaceutical and biotech company based in Cambridge, has proposed quadrupling the price of its COVID vaccine — from the $26 per dose it charged the federal government in their latest contract to somewhere between $110 and $130 per dose on the commercial market.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Last August, the Biden administration began outlining its vision for the next stage of the United States’ pandemic response as COVID-19 becomes a more manageable disease. “One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the last many months … is getting us out of that acute emergency phase where the US government is buying the vaccines, buying the treatments, buying the diagnostic tests,” Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said. “My hope is that in 2023, you’re going to see the commercialization of almost all of these products.”

Well, it’s now 2023 and the private sector is indeed getting ready for that transition. And for Moderna, the pharmaceutical and biotech company based in Cambridge, that means more than quadrupling the price of its COVID vaccine — from the $26 per dose it charged the federal government in their latest contract to somewhere between $110 and $130 per dose on the commercial market. (In 2021, Moderna made over $12 billion in profits, the first year it turned a profit since it was founded in 2010.) While nothing is final yet, the company’s chief executive officer, Stéphane Bancel, told The Wall Street Journal that the proposed commercial price “is consistent with the value” that its vaccine provides.


That may be true in a conceptual sense — after all, any life-saving invention is, in many ways, priceless — but the reality is that the vaccine’s value greatly depends on how much access people have to it. Indeed, the more vaccinated a given population is, the more protected it is from transmission, severe illness, and death. But such a staggering price hike will all but guarantee that fewer people will have access to the vaccine, especially the uninsured, undermining the positive public health outcomes, or value, that the vaccines can continue to provide.

When asked if Moderna has plans to ensure that all Americans still have access to its vaccine regardless of their insurance status, spokesperson Christopher Ridley e-mailed a statement to the Globe editorial board that reiterated Bancel’s previous comments.


“Moderna is committed to pricing that reflects the value that COVID-19 vaccines bring to patients, healthcare systems, and society,” the statement read. “It is important to note that, upon transition to a commercial market and consistent with preventive services coverage requirements, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will continue to be available at no cost for the vast majority of people in the United States.” But that, of course, leaves no guarantees for roughly 26 million Americans without health insurance.

While Moderna’s proposed sticker price mirrors Pfizer’s commercial plans for the COVID vaccine that it developed with BioNTech, Moderna is in a worse position to defend such a drastic increase. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, the clinical development of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine was almost exclusively funded by the US government and included collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

So far, the White House has expressed concern over Moderna’s plans for commercialization. “The price hike here is hard to understand or to justify,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing earlier this month. “We believe that shot should be affordable.” But other than Jean-Pierre’s comments, the Biden administration has not taken any serious steps to ensure that Moderna’s vaccine will be reasonably priced — let alone accessible to anyone who wants it.


The administration should be willing to play hardball. And as Asia Russell, the executive director of the public health advocacy organization Health GAP, pointed out to the Globe editorial board, there is precedent for doing so.

In the midst of the 2001 anthrax attacks that targeted media and government offices, the US government sought to boost its stockpile of Cipro, a drug that treats anthrax. Bayer, which produced the drug under a patent, balked at the George W. Bush administration’s request for a discount. So Tommy Thompson, then secretary of Health and Human Services, threatened to bypass Bayer’s patent and allow both production and purchase of generic alternatives. He didn’t have to follow through on his threat; Bayer quickly agreed to dramatically reduce the drug’s price.

The administration can also take — or deter Moderna’s price hike by simply threatening to take — steps to slash the company’s share of the market overseas.

In 2021, President Biden backed having the World Trade Organization waive intellectual property rights for the COVID vaccines so that any country can, in theory, produce the vaccines on their own. But Moderna has been reluctant to share critical knowledge and technology with other manufacturers on how to produce its vaccine, prompting scientists to try to reverse engineer it. The US government has been collaborating with a hub in South Africa that’s doing just that, forging a partnership between the hub and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Bancel, Moderna’s CEO, has scoffed at those efforts to produce more vaccines, crassly comparing them to cheap knockoffs of Louis Vuitton handbags.)


According to a statement NIAID provided to the Globe editorial board, its scientists are “sharing knowledge, expertise, and data on mRNA vaccine production processes” with Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the South Africa-based biotech company developing mRNA vaccines for COVID and other diseases. That’s a good first step. But according to the statement, NIAID’s collaboration with Afrigen does not include financial support. The Biden administration should provide the funding to scale up production once these vaccines pass clinical trials so that they can be distributed around the world at a more affordable price than what Moderna is offering governments.

None of this is to say that the federal government should ever treat patents cavalierly or that Moderna has not played a crucial role in saving lives during this pandemic. Moderna’s vaccine has helped make COVID a much more manageable and less deadly disease. But the government’s critical role in the development of this particular vaccine argues against treating its patent as sacrosanct. And at some point, the company must acknowledge that its pursuit of profits is unnecessarily leaving many people unprotected from this still-deadly disease — particularly people who are poor, whether in the United States or abroad.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.