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What is the Controversy with the Prices and Profits of Moderna and Pfizer Vaccines?

Moderna has Reported Price Hikes on COVID-19 Vaccines. These Increases Could be up to 400% and Have Generated Great Controversy. We Tell you About the Situation.

Woman receiving vaccine

Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: ¿Cuál es la polémica con los precios y ganancias de las vacunas de Moderna y Pfizer?

Moderna announced that it plans to quadruple the price of the COVID-19 vaccine, to $130 per dose. Faced with such an announcement, various US congressmen and politicians have reacted to the situation. Senator Bernie Sanders, incoming chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, sent a statement to Moderna's CEO. He asks the pharmaceutical company to reconsider the decision it has made and insists that this vaccine was developed thanks to government support. In addition, he points out that the government invested 1.9 trillion dollars in the development of Moderna. That is to say, that they were financed by the taxes of the citizens.

Sanders wrote: “The huge price increase you have proposed will have a significantly negative impact on the budgets of Medicaid, Medicare, and other government programs that will continue to cover the vaccine without cost sharing for patients.” The prices "will make the vaccine unavailable to the many millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans who will not be able to afford it. How many of these Americans will die of COVID-19 as a result of limited access to these life-saving vaccines? While no one can predict the exact figure, the number could well be in the thousands."

The paradox is that research from different organizations has shown that the production costs of vaccines are not high, compared to the high prices at which they have been sold. In 2021, the People's Vaccine Alliance denounced that COVID-19 vaccine monopolies made the cost of vaccinating people about 5 times more expensive than it could be. This alliance, which brings together more than 100 organizations around the world, pointed out that: "the companies Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments up to $41 billion above the estimated cost of production." Their analyses estimated that the vaccines could have production costs between 1 and 3 dollars per dose, approximately.

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Pfizer lowers the price of its products for low-income countries

For its part, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer issued a press release on January 17 in which it announced that it would expand the product offering of a plan called "An Agreement for a Healthier World," which aims to provide access to drugs to countries with low resources by selling them at cost. This agreement was launched in 2022, in partnership with governments and other organizations from multiple sectors, and aims to reduce inequalities in access to medicines.

According to the figures provided by Pfizer, the product catalog went from 23 to 500. These non-profit products will be destined for 45 countries in monetary poverty, most of them in Africa. "Products offered on a non-profit basis to the 45 low-income countries now include the full portfolio for which Pfizer has global rights.
Expands the initial supply of all patented drugs and vaccines available in the US or EU to now include off-patent drugs," the statement said.

This is certainly good news. However, it is not a definitive solution. For example, the countries of Latin America are not in that agreement. However, many also have difficult access to medicines and vaccines. The 2021 "The Peoples Vaccine" investigation, supported by Oxfam, noted that: "Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are charging governments up to $41 billion above the estimated cost of production. Colombia may have overpaid Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech up to $375 million for just 20 million doses. South Africa may have overpaid Pfizer/BioNTech by $177 million. Overpriced vaccines also hit public budgets in rich countries. UK and US. The US could have paid Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna an additional $1.8 billion and $17.4 billion, respectively, than the estimated production cost of these mRNA vaccines."

More access to medicines and vaccines for all!

Beyond the situation with Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, what happened with pharmaceutical companies raises several questions about the future. Various experts have assured that the coronavirus pandemic will not be the last, even less with global warming that is causing so many changes and new health risks. However, this pandemic left many lessons, and among them is the need to address health problems with a more global vision. Health systems must be better prepared to face crises, as well as to guarantee citizens their rights to a dignified life.

However, this implies rethinking the health models and the controls that are exercised over pharmaceutical companies, which, although they provide a service to society, are also a highly lucrative business. On multiple occasions, Big Pharma has been accused of unethical actions and mismanagement. Health cannot be a business and the integrity of people living in low-income countries, unable to pay pharmaceutical companies their high costs, must also be protected. For this reason, the international community has to devise mechanisms that limit and control companies of this type, and that serve to finance access to medicines and vaccines.