In a recent statement, Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has urged the biopharmaceutical industry to price the next generation of Covid-19 vaccines at a "reasonable rate" that reflects the value obtained through U.S. government investment. Becerra expressed concerns about price gouging and the potential exploitation of the trust placed in the industry during the pandemic response.
However, some argue that Becerra's rhetoric perpetuates misconceptions about the discovery and development of Covid-19 vaccines. Through Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government guaranteed the purchase of millions of vaccine doses once they were deemed safe and effective by the FDA and CDC. This was a necessary action in the midst of a pandemic that claimed lives and devastated the economy.
Data from the Commonwealth Fund, a U.S. healthcare foundation, shows the significant impact of these vaccines. Between December 2020 and March 2022, the vaccines resulted in 2,265,222 fewer deaths, 17,003,960 fewer hospitalizations, and 66,159,093 fewer infections, saving $899.4 billion in healthcare costs. The price of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine regimen was $39, while Moderna's cost about $32.
It is worth noting that pharmacies administering Covid-19 shots were paid $43 by the government for each shot, while Pfizer received $19.50 per shot, less than what was paid for administration. This highlights the substantial investment made by Pfizer in the mRNA technology, as well as the role of pharmacies in the vaccination process.
Becerra's concern seems to stem from the fact that the U.S. government is no longer providing free Covid-19 vaccines to the public due to a lack of renewed funds. As a result, insurance companies will bear the cost, leading to price increases announced by Pfizer and Moderna, potentially as high as $120. However, this list price is used as a starting point for negotiations with insurance companies, and the net price that vaccine makers will receive will likely be lower, around $85.
Higher prices for the next generation of vaccines are justified due to the need for research investments to address new variants and the associated manufacturing and distribution costs. It is important to consider the context of vaccine prices, with the average cost of a high-dose flu shot at $75 for those without insurance and other vaccines costing significantly more.
While politicians may criticize the higher prices of Covid-19 vaccines, it is essential to remember the lives saved and the economic impact of these vaccines. Incorrectly attacking vaccine prices as a result of biopharma greed undermines the significant efforts made by vaccine manufacturers.
In summary, there are valid concerns about the pricing of the next generation of Covid-19 vaccines, but it is important to consider the context and the value provided by these vaccines. Balancing affordability and the need for continued research and development is crucial to ensure continued progress in combating the pandemic.