Moderna has reversed course and announced that people will not have to pay for its Covid shots after the federal government stops buying the pharmaceutical company’s vaccines.
“Moderna remains committed to ensuring that people in the United States will have access to our COVID-19 vaccines regardless of ability to pay,” the Big Pharma company said in a statement.
According to Moderna, its COVID-19 vaccine “will continue to be available at no cost for insured people whether they receive them at their doctors’ offices or local pharmacies.”
People who can’t get the shots paid for through health insurance will be able to get the vaccine “at no cost” through a Moderna assistance program, it added.
The U.S. government has purchased hundreds of millions of Covid vaccine doses since 2020 and they have been available to Americans for free.
President Joe Biden’s administration is ending the COVID-19 public health emergency in May and will stop buying more doses of the shots.
While some already-purchased doses will be available for some time, the change could potentially lead to people paying to get vaccinated.
The Department of Health and Human Services has said that “many Americans will continue to pay nothing out-of-pocket” to get a vaccine because most private insurers, and Medicare, would cover the vaccines at least through September 2024.
Some people, though, were set to face a steep cost.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in January that Moderna was looking at pricing doses in the $110 to $130 range following the end of the emergency.
That would be up from the $26 a dose for booster shots and approximately $15 per dose for the original vaccine that the company charged the government.
“I would think this type of pricing is consistent with the value” of the vaccine, Bancel told the Wall Street Journal.
That plan drew ire from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said in a letter (pdf) to the CEO that millions of Americans may not be able to afford that cost. Sanders called the proposed hike an “outrageous price boost.”
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, is holding a hearing in March titled, “Taxpayers Paid Billions For It: So Why Would Moderna Consider Quadrupling the Price of the COVID Vaccine.” Bancel is slated to testify during the hearing.
Sanders has pointed out that Moderna has reaped immense profits during the pandemic, as have Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
The three companies produce the only COVID-19 vaccines that were available in the United States until 2022 when regulators authorized a vaccine from Novavax.
Pfizer said in the fall it plans to charge around $110 to $130 per dose once the government stops buying the vaccine.
Novavax has not named a price but has said it expects to take a significant share of the market once the government buying ends. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is not preferred due to the risk of an often-deadly combination of low platelet levels and blood clotting.
Because the COVID-19 vaccines were added to the child immunization schedule, children whose families cannot pay for the vaccine will be eligible to receive them for free, with taxpayers covering the cost.
That would happen through a program called Vaccines for Children.
Advisers to the government, who recommended the addition to the schedule, said it was because the vaccines can prevent severe illness.
The new vaccines, poised to replace the original shots, are not backed by any clinical trial data yet.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the only reason the vaccines were placed on the schedule was so they could be covered by the Vaccines for Children program.
“It was the only way that our uninsured children would be able to have access to the vaccines,” Walensky said during a congressional hearing on Feb. 8.
“That was the reason to put it on the schedule.”
The vaccines are authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 disease.
The original vaccines are not very effective for children, according to trial data and observational studies.
A CDC study published this month, for example, found that a primary series of Moderna’s shot provided 60 percent protection for children aged 3 to 5 but that the protection plunged to 36 percent between three and four months.
Pfizer’s primary series provided just 31 percent protection.
Children are at the least risk from COVID-19.
Observational data for the updated vaccines indicate they may protect better against severe illness, but many experts say trial data is required to prove effectiveness.
READ MORE: CDC Officially Adds Covid Shots to Routine Immunization Schedule for Children