Capitalist greed strikes again.
As both President Biden and Governor Newsom plan to end their respective state of emergencies for the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11 and Feb. 28, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will nearly quadruple in cost as the shots transition to the commercial market.
Originally, a COVID vaccine cost between $15 and $16, with the current booster costing the government around $26. Now, the vaccine will cost anywhere from $110 to $130, says Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.
Behind these company facades of public health and saving lives lie sinister motives — an international health crisis makes for consistent and profitable customers.
The first thing free market advocates and pharmaceutical companies point to is these new prices being borne by insurers, not consumers. However, those health insurance companies will also need to protect their margins, so the costs will be passed onto consumers by raising health insurance prices.
Those without insurance will bear the brunt of this price hike, finding boosters and treatments increasingly inaccessible. This will be especially exacerbated as the end of the state of emergency will also cut funding and limit eligibility for Medicaid services.
Throughout the pandemic, we saw corporations value economic growth over public health time and time again, despite CEO reassurance that their motives were pure and altruistic. Pfizer and Moderna have had some of their best years financially since the pandemic started. Pfizer has increased its profit margins by at least 30 percent each year since the pandemic began in 2020. Last year, Pfizer’s total earnings sat at $100 billion.
This next stage offers little hope for changes in the values of mega corporations. As the state of emergency ends, these pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to make up the profit they will lose when the government stops bulk-buying vaccines. In a country where we have seen the price of life-saving medicines like insulin soar, COVID vaccines are just the latest target of corporate price gouging.
Key to this equation is the fact that Pfizer and Moderna aren’t solely responsible for creating these vaccines. Their research was government-funded, meaning the federal government could intervene legally, or claim the vaccine patents under eminent domain and make them open source.
However, interventions like that would limit Pfizer’s profit-making ability — the corporation donated $300,000 to the Biden campaign in 2020.
The pandemic doesn’t disappear when the government says it does. People don’t stop getting sick just because politicians have pocketed campaign donations and moved on to the next issue. Vaccines save lives, but raising the price so significantly shows that Pfizer and Moderna see them as a tool for profit.
There is no corresponding jump in quality, there is no justification – this is price gouging. Vaccine formulas must be open source so they are as accessible as possible.
The amount of human loss the world has experienced in the last three years has been unfathomable. Our minds are marred with moments from the pandemic: mass burials, memories of loved ones lost, sounds of coughing, and hollow words from politicians and industry leadership who ultimately valued profits over the lives of 1.1 million Americans (and counting).
Providing accessible vaccines is below the bare minimum of what society needs to truly heal from this virus, which shows no sign of disappearing. As COVID-19 remains a part of our new reality, will greed continue to have a place here, too?