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“Pure and deadly greed”: Lawmakers slam Pfizer’s 400% price hike on COVID shots

A man in an open-collared suit addresses a woman in a matching chair.
Enlarge / Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla speaks onstage at the 2022 SXSW Conference at JW Marriott Austin on March 14, 2022, in Austin.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senator-elect Peter Welch (D-Vt.) sent a scathing letter to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla this week over the company’s plan to increase the price of its COVID-19 vaccines by 400 percent next year when it enters the commercial market.

“We urge you to back off from your proposed price increases and ensure COVID-19 vaccines are reasonably priced and accessible to people across the United States,” they wrote, while also requesting information about the company’s revenue and profits.

In October, Pfizer revealed plans to sell its COVID-19 vaccine from somewhere between $110 and $130 next year. Most recently, the US government paid only about $30 per dose.

The planned price hike is higher than the $50 price point that some financial analysts had expected Pfizer would set upon entry to the commercial market. It’s a whopping 10,000 percent markup from the vaccine’s estimated cost of manufacturing.

Warren and Welch called Pfizer’s price hike “pure and deadly greed” and accused the company of “unseemly profiteering.” They noted that before Pfizer reaped billions in profits during the pandemic, it benefited from federal support, including building its vaccine from foundational research conducted at the National Institutes of Health, plus receiving a $1.95 billion advance-purchase agreement via the government’s Operation Warp Speed.

At risk

“Thanks to billions of federal dollars used to support production and delivery of Pfizer’s vaccine product, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is currently free for patients in the United States,” the pair noted in their letter. According to CDC data, over 400 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and boosters have been administered in the US, the majority of the nearly 658 million doses total administered. Overall, 80 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A modeling study released Tuesday estimated that use of the vaccines between December 2020 and November 2022 saved 3 million American lives and prevented 18.6 million hospitalizations and about 120 million infections. Without vaccines, the pandemic’s death toll would have been four-fold higher, the study concluded.

“This is a landmark public health achievement,” Warren and Welch wrote of the vaccines. “But this progress is now at risk because of Pfizer’s greed.” They argue that the price increase could put the vaccine out of reach for the uninsured and underinsured, “creating deadly risks as the pandemic continues to kill hundreds per day in the United States.” Though Pfizer has suggested its Patient Assistance Programs could help people without insurance, the lawmakers claimed the programs’ workings and benefits were vague.

In a news event last month, Bourla drew criticism for saying that the company’s COVID-19 vaccine would remain “free to all Americans” despite the price hike, because health insurance companies would cover the vaccination, leading to no out-of-pocket costs. However, such cost increases to health care lead to increasing insurance premiums, which get taken out of workers’ paychecks. Moreover, Bourla didn’t address the cost for uninsured people, who currently have free access to the vaccines.

In an email to Ars, a Pfizer representative confirmed the company had received the letter from Warren and Welch but declined to comment further as it works on its official response to the senators.

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