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Updated Covid vaccines should have ‘reasonable’ prices: HHS

HealthUpdated Covid vaccines should have 'reasonable’ prices: HHS

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A nurse prepares doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 30, 2021, during a COVID-19 vaccination event at Josephine’s Southern Cooking in Chatham, Illinois.

Brian Cassella | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

The Biden administration on Thursday urged Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax to price their updated Covid vaccines at a “reasonable” rate when they roll them out in the U.S. this fall.

In a letter addressed to the shot manufacturers, the Department of Health and Human Services said price gouging the new jabs would take advantage “of the trust the American people have placed in you through the COVID-19 response.”

None of the three manufacturers have disclosed the exact pricing of their upcoming single-strain vaccines, which they are designing to target the circulating omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

Pfizer and Moderna earlier this year said they expect to price their shots between $110 and $130 per dose — a nearly fivefold increase over current prices for existing vaccines.

That estimate has drawn criticism from lawmakers, who note that the two companies and their executives have made significant profits from the shots during the pandemic. 

The price points for the shots will be crucial in the fall, as the federal government is expected to shift Covid vaccine distribution to the commercial market. That means the manufacturers will sell their updated jabs directly to health-care providers rather than to the government.

A Moderna spokesperson reiterated the company’s previous remarks about being ready in time for the fall with ample vaccine supply.

A spokesperson for Pfizer, meanwhile, referred CNBC to a release from last month, which says the company expects to be ready to ship its new shots immediately in the fall, pending regulatory review and approval.

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And a Novavax spokesperson said the company appreciates its “continued collaboration and partnership” with the U.S. government and intends to make its new vaccine available by late September.

“As we approach this transition, we expect that companies will look to the example that the U.S. government has set in eliminating access hurdles for the American public,” HHS said in a statement.

HHS said it expects the manufacturers to work with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other payors to ensure that they have the required information to cover the updated shots in the fall. The department also advised the manufacturers to plan their regulatory applications to the Food and Drug Administration for their respective shots.

HHS said preparing those submissions early would allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make recommendations for the shots by September.

Federal and corporate programs are planning to help shoulder the out-of-pocket costs of updated shots this fall for uninsured Americans

That includes the Biden administration’s “HHS Bridge Access Program,” a temporary effort that will provide free Covid shots and treatments to uninsured Americans once those products move to the commercial market. 

Pfizer and Moderna also intend to launch patient assistance programs for their Covid shots. But there are still outstanding questions about what those efforts will look like.

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