Fact Check: Senator Sanders’ Misguided Hearing

Claim: Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, hosted a hearing entitled “Taxpayers Paid Billions For It: So Why Would Moderna Consider Quadrupling the Price of the COVID Vaccine?” The hearing was predicated on Sen. Sanders’ belief that the government shouldered the burden of researching and developing Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine.

Correction: This fundamentally misrepresents the nature of public-private partnerships and the government’s role in the creation of life-saving breakthroughs — including Moderna’s vaccine. More than a decade before Covid-19, University of Pennsylvania scientists — with support from federal funding — uncovered the therapeutic potential of mRNA molecules and licensed their research to Moderna. Moderna invested $3.8 billion in private capital to translate this basic research into the refined mRNA technology underpinning its eventual Covid-19 vaccine, and has taken on the substantial risks of late-stage development and commercialization. While the company received $1.7 billion from the government to support clinical trials, it has provided $2.9 billion in return through discounted prices.

Across the industry, the vast majority of R&D investments come from the private sector. Indeed, in a study of 18 approved drugs receiving NIH grants, the private sector provided 98.5% of the funding required to bring the drugs to market. But private sector investment only occurs when the ecosystem supports and appropriately values patented medicines entering the commercial market.

By suggesting that the private sector played a minimal role, Sen. Sanders is devaluing the expensive and risky efforts that brought a Covid-19 vaccine to the world in record time. Propagating this narrative will only discourage future R&D ventures and rob patients of breakthrough medical advancements.

Bottom Line: This claim is false.

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