THE DEFENDER - Brenda Baletti, Ph.D. - MAR 2, 2023
In an op-ed published by Fox News, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) condemned Big Pharma’s greed and vowed to take on the industry — but Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., said drug prices aren’t the only issue, and Americans deserve a full investigation into how Pfizer and Moderna profited by misleading the public during the pandemic.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) prepared in January to step into his new role as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, he wrote an op-ed, published by Fox News, condemning Big Pharma’s greed and vowing to take on the industry in his new role.
“On one of the most important matters facing our country the American people — Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Progressives, Conservatives — could not be more united. And that is the need to take on the unprecedented corporate greed of the pharmaceutical industry and to substantially lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs.”
Sanders singled out Moderna and Pfizer for their record profit-making — $5 billion and $31.4 billion, respectively, in 2022.
The Vermont senator directed much of his ire toward Moderna for announcing it would raise the cost of its COVID-19 vaccine by 400% when the vaccine went on the commercial market.
Given the company’s massive profits, astronomical CEO salaries and the fact that U.S. taxpayers subsidized Moderna’s vaccine research to the tune of $1.7 billion, Sanders wrote, the price hike was taking things too far.
In an interview, Sanders said Moderna’s price increase made the vaccine maker a “poster child” for pharmaceutical industry greed.
Sanders called on Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel to appear in front of a HELP committee hearing to answer questions about the price hike. Bancel agreed, but he also announced a new Moderna-sponsored “patient assistance” program that would make certain the COVID-19 vaccine would be free to all Americans by granting uninsured and underinsured people access to the vaccine.
Responding to Moderna’s pricing policy shift, Sanders joked on “Face the Nation” that “maybe it was just a wild and crazy coincidence” — though he added it was “a step in the right direction.”
In his op-ed, Sanders also criticized Pfizer’s exorbitant profits and excessive funding of the Republican Party. Pfizer also announced it would quadruple vaccine prices.
Profit-making beyond drug prices
Drug prices have been a key part of Sanders’ platform for years. In the 2016 and 2020 elections, Sanders floated the unaffordability of life-saving medications as one of the key arguments for his “Medicare for All” proposal.
Medicare for All, a wildly popular policy proposal among people across the political spectrum, would have provided all Americans with free healthcare. Establishment Democrats did not support it.
The pandemic emerged in the middle of the primary season, and what might have been a moment when Medicare for All would have been most popular, the topic disappeared from the media completely.
It re-appeared in the much-reduced “Masks for All” proposal from the Sanders camp in early 2022, a proposal much more in line with the Democratic establishment.
Now, with the strength of the HELP committee behind him, Sanders again is positioning himself to take on the healthcare system. He told the New Yorker:
“The primary health-care system is even more broken than the general health-care system …
“You have tens and tens of millions of people who, even if they have insurance, can’t find a doctor. Hospitals are shutting down. We don’t have enough doctors. We don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough dentists or mental-health providers.”
Sanders and Democrats on the HELP committee earlier this month released a majority staff report, “The Pharma Pandemic Profiteers,” criticizing Big Pharma’s massive profits throughout the pandemic and the billions of dollars paid to top executives.
This, the report said, “represents one of the most significant transfers of wealth in modern history — billions of dollars flowing out of the pockets of millions of Americans who are sick and desperate and into the stock portfolios of a tiny handful of wealthy pharmaceutical executives.”
The report’s key points resonated with a large swath of Americans, the New Yorker reported.
RFK, Jr.: Americans deserve full investigation into pharma
Moderna and Pfizer’s pandemic profits can’t be tied exclusively to high drug prices, said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman and chief litigation counsel for Children’s Health Defense.
“For 32 years, Bernie Sanders has been Capitol Hill’s most formidable critic of Pharma corruption and regulatory capture,” Kennedy said, adding:
“I’m grateful that he has now added his voice to the growing chorus of condemnation against Pharma’s obscene and deadly pandemic profiteering. But he shouldn’t stop there.
“Americans deserve a no-holds-barred investigation into how the pharmaceutical cartel — aided and abetted by crooked government agencies and pharma-funded mainstream media — lined its pockets by grossly misleading the public about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines.”
Public health officials used exaggerated projected mortality statistics and false claims about the safety and efficacy of vaccines to justify the lockdowns and vaccine mandates that devastated the working families whom Sanders routinely champions, Kennedy said.