Schakowsky Reiterates Coronavirus Vaccine Pricing Concerns After Written Response from Secretary Azar

March 3, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reiterate her concerns about awarding exclusive licenses for the production of a potential 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine or treatment and allowing drug manufactures to monopolize drugs that have been funded by millions of taxpayer dollars. 

In the letter, she writes, “You must understand that the House of Representatives would find it unacceptable if taxpayer dollars were used to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 and the rights to produce and market that vaccine were subsequently handed over to a pharmaceutical manufacturer through an exclusive license with no conditions on pricing or access, allowing the company to charge whatever it would like and essentially selling the vaccine back to the public who paid for its development.”

Last week, after leading 45 of her colleagues in sending a letter to President Donald J. Trump to raise serious concerns about the affordability and accessibility of a COVID-19 vaccine or treatments, Congresswoman Schakowsky questioned Azar on the issue during the Energy and Commerce COVID-19 hearing [WATCH EXCHANGE HERE]. After receiving widespread backlash for his response, last Friday, Secretary Azar sent a letter to Congresswoman Schakowsky to follow up on the exchange but did not commit to imposing necessary guidelines on pharmaceutical manufacturers to ensure all COVID-19 vaccines developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars be accessible, available, and affordable. Congresswoman Schakowsky replied with a letter requesting a staff-briefing and written answers to some specific questions.

A copy of Secretary Azar’s letter is available HERE and a signed copy of Congresswoman Schakowsky’s letter is available HERE.

 

The complete text of Congresswoman Schakowsky’s most recent letter is below: 

 

March 2, 2020

 

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary

Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, Southwest

Washington, D.C. 20201

 

Dear Secretary Azar:

Thank you for following up with me about the affordability and accessibility of a 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine after our exchange during the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce COVID-19 hearing last week. I appreciate that you are seriously considering the concerns I raised in person and through my February 20th letter to the President.[1]

You must understand that the House of Representatives would find it unacceptable if taxpayer dollars were used to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 and the rights to produce and market that vaccine were subsequently handed over to a pharmaceutical manufacturer through an exclusive license with no conditions on pricing or access, allowing the company to charge whatever it would like and essentially selling the vaccine back to the public who paid for its development.

Even if the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine is eventually covered as a preventive health service for Medicare beneficiaries, for individuals enrolled in plans that comply with Affordable Care Act[2] consumer protections, or for other insured populations, you must not allow any pharmaceutical manufacturer to set a price that would cause private insurers to raise premiums or further exacerbate the federal deficit. Furthermore, such “first-dollar” coverage would not help the uninsured or individuals enrolled in the short-term, limited duration health insurance plans that your agency has promoted in recent years.  

To help me better understand your agency’s current work on this issue, I request a staff-level briefing and written answers to the following questions by Friday, March 20, 2020:

  1. How much money has been spent by our federal government to finance COVID-19 research and development, including towards developing any potential vaccine or treatment?
  2. What arrangements have been made with pharmaceutical companies and other private sector partners with respect to licensing and pricing of potential vaccines and treatments?
  3. Can you assure us that you will not license the rights to any COVID-19 vaccine or treatment without specific terms requiring reasonable pricing and facilitating access in the United States and across the world?

Sincerely,

JAN SCHAKOWSKY                                   

Member of Congress

 

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[1]See Appendix A.  

[2] Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. § 18001 (2010).