Moderna will keep its COVID vaccine on the market at no cost to consumers, even after the federal government stops paying for it, the company announced Wednesday.
"Everyone in the United States will have access to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine regardless of their ability to pay," the company said in a statement.
Last month, the vaccine maker was slammed for reportedly considering a dramatic price increase for the shot, which it had developed with the help of the federal government.
The proposal was also bad timing: The Biden administration was moving toward ending its designation of a public health emergencyon May 11, which meant that federal funding for vaccines would soon dry up and uninsured Americans would have to pay out of pocket for their boosters.
Among the critics of Moderna's reported consideration of a price increase -- from about $26 a shot to as much as $130 -- was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has long advocated for government-funded health care and alleged the move would result in deaths.
"How many of these Americans will die from COVID 19 as a result of limited access to these lifesaving vaccines?" Sanders, I-Vt., wrote in a January letter to Moderna.
"While nobody can predict the exact figure, the number could well be in the thousands. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, restricting access to this much needed vaccine is unconscionable," he added.
Now, Moderna will be the sole manufacturer of COVID vaccines offering its shot for free to the uninsured. Under federal regulation, insurance companies are already required to foot the bill for COVID vaccines.
"Moderna remains committed to ensuring that people in the United States will have access to our COVID-19 vaccines regardless of ability to pay," the company wrote in its statement.
"Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be available at no cost for insured people whether they receive them at their doctors' offices or local pharmacies. For uninsured or underinsured people, Moderna's patient assistance program will provide COVID-19 vaccines at no cost" after the public health emergency expires.
To date, the federal government paid for all COVID vaccines for Americans, whether they were insured or not using emergency money passed by Congress. But President Joe Biden says he plans to let the nationwide public health emergency expire May 11.
Once that happens, federal support ends for many of the programs put in place to help uninsured Americans, including expanded Medicaid, testing and treatments.
Last month, the World Health Organization said COVID-19 remains a public health emergency worldwide, but that the pandemic was at a "transition point."
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the "global response remains hobbled because in too many countries, these powerful, life-saving tools are still not getting to the populations that need them most – especially older people and health workers."