Trump contracts with Pharmaceutical companies give them free rein to price gouge for taxpayer-funded Covid vaccine

The US Government is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at companies working to develop a working Covid-19 vaccine. One might assume, then, that the Government would also demand that any new vaccine created would be readily and cheaply available to the public.

The consumer advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), however, obtained Government contracts that seemed to show that the current administration is allowing pharmaceutical companies to charge whatever they want for potential coronavirus treatments. Treatments that will be developed with taxpayer money. Trump is refusing to use federal authority to constrain costs, reports Jake Johnson at Common Dreams.

KEI were able to obtain, through Freedom of Information, a number of heavily redacted agreements between the Trump administration and major pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron, and Genentech.

KEI reviewed seven documents. Five of the documents were classified as "other  transaction agreements." This allows federal agencies to loosen regulations designed to protect the public in order to help companies streamline the product development process.

In the case of four contracts for potential Covid-19 treatments or  vaccines with Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, Regeneron, and Roche  issued by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority  (BARDA) and the Pentagon, the Trump administration omitted a standard condition requiring that products developed with taxpayer money be made available to the public "on reasonable terms" reports Johnson.

"This means that the government has limited its ability to intervene if the pharmaceutical companies (which are party to the agreements and are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct the research) charge unreasonable prices for the resulting Covid-19 vaccines or treatments," KEI noted in its press release.

This news comes after the Trump administration refused to require Gilead Sciences to charge a reasonable price for its Covid-19 treatment remdesivir. Gilead is charging nearly $3,200 per treatment course. And the US Government just bought a large supply of it. Remdesivir was developed with the help of at least $70.5 million in taxpayer funding.

"Allowing Gilead to set the terms during a pandemic represents a colossal failure of leadership by the Trump administration," Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement Monday. "The U.S. government has authority and a responsibility to steward the technology it helped develop."

Forbes reported that the Trump administration gave nearly a half a billion to one pharaceutical company, Johnson and Johnson. The $456 million was the largest reported amount spent on a vaccine project.

The administration also awarded a $354 million contract to U.S.-based Phlow Corp with an additional $458 million included as potential options, according to Reuters.

Another of the companies being given taxpayer dollars, the U.K. drug giant AstraZeneca was given a $1.2 billion contribution from the United States for development, production and delivery of 400 million doses its potential shot starting this fall.

James Love, the director of KEI, told the The Washington Post that "the amount of money the government is throwing at companies is unprecedented."

"Normally when you write bigger checks," Love said, "you should have more leverage, not less leverage."