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WSJ: Moderna Considers Raising Price Of COVID Vaccine To $100- $130; FAA System Outage Causes Massive Flight Disruptions Across U.S.; Nassau County Republicans Call On Rep. George Santos To Resign. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 11, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A price hike that could impact really everyone, the Wall Street Journal is reporting Moderna is considering more than quadrupling the price of its COVID vaccine. This would all come when the company has shifted from its government contracts to putting the vaccine out on the commercial market. Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now. She has more details on what this could mean for everyone involved. Elizabeth, what's going on here?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this means the most for people who are uninsured or underinsured. If you have insurance, your insurance is going to pay for this vaccine and I guess in the end, we all sort of pay for that but you as a patient won't be paying directly for the vaccine. But for the uninsured, and the underinsured, this is going to be a lot more money.

Let's take a look. So, while this has been a vaccine that was purchased by the federal government, the federal government was paying about $26 a dose, now Moderna is saying they're going to raise it once it's a commercial enterprise, and I'll get to that in a second, to between 110 and $130. And Pfizer has also named that price range. Now, there are various programs to help people with those kinds of -- with that kind of, you know, charge for a vaccine. But still, that can be quite a bit.

Now, we don't know when this price range will go up. The federal government just now extended the public health emergency for another 90 days. So, it look like -- it looks like it might be a while before those prices go up.

And, Kate, the timing on this is really interesting. CNN today has exclusive reporting that shows that this booster, the one that they're going to be raising the prices for, there was data back in June that showed it actually didn't necessarily work as well as the original -- as the original shot that's been on the market, you know, being used for years now that the new one may really not work any better than the one that's out there. And that that data was not presented to vaccine advisors when they met to confer and advise the FDA and the CDC, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's so interesting. All right, Elizabeth, thank you so much for that.

Joining me right now is Senator Bernie Sanders. He's the Incoming Chair of the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, of course. Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I-VT): My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: You wrote a letter to Moderna about this. And in this, you called the price hike that they're considering outrageous. I also want to read for you what we, at least so far, have heard from Moderna about this. The CEO telling the Wall Street Journal on Monday, I would think this type of price is consistent with the value of the vaccine. Have you heard anything back from Moderna?


SANDERS: Not yet. But look, what you're seeing here in Moderna is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what goes on with the pharmaceutical industry. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. In some cases, 10 times more, the same exact drug is sold in other countries.

In terms of Moderna, here's the story. This vaccine was discovered in partnership with the NIH, with a government agency supported by the taxpayers of this country. In addition, the government put $1.9 billion into research and development for Moderna and then guaranteed Moderna billions of dollars in sales. And then, as a thank you to the taxpayers in this country, what Moderna says is after we deplete the government supply of free vaccines, they're going to quadruple the price of that vaccine. And meanwhile, they're going to charge whatever it is 110 bucks a vaccine, it costs about $2 to produce that vaccine.

And then on top of all of that, in the last few years, since this vaccine has been on the market, you got the CEO of the company making billions of dollars, becoming a multi-billionaire, as well as other executives. So, the taxpayers of this country who put money into the vaccine in order to protect the health and lives of the American people are now creating billionaires in an industry -- in a company that it's going to quadruple prices for the American people. That is outrageous, that is unacceptable, and we've got to do something about that.

BOLDUAN: You've noted and also Elizabeth Cohen was just explaining it as well, that not all Americans are going to be paying out of pocket for this.


BOLDUAN: You've -- Medicare and Medicaid and other government health care plans, they'll continue to cover the cost of vaccines for patients.


BOLDUAN: So, I wonder from your perspective, you say you need to do something about this. What is an acceptable solution to you? SANDERS: Well, Kate, let's be clear Medicare and Medicaid will pay for it, will cover the individual, but they're going to have to pay the higher price, and that costs taxpayers money. And then you got -- you know, tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. And there is no private insurance company and Medicare and Medicaid is -- I'm not going to cover them. They're going to have to pay out of pocket.

You know, I think the bottom line here is that we are looking at strategies in how to deal with it. But I think the area we have got to focus on is if the taxpayers of this country put money through the NIH into developing a drug, and it's certainly not just the COVID vaccine, many cancer drugs as well, should they then be forced to pay the highest prices in the world for a drug, which they helped develop? And I think the answer is obviously, no. So, if taxpayers are going to pay for the research and development, they need to make sure that the product being produced is affordable.

BOLDUAN: Well, we'll wait and see how Moderna responds. We're -- we -- at CNN, we are seeking comment from Moderna on this one as well. I do -- well, I have you. I do want to ask you because your Democratic Senate majority -- the Democratic Senate majority is now when you're talking about getting any work done if it has to do with this or something else, you need -- you must work now with the new House Republican majority. And well, we don't know the full picture yet of how Kevin McCarthy has conference plans to operate.

There are promises of budget cuts that could include cuts to defense, to Social Security, and Medicare, as we're discussing here. CNN is reporting that part of the promise that we have heard about is to reject "any negotiations with the Senate on funding bills if they don't -- if they don't meet the House criteria." What do you say to that?

SANDERS: Well, I think we're going to take the case to the American people. And if the -- my guess is, Kate, the American people do not think it's a great idea to make massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the needs of ordinary Americans while maintaining for one example, the massive tax breaks that Trump and the Republicans supported when Trump was president, tax breaks that went overwhelmingly to the rich and large corporations. So, if we want to talk about getting a handle on federal spending, I think for a start, we may want to ask ourselves why we have billionaires in this country who in a given year, don't pay a nickel in federal income taxes, why the effective tax rate for the very, very rich is lower than it is for working families?

So, let's talk about a fair tax system. Let's talk about why we ended up just recently against my vote, I got to say, increasing military spending by $80 billion in one year. Let's talk about all the corporate welfare that's out there. But bottom line is if the Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and education, let them take that case to the American people. They will lose. We will win that debate.

[11:40:14] BOLDUAN: I feel like we're going to have to be covering quite a bit of this coming up, Senator, so I look to having you on and see what that debate looks like. Thanks for coming on. I appreciate your time.

SANDERS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Major flight disruptions as we've been discussing across the United States by an FAA system outage, what really is the root cause? How do they fix it? Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, he joins us live next.


BOLDUAN: We're continuing to follow the really wild developments this morning that brought air travel to a standstill today, an outage of an FAA system is causing still big, big, big flight disruptions across the United States. Thousands of flights have been delayed or canceled because of it. The FAA did lift the ground stop and flights are resuming which is great news, but there's also now in its place, there are big questions about what this really means about commercial travel in what happened here.

Joining me right now is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Secretary, thanks for coming in. I really appreciate your time in the middle of all this.


BOLDUAN: What is your understanding about what happened today?

BUTTIGIEG: So, here's what we know. This was a safety system that produces what are called NOTAMs, or notices to air missions. This is different from the other part of the FAA operation, the air traffic control system, so this is not the system that lets aircraft know where other aircraft are. But what it is, is a standardized, uniform way of getting important safety messages out to airports, aircraft, and airlines. For example, if a runway is closed or if there's a military or space operation coming up in a certain sector, or maybe a navigation beacon is out, something that a pilot would need to know for safety reasons, very important, of course, for that information to be flowing efficiently.


Somewhere overnight, there was an issue with irregularities in the messages that were going out that reflected a bigger systems issue. And this morning, as of about seven o'clock, there were still problems validating that the -- that messages were going out. So, for safety reasons to make sure that every aircraft that took off was doing so safely, FAA implemented a ground stop lasting about an hour and a half from about 7:30 to nine to make absolutely sure that the messages were moving correctly, and that the information for safety purposes is working the way it should. That has happened. That's the good news. Flights are operating, though, we are going to see the ripple effects from that this morning's delays working through the system during the day. Now, we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual redundancies that would stop it from being that disruptive did not stop it from being disrupted this time, and what the original source of the errors or the corrupted files would have been?

BOLDUAN: Any indication that there was a cyberattack involved?

BUTTIGIEG: There's been no direct evidence or indication of that but we are also not going to rule that out until we have a clearer and better understanding of what's taking place. But again, no indication of that at this time.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I was looking back at for Southwest's meltdown over the holiday with their system, you had said that the airline, in your words, where -- that they "needed to find a way to really rebuild trust incompetence." When this happens -- when something like this happens, and it's an FAA system, does the FAA need to do the same?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, certainly when there's an issue in the FAA that needs to get looked at, we're going to own it, same as we ask airlines to own their companies and their operations. But the bottom line for us is always going to be safe. It is an extraordinary thing that millions of passengers fly through the air every year, and it is the safest way to travel in the United States.

We've worked very hard to keep it that way, including being extremely conservative, anytime there's any question or any irregularity about that. It's an extraordinary record in terms of safety. But we've also got to make sure there are efficient operations.


BUTTIGIEG: Air passengers have been through a lot, especially in the course of the last year with the disruptions that we've seen. We've been able to make some major gains in terms of accountability for airlines when it comes to their customer service. We equally have to make sure that FAA has the systems, the staffing, and the operations that it needs to serve their passengers as well.

BOLDUAN: One of the top Democrats in the House Transportation Committee this morning says that what this does is it begs the question about the current state of technology -- the tech technology infrastructure of the FAA, is this system out of date?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the system is continuously being upgraded and improved. But I think that is one of the key questions that we have to look at based on what we saw overnight. I did speak to the chair and to members of Congress on both sides and reached out to members in both chambers this morning, just with operational updates after I briefed the president, and I welcomed the attention from Congress, especially because we're coming up on the period when the FAA reauthorization, the five-year bill that provides funding and direction from the FAA is coming before Congress.

BOLDUAN: Yes. BUTTIGIEG: It is the right time for us to be taking up those questions.

BOLDUAN: Most broadly -- more broadly, if this -- if this one issue -- and I'm just going to call it a computer glitch, and I'm to know there's going to be a more technical term for what happened. If this one issue can essentially paralyze the entire U.S. domestic flight system even for an hour and a half, it does beg the question for -- I know people are asking is how vulnerable is the system? And should people be worried?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, what people need to know is that FAA will always act to make sure that passengers are safe. And part of what you saw this morning was an act of caution to be sure until it was 100 percent airtight that the system was working properly, even just for delivering messages that we had that ground stop. But I do think that broader question is a real one, what are the redundancies? What are the backups? What are the means to make sure that a disruption like this does not happen?

Because you -- what you saw this morning was something we haven't seen in a very long time, and we need to design in an -- on a field that's changing a lot and is going to be changing a lot more in the years to come. But we need to design a system that does not have those kinds of vulnerabilities.

BOLDUAN: Just really quick. I mean, do you see what happened this morning as just as acceptable like does this -- I know you think that about the abundance of caution is kind of what I'm sensing from you that they had to call -- put the ground stop and play, Secretary. But if this is -- if this happens again, and it doesn't sound like right now, you can guarantee it won't, is this an acceptable way for the FAA to be operating?


BUTTIGIEG: Well, it is the right call to act out of an abundance of caution. But no, these kinds of disruption would not happen and my primary interest now that we've gotten through the immediate disruptions of the morning is understanding exactly how this was possible and exactly what steps are needed to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

BOLDUAN: Secretary Buttigieg, thank you so much for coming on. I know you've had a very busy morning and this is the first time you've been able to jump on to talk about this. Thank you very much for your time.

BUTTIGIEG: My pleasure. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Still ahead for us. New Republican Congressman George Santos, he is now facing new calls to resign from members of his own party. The House Speaker has also just weighed in on his future. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Republican leaders in Nassau County, New York are calling on new Congressman George Santos to resign and do so immediately. Just this morning, they say that he is "not welcome to represent them after he repeatedly lied about his life story" as has been chronicled in the New York Times and many other places. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He just talked to CNN about Santos as well.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you expect George Santos to be on any of these key committees -- on these eight committees? Do you think George Santos --



BOLDUAN: That's definitive. Manu Raju on the Hill for us. Manu Raju is speaking to the speaker about that. Where's this headed, Manu?

RAJU: Yes, the Republicans are really grappling about what to do here. You heard Kevin McCarthy say that George Santos will not be serving on any of these key committees, they're actually trying to sort out right now, give some key members the committee assignments on issues dealing with taxes and armed services on the Treasury Department and a whole wide range of major issues that George Santos will not be serving on those committees.


But what else will happen? Will they call on him to resign? We just asked Kevin McCarthy that same question. He said he had not seen this comment from the Nassau County Republicans about whether or not they should resign.

And then also, I talked to Steve Scalise, who is the number two House Republican. I asked him directly whether or not he should resign or not -- whether he believes he should resign. He said they're still trying to sort out committee assignments in the room. He did not want to answer that question. He did say -- he asked me if this official announcement have come out, but declining further comment.

And also, the number three Republican Tom Emmer, I asked as well. Also, would not say whether or not he believes Santos should resign. So. McCarthy had wanted to handle this internally but, Kate, it sounds like he's going to have to make a decision on what to do and publicly announced that. Kate.

BOLDUAN: We will see. Manu, thank you very much for jumping on. I really appreciated with that.

We will end today with this, a great update on the status of NFL safety Jamar Hamlin. The Buffalo Bills just moments ago announced that he has now been released from the hospital now nine days after he collapsed on the field in Cincinnati. In a tweet, the Bills say that he's been discharged from Buffalo General Hospital. They also include this from a top official at the hospital that says the following. "We have completed a series of tests and evaluations. And in consultation with the team physicians, we are confident that Damar can safely get -- confident that he can be safely discharged to continue his rehabilitation at home and with the Bills." It is great to end on some great news.

Thanks so much for watching, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this break.