Will the coronavirus vaccine be free for Americans?

will the coronavirus vaccine be free
Photo via Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The COVID-19 vaccine will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, but will the coronavirus vaccine be free for Americans to take?  

For those in the U.S., it looks likely that patients with insurance might not have to pay when they get the COVID-19 vaccine. Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor of health policy at Yale, told Marketplace that some Americans also probably wouldn’t have to pay for the vaccine under the Affordable Care Act. 

Additionally, several organizations, like Johnson & Johnson, working on a COVID-19 vaccine have said they want their vaccine to be accessible by the public. Pfizer and BioNTech recently partnered with the federal government on the creation of 100 million doses of their vaccine, according to USA Today. Once the companies obtain approval or emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they can distribute those 100 million doses free of charge to the public. 

The government purchased the 100 million doses for $2 billion, which factors out to be $39 for the two-dose course of treatment. Reuters reported this is the first deal that has outlined a specific price for a vaccine. 

In mid-September, the federal government said it hopes it can make the vaccine free and that it could begin distributing it 24 hours after it’s approved.

Analysts told Reuters that the low cost of the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech would pressure other organizations to set comparable prices. 

Meanwhile, the new vaccine that Russia said it’s created has been offered for free to the U.N. (and so far, that vaccine reportedly hasn’t shown any major negative side effects). On Aug. 19, it was announced that the U.K-based drug company AstraZeneca had made an agreement with Australia to provide all 25 million of its citizens with the vaccine for free (though AstraZeneca briefly had to halt its phase 3 development in September because of an adverse reaction from a volunteer, while Johnson & Johnson had to do the same in October). Japan also is considering making a vaccine free for all of its citizens. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Oct. 7 that any vaccine approved in his country would also be free. The same goes for India.

In polling released in August 2020, more than 70% of those questioned who hail from U.S. battleground states said they would support a presidential candidate who would make the vaccine free for everybody.

Overall, experts now hypothesize the COVID-19 vaccine would not cost Americans more than the flu shot. Which is good news for those who were flabbergasted when it was announced that remdesivir, the antiviral drug that can help coronavirus patients recover faster, would cost $520 for a single vial or $3,120 for a hospital treatment (though that probably would be covered mostly by insurance). 

“The average price for a flu vaccine is around $40,” Peter Pitts, president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, told Reuters. “It looks good with that comparison. It’s well within the ballpark of reasonableness.”

So, either the coronavirus vaccine will be free for Americans or will be relatively inexpensive. In these tough economic times, that should provide some welcome relief. But Salon made an interesting point in October, writing, “Not only have you paid for this future vaccine, you have also paid billions for the research that went into discovering that vaccine. The pharmaceutical companies that accepted all that free money to do that research are going to make millions off your investment. You’ll get a jab in the arm.”

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: Marketplace, USA Today, Reuters

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