According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal government of the United States is providing COVID-19 vaccines free of charge to everyone five years and older living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status.1
Although the CDC states that COVID vaccines are provided to the public at no cost, the government pays licensed COVID vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson using taxpayer dollars.2 While the federal government is paying for COVID vaccines with American taxpayer dollars, health insurance companies and hospitals are also incurring some of the costs of the COVID vaccines being administered in the U.S.3
Sherry A. Glied, PhD, an economist and the dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University states:
We’ve had a large public health infrastructure that does vaccination forever and ever. A lot of vaccines are provided for free by public health departments and a lot of vaccines are provided with no out-of-pocket cost because insurers are required to cover them. For the most transmissible, communicable diseases that are vaccine preventable, people should be able to get them at no cost either through public health or by insurance. It’s true of most childhood vaccines as well. Even the flu vaccine—most people are getting it for free one way or another. The COVID vaccine falls into that bucket.4
Development of COVID Vaccines Funded by US Government
During the past two decades, the federal government has played a large financial role in the development of vaccines in general. However, since the declaration of of a COVID pandemic in 2020, the federal government has played an even more central role in the funding of COVID vaccine development, distribution and promotion.5
COVID vaccine research and development (R&D), regulation, manufacture, and purchase have been largely supported by a collaboration among several U.S. federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the Department of Defense (DoD) and others.
Almost immediately after the COVID pandemic was announced in early 2020, six vaccine candidates were chosen for coordinated federal financial support under Operation Warp Speed. The pharmaceutical companies that received government funding were Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Novavax and Sanofi.6
According to Health Affairs:
Since 2000, taxpayer dollars have financed the development of various vaccine platforms for HIV, pandemic flu, and other threats to public health. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government leveraged investments in those platforms in three ways. First, it supported additional preclinical studies. Second, it absorbed the bulk of human testing costs and risk through a set of contracts that paid for the various phases of vaccine development and manufacturing. And third, it reduced manufacturing risk by underwriting capacity investments.7
Estimates of direct government public spending on the development and manufacturing of COVID vaccines varies, depending upon factors such as timing of data collection. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), it is estimated that the federal government spent between $18 billion and $23 billion on the development of COVID vaccines.8 In a Mar. 29, 2021 report, CRS stated:
In addition, over $50 billion in PHSSEF [Public Health Service and Social Services Emergency Fund] funding has been made available until September 24, 2024 for a broad set of medical countermeasures and surge capacity purposes, including for the development, manufacture, and purchase of vaccines and related supplies. Separately, FDA has received broad supplemental appropriations for its regulatory and other activities.9
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Click here to view References:
1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccines Are Free to the Public. Nov. 3, 2021.
3 Serwer A, Zahn M. Guess who pays for all those millions of COVID-19 vaccines. Yahoo! Finance Dec. 4, 2021.
5 Frank R, Dach L, Lurie N. It Was The Government That Produced COVID-19 Vaccine Success. Health Affairs May. 14, 2021.
6 Congressional Research Service. Domestic Funding for COVID-19 Vaccines: An Overview. Mar. 29, 2021.