Share on Pinterest
In December, a COVID-19 vaccine may be approved for use. CESAR MANSO/Getty Images
  • The federal government has poured billions of dollars into the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Pharmaceutical companies will charge for the vaccine when they’re released, but that cost may not reach Americans.
  • In the United States, the government will cover the cost for the vaccines at least initially.
  • In some cases, individuals may have to get certain costs reimbursed.

A COVID-19 vaccine may be approved for use by the end of December.

The U.S. federal government has poured billions of dollars into the development of vaccines. They have also put in orders for hundreds of millions of doses.

AstraZeneca announced Nov. 23 that its COVID-19 vaccine is 70 percent effective, making it the third vaccine shown to be effective at preventing a severe case of COVID-19.

Pfizer and Moderna recently announced their vaccines were nearly 95 percent effective.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now evaluate the clinical trial data, and if all goes to plan, grant emergency use authorization (EUA) in mid-December.

If and when vaccines are approved, doses will be shipped and distributed within 24 hours. Top health officials expect high-priority groups — such as older adults most at risk and frontline workers — to be vaccinated by the time the holidays roll around.

Developing and manufacturing these vaccines has come with a hefty price tag.

Here’s a breakdown of what the government has funded and how much each vaccine will cost.

The federal government has partnered up with Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and AstraZeneca to help develop, produce, and administer COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.

Under Operation Warp Speed, the federal government has pledged close to $9 billion to fund the development and production of the vaccines.

Moderna received nearly $1 billion for its COVID-19 vaccine development and is set to receive an additional $1.5 billion for 100 million doses.

Pfizer, with its German partner BioNTech, will be given $1.95 billion for 100 million doses, but received no federal funding for the research and development of their vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson received $456 million for vaccine research and development and will be paid $1 billion for 100 million doses.

Novavax will get $1.6 billion in federal funding for research, development, and 100 million doses.

AstraZeneca is set to receive $1.2 billion that will cover 300 million doses along with certain costs pertaining to phase 3 clinical trials and manufacturing.

The federal government will likely purchase additional doses in the coming months.

Already, the government has pledged to purchase an additional 500 million doses from Pfizer and may buy 200 million more from Johnson & Johnson.

“The huge [amount of] money that we spent in this case is unprecedented. It’s never happened before,” said Haizhen Lin, an associate professor of business economics and public policy at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It’s worth noting that many details included in these contracts have not been made public, said Lin.

The cost for each dose ranges from $3 to $37, depending on the vaccine.

Moderna, a two-dose vaccine, recently announced each dose will go for around $32 to $37.

The Pfizer vaccine, also given in two doses, is expected to cost $19.50 a dose.

Each dose for Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine will cost an estimated $10, and AstraZeneca’s two-dose vaccine could be the cheapest at just $3 to $4 a dose.

Novavax’s two-dose vaccine is estimated to be $16 a dose.

No individuals — regardless of whether they’re uninsured, have private health insurance, or have Medicare or Medicaid — will pay out of pocket for the vaccine itself, federal health officials have previously stated.

“Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states.

Certain vaccine providers may charge an administration fee for giving the shot, but individuals can have that fee reimbursed.

“Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund,” the CDC states.

In addition to funding the research, development, and production of the vaccines, the federal government will also team up with McKesson to distribute the vaccines.

The one known exception here is Pfizer, which will handle the distribution of their vaccine, according to Soumi Saha, the senior director of advocacy at the healthcare improvement firm Premier, Inc.

The government has also created ancillary kits that contain needles, syringes, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

There are several other costs pertaining to the vaccine that remain unclear.

There are also storage costs, as some of the vaccines need to be kept in ultra-cold temperatures that many hospitals and retail pharmacies don’t have on-site.

“The costs that are unclear with the vaccine right now are, for example, hospitals, healthcare providers, pharmacies that are purchasing ultra-low freezers for the Pfizer vaccine, or the cost associated with the dry ice that they’re going to be using to replenish those Pfizer suitcases,” said Saha. “How are those costs reimbursed or accounted for?”

Funding is also needed to pay and train healthcare workers who will administer the vaccines, Lin noted.

Experts also expect the cost of the vaccine to increase after the pandemic.

“The initial doses will be government purchased and government provided,” said Saha. What remains unclear is how the vaccine will be priced for general consumption once the initial government-purchased doses run out.

Typically, vaccine costs are unregulated and private companies have the freedom to set the prices, according to Lin.

The post-pandemic vaccination costs will largely depend on demand.

More research is needed to determine if people will need booster shots over the year to maintain immunity, or if the vaccine will need to be given annually like the flu shot.

“In the long run, we don’t know that price,” said Lin.

The federal government has poured billions of dollars into COVID-19 vaccine research, development, and production.

Under Operation Warp Speed, as soon as the vaccines receive emergency approval by the FDA, which could come as early as mid-December, millions of doses will be distributed across the country to high-risk groups.

The vaccines will be available for Americans at no cost, but some providers may tack on administration fees that can be reimbursed.