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COVID-19 vaccine free to all

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | April 9, 2021 1:00 AM

One frequent question has popped up since December, when the Food and Drug Administration first authorized Pfizer, Moderna and, later, the Johnson & Johnson vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the cost of getting vaccinated against COVID-19?

It’s a question that has been posed to President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump, Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen, local health officials and the editor’s desk at the Coeur d’Alene Press. Perhaps Gov. Brad Little gave the most succinct answer on Jan. 5 during a weekly conference call.

“Zero,” Little answered.

This assertion has been backed up by leaders at the federal, state and local level: In America, no individual will pay a penny for the vaccine. The federal government has said it is making the vaccine available to anyone 16 and older for free.

“As a condition of receiving free COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, providers will be prohibited from charging consumers for the vaccine,” Katherine Hoyer, public information officer for Panhandle Health, told The Press.

The goal of health districts and governments is to reach herd immunity in the hopes of quelling the virus the Centers for Disease Control reports has killed more than 573,000 Americans and was the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

When people schedule their vaccination online — at panhandlehealth.org, at myheritagehealth.org, and at covidvaccine.idaho.gov, to name a few sites — they will often see fields to enter health insurance information. Hoyer said that, while individuals will never be charged, some places might bill insurance companies certain fees.

“Enrolled providers can charge insurance an administration fee, but the consumer will not be billed,” Hoyer said. “Regardless of insurance, an individual will receive the vaccine free of charge.”

"We don’t want any financial constraints keeping people from getting vaccinated," Little said. “… On the other hand, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayers are going to be paying for it.”

As of March 1, the federal government has contracted with seven pharmaceutical companies for 1.2 billion doses, to the tune of just under $18.2 billion as part of the Operation Warp Speed partnership Trump signed back in May of 2020. In addition, the U.S. government is spending nearly $1 billion toward syringes, needles, vials and storage materials dedicated to house and administer the doses.

While, again, the costs to individuals is free, the cost to the federal government for individual doses vary. Bloomberg reports that, under the terms of its U.S. contract, Pfizer is charging $19.50 per single shot of its two-dose vaccine.

Moderna announced last year the cost to governments for a single shot of its two-dose vaccine would typically run between $32 to $37, but the price was obviously flexible based on how many doses get ordered. Johnson & Johnson has said it is marking its prices for the company’s single-dose vaccine closer to $4 per dose.

Pfizer is projecting $15 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales worldwide this year alone, while Moderna is projecting more than $18 billion in 2021.

As of Thursday, that herd immunity is not yet within reach. Panhandle Health reports that, in Idaho’s five northernmost counties, 34 percent of the 16-and-older population has been vaccinated.