The success of three major COVID-19 vaccines has led to widespread distribution across several countries. In the US, front-line health workers and political leaders are being vaccinated with the immunization created by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company BioNTech. Other American citizens are expected to be vaccinated in the coming months. While the distribution of successful vaccines is obviously a good thing, there are enormous costs associated with it.
The federal government has already poured roughly $9 billion into the development and distribution of vaccines, and is expected to spend billions more in the coming months. Although the companies charge for each vaccine (Pfizer asks for $19.50 per vaccine; Moderna charges roughly $35), these costs are being covered by the US government, at least initially. This amount of federal spending is unparalleled. “The huge amount of money that we spent in this case is unprecedented,” Haizehn Lin, research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, said. Of course, money spent by the US government comes directly from citizens in the form of taxes. But this method of payment is still beneficial to disadvantaged Americans, as the vast majority of federal taxes are paid by the rich.
Something that differentiates the Pfizer vaccine from its competitors is the remarkable coldness it must be preserved in - it must be stored in dry ice, in temperatures as low as -112º F. Its storage alone is costly, and the transportation of frozen vaccines to every corner of the US, which includes maintenance and payment to drivers, further increases the total cost. This excludes the large amount of money already poured into the research and development of these vaccines. In acknowledgement of the enormous costs, the Trump administration recently added another $8 billion to their original vaccine budget in anticipation of further expenses.
The large-scale distribution of vaccinations, unusual for the speed with which they were created and their great success in early trials, has been - and will continue to be - a very costly endeavor.