After a shaky start, the national rollout of the three novel coronavirus vaccines approved for public use in the U.S. is starting to pick up some serious steam. More than 100 million doses have already been doled out across the country and more than 1 in every 7 Americans is already fully vaccinated. However, not everyone is necessarily embracing the vaccines with open arms.
While people certainly have their philosophical differences regarding the efficacy or importance of vaccination, the issue goes well beyond whether the COVID-19 vaccines will work. A recent study from MedicareAdvantage.com based on Census data found that more than 300,000 senior citizens in the U.S. say they have no plans to get vaccinated against COVID specifically because they think they would have to pay for it. In truth, there is no cost to the recipient for getting the vaccine, but the data suggests that there are broad disparities between that reality and the perception that people will be asked to come up with large sums to be vaccinated.
For instance, the data suggests that there are some states with significantly higher per-capita rates of this misconception: Pennsylvania tops the list with almost 3 in 5 seniors there planning to avoid vaccination for this reason. Others include Minnesota, Nevada, Virginia and Montana.
There may be many reasons for this mistaken belief, including the fact that some unscrupulous care providers were charging sizable "appointment fees," or that companies can charge certain fees that can't be passed on to the consumer. However, the broader point — that vaccination is free at the point of service to anyone who gets the shot — is certainly still obscured for many.
What's the reality?
Assuming they are eligible within their states' unique rules, when anyone shows up to an appointment to get the vaccine, they won't have to take out their wallet to get injected. In effect, the federal government has picked up the tab as part of its deal with vaccine manufacturers, according to Health.com. That's true regardless of any other factors, including whether people have insurance or what kind of coverage they may have. There are no out-of-pocket fees, co-pays or anything else of the type associated.
"I think for the foreseeable future this vaccine will be provided free of charge because of the virus' impact on everyone," Dr. Sanjiv Shah, chief medical officer for MetroPlus Health, told the site. "We don't want price to be a barrier. We're striving toward herd immunity, and the only way to achieve that is to make sure everyone gets vaccinated."
A word of caution
However, other Americans may have seen that the federal government is paying for the vaccine on some level, but that doesn't affect their out-of-pocket costs. For instance, according to Managed Healthcare Executive, the U.S. is paying $19.50 per dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and $15 for Moderna's on the initial government order of 100 million doses. The price variations come because Moderna accepted federal funding for the research involved in developing the vaccine, while Pfizer-BioNTech can charge more here because it accepted research funded by the European Union, where the pharma giant charges less than it does here. Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine, meanwhile, will cost the federal government about $10 per dose.
Again, things are certainly open to change down the road, but for the time being, those are fixed prices for the federal government. Consumers should not be worried about this issue in the next several months, and likely beyond.
A sound investment
Another potential issue here is that people may not understand why the vaccine is going to be provided to them free of charge. However, it's worth noting that there's a vested interest in for the federal government in keeping prices at zero: It's all about public health and the cost of dealing with an outbreak. No one would be surprised to learn that the coronavirus lockdowns of the last several months have been hugely costly for not just the U.S., but the global economy. Getting people vaccinated to the point that herd immunity exists is a hugely important goal for that reason.
How much of a difference can vaccination make? A measles outbreak in Washington state infected 72 people, according to ABC News, and 61 of them had not been innoculated against the disease because it was thought to be eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. But even with a few dozen infections, the medical costs associated rose to roughly $3.4 million. It may take years to fully untangle the financial fallout from this pandemic, but if a small outbreak that gets contained quickly costs $3.4 million, it's easy to see what the impact of mass COVID vaccination could be.
For all these reasons and more, it's vital for care providers, insurers, government organizations and so on to promote the fact that people have free access to the COVID vaccine and should book an appointment at the earliest available opportunity unless otherwise recommended by their doctor.