Massive Public Investment Made COVID-19 Vaccines Possible

In a new study published in the BMJ, Dr. Hussain Lalani and a team of six other medical researchers document the massive extent to which the US public (through the federal government) financed the development, production, and purchase of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Through March 2022, the US government spent at least $2.7 billion to develop and produce these vaccines. As the researchers note this is a conservative estimate.

In addition to these investments in research and development, the US government spent $29.2 billion through March 2022 to purchase the COVID-19 vaccines—at about $20.69 per dose on average, far in excess of estimated manufacturing costs of $1 to $3 per dose—bringing total public investment to $31.9 billion.

This new study comes as the US government’s COVID-19 vaccine supply is running out, and future distribution is set to shift to private companies. Despite costing only about $1 to $3 to manufacture, Moderna and Pfizer are considering pricing their vaccines at over $100 per dose.

The US public provided the financing and took on the risks needed to produce the COVID-19 vaccines. The public should also decide how to use the value its investments created. This should include ensuring that COVID-19 vaccinations remain free without creating new administrative or insurance barriers to access them, requiring Pfizer and Moderna to freely share the know-how required to make their COVID-19 vaccines with others around the world, and building public options to manufacture vaccines and other critical health technologies.

This first appeared on CEPR.

Shawn Fremstad is Director of Law and Political Economy and Senior Advisor at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Tori Can is a Domestic Program intern at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.