WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday pledged to provide a future Covid-19 vaccine for free to “vulnerable” Americans unable to afford it.
The remarks constitute the federal government’s most concrete pledge to date about vaccine affordability, which has emerged as a sticking point in recent congressional hearings and in legislation to address the pandemic.
“For any American who is vulnerable, who cannot afford the vaccines, and desires the vaccine, we will provide it for free,” said a Trump administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, on a conference call with reporters.
Officials also indicated that commercial insurers have expressed interest in covering vaccines at no cost to their beneficiaries.
Officials also said the federal government would employ a “tiered approach” for distributing a future vaccine to high-risk individuals like elderly Americans, those with pre-existing health conditions, and frontline health care workers. People in those categories would be prioritized such that they received a vaccine before the general public, officials said.
The federal government’s sweeping vaccine-development initiative, known as Operation Warp Speed, aims to distribute 300 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Americans by January 2021, the officials said — a nakedly ambitious goal that would shatter records for vaccine development, and that has drawn heavy skepticism from scientists.
While some health policy experts aligned with the Democratic party have expressed concerns that the November election could lead to a politicized vaccine-approval process, Trump administration officials maintained that any Covid-19 vaccine still would require approval by normal standards of safety and efficacy.
Officials also stressed that they could not guarantee the year-end deadline with 100% certainty.
Both government and private-sector figures have remained optimistic, however. On Monday, the CEO of the Massachusetts drugmaker Moderna said the company hoped to reveal efficacy data for its Covid-19 vaccine candidate by Thanksgiving. And in briefing materials, the Trump administration has repeatedly expressed hope that a competing vaccine candidate from the British drugmaker AstraZeneca could deliver its first doses to high-risk U.S. patients by October.
The U.S. government has already awarded nearly $500 million to Moderna’s vaccine-development effort, and over $400 million to AstraZeneca’s — though government support for AstraZeneca’s vaccine could reach $1.2 billion.