Over the past couple of weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna released preliminary results from their stage 3 test of its COVID-19 vaccine claiming 90%+ efficacy. Leveraging mRNA technology, this breakthrough blows open not only our ability to treat COVID-19, but also has significant implications for developments of future vaccines and treatments. That all said, there have been concerns raised regarding access to the vaccine, with equality in access being of paramount importance. While it has already been announced that the vaccine will be free of cost, I believe the government needs to go several steps further in making sure the vaccine is truly administered in all communities at zero cost.
Zero cost does not just mean there is no bill. Zero cost means that people need to be able to receive this vaccine even if they don’t have the ability to transport themselves. They need to be able to receive it at work if necessary. We need to take an attitude of seek/search/destroy this virus through complete vaccination and verification that the population has been protected. Regardless of life circumstances, people need to be receiving this treatment at truly zero cost.
To that end, once the FDA has approved the vaccines for use, the outlined plan detailed by President-elect Biden makes a great deal of sense, prioritizing administration to health care and othe front-line workers first. We still have a very long winter of infections ahead as cases soar to nearly 200,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths per day. Once that layer of protection for those with the greatest risk of being exposed to the virus, there are two areas that have been disproportionately hit hardest by the pandemic – urban communities of color and rural communities. This does not just mean make the vaccine available in those areas first and hope for the best. It is about understanding the life circumstances of the people in those regions and meeting those people where they are at. That might mean going to workplaces, going to churches, going wherever people are willing and able to receive treatment and ensuring that each person is treated.
This approach will cost money. At $39.00 for a complete cycle of doses for every person nationally, the cost of the vaccine is $12.8 billion dollars. And while we don’t know how much it will cost to verify everyone’s treatment, there are some indicators that suggest it would be far less expensive than it might seem on its surface. The 2020 U.S. Census is estimated to cost $15.6 billion. But we have thousands of health care providers that can securely report treatment to the government, so I would estimate having people on the ground to track down and administer treatment to be a fraction of this amount – $5 billion as a maximum cost here. On the flip side, based on current hospitalization averages the in-patient financial cost, notwithstanding cost of lives lost, I estimate this to be $26 billion. Subtracting the cost of the vaccine and verification of administration, we would not only save lives lost but also save an estimated $5.4 billion in health care expenses.
In other words, there is absolutely no excuse for the government to not throw its full and complete resources into making absolutely certain that we meet every person, regardless of walk of life, where they are at to administer this life-preserving vaccination. Zero cost does not just mean free of expense – it means making sure that there is absolutely no hurdle that stands in the way of people being able to receive this treatment. Zero-cost administration of COVID-19 treatment, apart from obviously being the right thing to do on moral grounds, is also prudent from a financial standpoint. These are the efforts we need to take to return to normalcy, to stabilize our economy, and most importantly, to save as many lives as possible.