Story at a glance
- There are at least 54 COVID-19 vaccines in development, six of which have been approved for early or limited use.
- While none are yet available in the United States, several potential vaccines have been shown to be effective against the coronavirus.
- Differences between the vaccines show varying levels of accessibility for the public.
In the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, there are two competing conditions: accessibility and efficacy. And right now, it looks like one will come at the cost of the other.
On one team, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer teamed up with German biotechnology firm BioNTech to create a vaccine that was more than 90 percent effective at protecting participants when compared with a placebo saline shot in early results from its late-stage clinical trials. But the vaccine, which uses synthetic mRNA to activate a response from the immune system, currently needs to be kept at below freezing temperatures, making it hard to transport and store.
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The cost? Reuters reports $19.50 per dose for the first 100 million doses, or $39 per person (you need two doses).
In close competition with Pfizer is Moderna, which uses a similar technology and announced a vaccine in partnership with the National Institutes of Health that appeared to be 94.5 percent effective in an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials. This one lasts a little longer — one month in a standard refrigerator — but needs to be kept at below freezing temperatures to survive any longer.
The company told Welt am Sonntag, a German newspaper, that they will charge from $25 to $37 per dose, depending on order size, meaning at least $50 per person.
Finally, the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have announced a vaccine that was up to 90 percent effective in phase 3 trials but closer to 70 percent effective on average. But their technology, which uses an inactivated virus to stimulate an immune response, is easier to mass produce than the other two vaccines and can be stored in a normal refrigerator for at least six months.
Why would you take a potentially less effective vaccine? Well, because it's cheaper. AstraZeneca, which has committed to not profiting from the vaccine over the course of the pandemic, says each dose will cost between $3 to $5 — and you might not even need a full two doses.
Science isn’t cheap, and neither is health care in the United States, especially compared to many European countries. And as it stands right now, whether you get a more effective or less effective vaccine might depend on your access to health care and how much you can afford.
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