Any potential vaccine for COVID-19 will be free for any "vulnerable" American who can't afford it, Trump administration officials pledged Tuesday.
As the administration's "Operation Warp Speed" closes in on potential candidates and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding continues to flow to private companies, advocacy groups and lawmakers have raised questions about the cost of a potential vaccine.
"For any American who is vulnerable, who cannot afford the vaccine and desires the vaccine, we will provide it for free," a senior administration official said during a call with reporters.
The administration officials spoke to the press on the condition their names not be used.
Officials also told reporters that the administration has been in contact with health insurance companies that "have expressed interest" in covering vaccines with no cost-sharing.
The CARES Act requires a vaccine to be considered a "preventive health service," meaning insurers must cover it without cost-sharing.
It also requires that insurers cover the full cost of coronavirus testing, with no co-pays or deductibles applied to the patient.
Officials did not say what criteria they would use to define affordability but acknowledged that the vaccine might not be available for everyone.
Officials said the government would employ a “tiered approach” and prioritize distribution of any vaccine to high-risk individuals, like the elderly, people with pre-existing health conditions and front-line health care workers.
"Our role as the federal government is to ensure anyone who is vulnerable, cannot afford it and desires it gets it, that critical infrastructure and essential workers get it, that those associated with national defense get it, and that's our obligation," an official said.
Officials stressed that the situation is still in flux and the populations who are able to receive a vaccine will depend on the results of clinical trials.
The goal of Operation Warp Speed is to have 300 million doses by January 2021, a time frame so condensed it is unprecedented in vaccine research.
The Trump administration officials maintained that despite the speed, any COVID-19 vaccine would require approval by the normal standards of safety and efficacy. Officials said the Food and Drug Administration will be involved along the way, rather than at the end of the trial, so they can analyze safety and efficacy data much more quickly than normal.