COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be free to the public if they are needed, a top U.S. health official said Tuesday.
David Kessler, the chief science officer for the White House's COVID-19 response team, told senators at a hearing on Tuesday that the federal government has funding to purchase the next round of vaccines, so individuals won't have to pay.
"We are planning, and I underscore the word planning, to have booster doses available if necessary for the American people,” Kessler told the Senate Health Committee.
"We do have the funds to purchase the next round, if they are necessary. So we will be able to purchase the next round to ensure if there are boosters, they are free, just as the last round," Kessler said.
"Beyond 2022? I look to your guidance, and your colleagues, on at what point do you transition back to a commercial market, but I think for this coming round we are going to proceed as we have proceeded," he added.
Kessler was responding to a question from Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanPoll: New Hampshire Senate race tight Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Democratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races MORE (D-N.H.), who had asked what Congress could do to ensure fair pricing in the long-term for COVID-19 vaccines, especially given the significant taxpayer investments in many of the vaccines.
Comments by drug company executives have raised concern that once the public health emergency ends, they will significantly raise prices on their COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer’s vaccine is currently the most expensive of those currently in use under the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization, at $39 for the two-shot regimen. Moderna’s vaccine costs about $32 per regimen and Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot dose costs $10.
Unlike several other rival companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer did not use federal funds and said it planned to make a profit.
Earlier this year, a top Pfizer executive said the company will likely raise prices on its vaccine after the pandemic.
Frank D’Amelio, Pfizer's chief financial officer, said on an earnings call in February that the $19.50 a dose is clearly "pandemic pricing" compared to what they typically charge for a vaccine, which is $150 to $175 a dose.
Moving into the future, after the pandemic period, normal market forces will kick in and Pfizer is “going to get more on price” and will increase output at its factories, driving production costs per unit lower, D’Amelio said.
In all, D'Amelio said there’s a “significant opportunity for those margins to improve once we get beyond the pandemic environment that we're in.”