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- [Announcer] A Corona virus vaccine is seen

as a key weapon against the pandemic,

but how much will shots cost in the US?

Some companies have said that a dose could sell

for as little as a few bucks to as much as $25.

And that vaccines may actually be available fairly quickly

by industry standards, meaning less than two years,

as opposed to more than 10.

- It's called operation warp speed.

That means big. And it means fast.

- [Announcer] Of more than 160 groups racing

to put a vaccine on the market,

a handful entered the final testing stage

within the first six months.

That's much faster than the usual process,

which can take years.

And that's in part thanks to US government money.

The administration handed out more than $10 billion

between March and August.

- There's an expectation on the public's part that the drug,

because it's been funded partially by tax payer money,

that the price will be reasonable.

- [Announcer] But investors have also poured funds

into drug makers and stocks

at some pharma companies have sought.

That's putting pressure on big pharma

to make vaccines affordable

while also keeping investors happy.

We wanted to know what does that mean

for the final price tag?

Developing a vaccine is a huge gamble.

Getting it from the lab to clinic can cost billions

of dollars and not all of the companies that

are developing vaccines will end up with a viable product.

- Of all of the vaccines that start human testing,

about 66% of them will fail.

- Kenneth Kaitin studies drug pricing

at Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development,

which receives grants from the pharmaceutical industry.

He says vaccine R&D is something few companies can afford.

- Not a lot of companies actually invest in this

for a variety of reasons.

One of them is the poor likelihood of success

and the difficulty of generating revenue

on whatever R&D activity they have.

- [Announcer] But in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic,

government money is taking away a lot of that risk

by funding, vaccine research and development

and signing contracts to buy the vaccines before

they're even approved.

Two government deals with Moderna and Pfizer would secure

as many as 200 million doses by January next year.

And that would mean both vaccines would be free of charge

to people in the US at least initially.

To speed things up, pharma companies

received additional funds for manufacturing

and are already mass producing vaccines

while still conducting clinical trials.

Michael Kinch is a biochemistry professor

and a vaccine historian.

He says producing and storing vaccines

can be very expensive.

- Under what conditions, what the temperatures and humidity

and a number of things that, again,

oftentimes can take years to develop.

It might be that we find out

that certain conditions ruin a batch of vaccine.

- There's also a parallel scramble to secure billions

of medical grade vials and syringes that are just

as important as clinical trials.

And the US isn't the only country trying

to secure doses for its citizens.

- Certainly there are just 7 billion people,

which is probably an underestimate,

and if each one perhaps needs two doses,

you're talking about a monumental logistics challenge

of being able to create double digit billions

of different vaccine doses.

- Manufacturers of glass vials have estimated

that worldwide demand because of the pandemic

will increase by 2 billion over the next two years.

Since most of the medical supplies are sourced overseas,

the US government is giving American glass-makers

and syringe suppliers, federal contracts

to ramp up production.

Some Americans are hesitant about taking a COVID-19 vaccine

because of concerns that development is being rushed.

To allay those concerns, several industry rivals

are planning a joint pledge to not seek regulatory approval

until the shots are proven to be safe and effective.

Despite the hurdles, some companies are joining

the crowded race because they already have

the technical capabilities to do so.

For instance, Novavax says it makes business sense

to repurpose the technology it uses for

a promising flu vaccine to develop one for COVID-19.

Plus financial backing from not just the US government,

but also various countries and nonprofits

have also given companies more of an incentive to chip

in than ever before.

In return, companies may get positive coverage worldwide

for stepping in during a pandemic

or being one of those to find an effective vaccine.

Lawmakers have said that drug makers

should be held accountable to taxpayer dollars.

Some companies have said their vaccines

will be priced at cost because of the current crisis.

- We will be providing a vaccine

at a not-for-profit price during the emergency pandemic.

- But Pfizer and Moderna has said they still intend

to make a profit.

- We will not sell it cost.

- Kenneth Kayton from Tufts points out

that some pharmaceutical companies with portfolios

of blockbuster drugs should be able to absorb

the cost of the vaccine.

Sales from these products can help take away some of

the pressure to profit from a single Corona virus vaccine.

Meanwhile, the government is working

with commercial insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid

so people won't have to pay out of pocket.

There's also a government plan to help fund

the vaccines for the uninsured.

Black and Latino communities have less access

to health care than white people.

And they've been dying at disproportionately higher rates

during the pandemic while also making up a large part

of essential workers at greater risk for exposure

to the virus.

So a free or affordable vaccine would be one

of the best ways to protect the most vulnerable

and return to some level of normalcy.

(gentle music)

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