paying for vaccine


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Let the ultra-rich and influential skip the line for Covid-19 vaccines? Hear me out


It’s one thing to talk about vaccinating the majority of people living in the United States to stop the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s another thing to do it — and pay for it.

A vaccine program will also be expensive, even though recipients are told they will get vaccinated for free. One thing I’ve learned in life is that “free” is rarely a good price for anything. Especially something of great value, like protection from a deadly disease.

Influencers and paying to be vaccinated

The first two parts of the proposal are linked: Have the wealthiest and most influential Americans donate large sums of money to get to the front of the vaccine line, and use that money to fund the broader effort to vaccinate people against Covid-19. While some may donate because it is the right thing to do, I’d expect a substantial portion of the money raised to come from businesses that want greater certainty for themselves in a very uncertain world.

Donations would come from five tiers. For each tier, the mechanism is the same. People (or businesses on behalf of their people), donate money to get to the front of the Covid-19 vaccine line. There are limited available slots and getting the vaccine must be publicly documented so others can be motivated by these influential figures.

In the first tier, 100 of the wealthiest Americans each donate $100 million to be first in line for a vaccine, getting it within the first weeks of availability. This raises $10 billion.

In the second tier, 1,000 people each donate $10 million to get vaccinated within the first month. This raises another $10 billion.

You can see where this is going: The third tier requires a $1 million contribution for up to 10,000 people. The fourth, $100,000 for up to 100,000 people. The fifth and last tier requires a $25,000 donation from up to 400,000 people. Everyone participating in the program is vaccinated within the first two months of vaccine availability. The bigger the donation, the further toward the front one goes.

All told, this raises $50 billion for the cause by vaccinating just 511,000 people.

What would this $50 billion be used for, since the federal government has said it (thanks, taxpayers) is paying for the vaccines?

At the highest level, it can cover some of the government’s vaccination costs and save taxpayers some debt. That can mean everything from better serving those in remote locations to providing information in languages other than English. It can mean funding for vaccine programs where standard channels struggle, such as for people who are homeless or undocumented. Perhaps it means paying for child care so health care workers can put in overtime, allowing people to get vaccinated more hours of the day. And for those who’ll have a tough time going to a clinic, it can pay for programs to bring the vaccine to people’s homes.

In short, it can help get past the multitude of barriers to vaccine access, big and small, that exist in the U.S.

Is this morally acceptable?

Paying to get to the front of the line might seem obscene. But with 331 million people in the United States, this donor group is just 0.17% of the population. If the program seems too aggressive, removing the lowest tier still raises $40 billion with 111,100 vaccinations, which I estimate is less than one hour’s worth of anticipated peak vaccine capacity.

This whole idea fails if it interferes with getting vaccines into the arms of the people who need it most. The program is designed to ensure a maximum delay of no more than 24 hours for anyone, anywhere, at any point. The maximum average delay is under eight hours. Having a comparatively small numbers of donors makes this work.

A lot of vaccinations can be funded with $50 billion. At about $150 per U.S. resident (Links to an external site.), the money raised from the 0.17% can cover the cost of most — perhaps all — vaccinations for Americans.

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