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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 21, 2021

Much evidence COVID-19 vaccines save lives, even though they’re free to patients

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. government purchased COVID-19 vaccines and mandated that they be free to patients in an effort to stem spread of the virus.

  • Evidence that the vaccines save lives include preliminary data showing more than 99% of recent COVID-19 deaths are among unvaccinated people.

A meme showing the late comedian George Carlin makes this claim about COVID-19 vaccines:

"If the shot actually saved lives, they’d be priced so high that you literally could not afford them, you know like insulin."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It’s well established in the United States that the COVID-19 vaccines, while not 100% effective in preventing the disease, have saved lives:

  • A report published July 7 by the Commonwealth Fund found that without a vaccination program, there would have been approximately 279,000 additional U.S. deaths by the end of June 2021. More than 609,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.

  • The Associated Press reported that only about 150 of the more than 18,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people, according to its analysis of data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That translates to about 0.8%, meaning 99.2% of the deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated.

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  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said July 1 that preliminary data from a collection of states over the last six months suggest 99.5% of deaths from COVID-19 in these states have occurred in unvaccinated people. 

The federal government bought vaccines from the vaccine manufacturers, and Congress mandated that the vaccines be provided free to all people living in the U.S. in an attempt to reach "population immunity" — to make it harder for the disease to spread. 

According to the most recent Congressional Research Service report, as of March 31, the federal contracts for the vaccines that have received emergency use authorization were worth roughly $6 billion for Moderna, $5 billion for Pfizer-BioNTech and $1.5 billion for Johnson & Johnson. 

Vaccine providers signed agreements with the federal government not to charge patients; they can seek reimbursement of their costs through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Federal funds reimburse health care providers for administering the vaccines to people who don’t have health insurance.

With regard to insulin, rising prices are a problem for the millions of Americans who rely on the medication to manage their diabetes. The high costs have been driven largely by the business practices of manufacturers, health plans and pharmacy benefit managers, PolitiFact reported.

We rate the meme False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, July 16, 2021

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "COVID-19 Care for Uninsured Individuals," May 10, 2021

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, memo, June 9, 2021

The White House, "Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials," July 01, 2021

U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, news release, June 17, 2021

Health Feedback, "Unvaccinated individuals now account for the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S., according to available data," July 7, 2021

Associated Press, "Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated," June 29, 2021

Commonwealth Fund, "Deaths and Hospitalizations Averted by Rapid U.S. Vaccination Rollout," July 7, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 Vaccines Are Free to the Public," May 24, 2021

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, "COVID-19," July 13, 2021

Healthline, "Really, the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Free," June 9, 2021

Congressional Research Service, "Operation Warp Speed Contracts for COVID-19 Vaccines and Ancillary Vaccination Materials," March 1, 2021

USA Today, "Fact check: False claim that COVID-19 vaccine isn't effective because you're not charged for it," July 21, 2021

New York Times, "The Covid Vaccine Is Free, but Not Everyone Believes That," June 1, 2021

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Much evidence COVID-19 vaccines save lives, even though they’re free to patients

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