The Trump administration says it will make an eventual COVID-19 vaccine available for free to virtually anyone in the United States who wants it.
Insurance companies are expected to cover the vaccine for most Americans, according to a senior administration official at a briefing Tuesday to discuss the government's efforts to develop a vaccine by the end of the year.
For those who are not insured, the official added, "Our role as the federal government is to ensure anyone who is vulnerable, cannot afford it and desires it gets it."
The official said Americans would get any vaccine produced with federal funding before it would be made available to other countries.
"Our priorities are very clear. Let's take care of Americans first," the official said.
"To the extent there is surplus, we have an interest in ensuring folks around the world are vaccinated," since the virus arrived through international travel, he noted.
Other countries are signing separate contracts to manufacture the vaccine elsewhere, he said.
"In no way are we inhibiting through our contracts those vaccines from getting to others around the world," the official added.
As part of Operation Warp Speed, the administration is aiming to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine by January 2021. Vaccines typically take a decade or more to develop.
The government has announced more than $3 billion in contracts to back companies in testing, manufacturing and distributing a vaccine. Congress has appropriated nearly $10 billion to develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for COVID-19.
The pandemic and lockdowns aimed at staunching the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have devastated economies around the world. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. economy will shrink by 11% in the second quarter of 2020 alone.
"While we're investing billions of dollars in this effort, it's to address a multitrillion-dollar challenge," the official said, who could not be identified according to ground rules for the briefing.
Fourteen vaccine candidates have been chosen from more than 100 in development. The government said it will select the most promising seven for clinical trials.
President Donald Trump's administration has already announced support for candidates produced by three companies: Moderna, which entered the first phase of the three-step clinical trial process in mid-March; Johnson & Johnson, which plans to start phase 1 testing this summer; and AstraZeneca, which is entering the final, large-scale testing phase this summer with a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. The administration says this vaccine could be available as soon as October if it works.
Federal funding is going toward building manufacturing capacity at the same time as vaccine candidates undergo testing, so that whatever vaccine proves safe and effective can be distributed as soon as possible.
The government has also signed contracts with companies that make the vials and syringes to package vaccines.