In a televised speech on April 7, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez echoed the concerns voiced earlier this year by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally. She promised that Venezuela would not repeat what is happening “in rich countries where only those who have money to get vaccinated are vaccinated.”
“Venezuela participates in the model of universal and free access to health,” Rodriguez said, adding that “this will also be the case with the vaccination process.”
Her claim that people in wealthy nations must have money to get a vaccine is false.
Disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines are indeed real. According to UNICEF, 130 nations had not started vaccinating their populations as of February. Meanwhile, the U.S. has vaccinated more than 22% of its population and bought enough doses for 750 million people, far more than needed.
But those receiving the COVID-19 vaccines do not have to pay for them, particularly in countries with free, universal healthcare systems.
Japan, for example, passed a bill last December saying the government would cover all COVID-19 vaccine costs for Japanese citizens. However, its vaccine rollout has lagged, with only 0.5% of its population fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced in December that COVID-19 vaccines would be free for all in the country's social security system, and that the government had “earmarked some 1.5 billion euros ($1.82 billion) of next year’s social security budget to cover the cost,” Reuters reported.
In the U.S. – which lacks free, universal health care – Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, requiring insurance companies to pay the cost of COVID-19 vaccines. In October, a federal regulation further clarified the vaccine coverage mandate.
“This IFC implements a number of measures intended to further the Administration’s commitment to ensure that every American has timely access to a COVID-19 vaccine without any out-of-pocket expenses, no matter their source of coverage, or whether they are covered at all,” the regulation states.
It requires health plans and insurers to cover vaccines even if they were administered by an out-of-network provider. (In the U.S., when doctors, hospitals or providers accept a health insurance plan, they are in-network. If they do not accept a plan, they are out-of-network).
For those who are uninsured, the U.S. federal government has, through the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund (PRF), supplied funding to reimburse medical providers for the millions of doses bought in advance. Once those are exhausted, the U.S. Congress will have to authorize additional funding.
In the United Kingdom, vaccination is only being administered through the National Health Service – the public healthcare system – and is also free. To date, the U.K. has vaccinated almost 13% of its population.
Although citizens and residents in these countries are not paying when they get their vaccines, it is important to understand that, in a way, no vaccine is free. Taxpayer money is paying for the administration and distribution of vaccines. Still, Rodriguez was wrong to state that people can be vaccinated only if they have the money to pay for it.
In early April, Venezuela's National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences urged renewed efforts to vaccinate the country's population considering a spike in infections.
To date, Venezuela has received 750,000 doses of vaccines from Russia and China, Reuters reported. Authorities say the doses have been given to health personnel.
Bloomberg reported on April 14 that the Venezuelan government is “restricting Covid-19 shots to people with a state loyalty card, effectively excluding many government opponents from getting vaccinated.”
The news agency wrote that last week, as Venezuela's elderly population began being vaccinated, recipients were selected “from a registry used by the Nicolas Maduro administration to keep tabs on voter loyalty and grant state subsidies.”
According to official figures, Venezuela currently has nearly 179,400 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,800 people in the country have died of the disease.