The potential public health and economic value of a hypothetical COVID-19 vaccine in the United States: Use of cost-effectiveness modeling to inform vaccination prioritization

Vaccine. 2021 Feb 12;39(7):1157-1164. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2020.12.078. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


Background: Researchers are working at unprecedented speed to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. We aimed to assess the value of a hypothetical vaccine and its potential public health impact when prioritization is required due to supply constraints.

Methods: A Markov cohort model was used to estimate COVID-19 related direct medical costs and deaths in the United States (US), with and without implementation of a 60% efficacious vaccine. To prioritize the vaccine under constrained supply, the population was divided into tiers based on age; risk and age; and occupation and age; and outcomes were compared across one year under various supply assumptions. The incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained versus no vaccine was calculated for the entire adult population and for each tier in the three prioritization schemes.

Results: The incremental cost per QALY gained for the US adult population was $8,200 versus no vaccination. For the tiers at highest risk of complications from COVID-19, such as those ages 65 years and older, vaccination was cost-saving compared to no vaccination. The cost per QALY gained increased to over $94,000 for those with a low risk of hospitalization and death following infection. Results were most sensitive to infection incidence, vaccine price, the cost of treating COVID-19, and vaccine efficacy. Under the most optimistic supply scenario, the hypothetical vaccine may prevent 31% of expected deaths. As supply becomes more constrained, only 23% of deaths may be prevented. In lower supply scenarios, prioritization becomes more important to maximize the number of deaths prevented.

Conclusions: A COVID-19 vaccine is predicted to be good value for money (cost per QALY gained <$50,000). The speed at which an effective vaccine can be made available will determine how much morbidity and mortality may be prevented in the US.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Cost-effectiveness analysis; Economic analysis; SARS-CoV-2; Vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / economics*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 Vaccines*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • United States
  • Vaccination / economics*
  • Young Adult


  • COVID-19 Vaccines