ATLANTA — Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine for free, but it’s not really free because the federal government uses our tax dollars to pay for the shots.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi wanted to find out just how much of your money the government is spending and who is making money off the pandemic.
Channel 2 Action News went through months of financial records looking for who made money off stock trades during the pandemic and found several Georgia lawmakers. It is all legal.
But some are asking if it is ethical, especially as the government spends billions of dollars trying to stop the virus’ spread.
“How much do you think the government pays for each vaccine?” Choi asked Santrice Stewart, who was shopping in Clayton County.
“I’m not sure. I don’t know,” Stewart said.
“I couldn’t even put a number on it truthfully,” shopper Brittany Smith said.
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It’s an answer a lot of people don’t seem to know. But Emory University Professor David Howard from the Department of Health Policy and Management does.
“The price they’re paying depends on the manufacturer, what time they bought it. But generally, prices are about $20 a dose, which is similar to what the government pays, and other private insurers pay for the flu vaccine,” Howard said.
“I think in some cases the vaccine manufacturer didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of a crisis,” Howard said.
Taking advantage of the crisis is exactly the concern for some when it comes to lawmakers making stock trades.
Delaney Marsco is with the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, which studied the financial disclosure reports of congressional leaders during the COVID-19 crisis.
“They were buying stocks in remote work technologies, pharmaceutical companies. They were selling stock in cruise lines and restaurant companies. And it really put in stark relief why members of Congress trading individual stocks is such a problem,” Marsco said. “We can see when conflicts of interest arise. And we can see that sometimes our members of Congress appear to be, you know, looking toward their own bottom line with the information that they get as part of their official duties.”
Channel 2 Action News found several Georgia lawmakers making stock trades involving pharmaceutical companies, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Her office told Channel 2 Action News she has no control over her investments. A third-party financial advisor handles all transactions.
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U.S. Rep. Rick Allen also traded pharmaceutical stocks. His office sent us a statement, saying:
“Rep. Allen is adamantly opposed to any elected official using their position to improperly benefit from stock trades, and he supports measures that prevent conflicts of interest. That’s why he relinquished all control of his investment decisions to a financial advisor.”
“This is not a problem that is reserved for one party or one chamber of Congress. This is a widespread problem,” Marsco said.
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, former Sen. David Perdue who is now running for governor, and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler also traded stocks.
Some trades date as far back as March 2020, during the initial rise of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Channel 2 Action News found a Pfizer trade that Perdue made, as well as Amgen and Merck trades that Loeffler made in March 2020. The two came under fire for trading millions of dollars in stocks while Congress dealt with the pandemic. Both said the Senate Ethics Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice cleared them of any wrongdoing.
Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey failed to disclose stock trades worth up to $1 million in companies involved in the pandemic response.
“And bottom line is that members of Congress have extraordinary access to privileged information, and we make federal policy. And we shouldn’t be trading stocks or permitted to do so,” said Sen. Jon Ossoff.
He recently introduced the bipartisan “Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act” which does just that — ban members of Congress from trading stocks while in office.
“75% of the American public, Democrats, Republicans and Independents support this policy,” Ossoff said.
Voters whom Choi spoke to agree.
“Of course everyone’s going to be using it for their own personal gain. That should be about everybody gets better. But nothing really surprises me at this point,” Brittany Smith said.
“The big man going to win every time and we just surviving,” said Maurice Sawyer.
How much money are the very few companies manufacturing the vaccines making?
They had a banner year in 2021 — $22 billion in profits for Pfizer, according to the Associated Press. This is for a vaccine that was publicly funded for the most part.
The U.S. government paid for much of the research used to come up with the recipe.
That is why some say those companies shouldn’t be making a dime during a crisis like this, especially when some countries are still in dire need of the shot. Channel 2 Action News is looking into that angle for WSB Tonight at 11 p.m.
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