ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
With cooler weather set to come through in the coming weeks, that means an increased chance of illnesses including the cold, flu, and COVID-19.
With that in mind, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced Tuesday their recommendation for everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 illness this fall and winter.
“Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death. Vaccination also reduces your chance of suffering the effects of Long COVID, which can develop during or following acute infection and last for an extended duration. If you have not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past two months, get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect yourself this fall and winter,” the CDC noted. “The virus that causes COVID-19 is always changing, and protection from COVID-19 vaccines declines over time. Receiving an updated COVID-19 vaccine can restore protection and provide enhanced protection against the variants currently responsible for most infections and hospitalizations in the United States. Last season, those who received a 2022-2023 COVID-19 vaccine saw greater protection against illness and hospitalization than those who did not receive a 2022-2023 vaccine. To date, hundreds of millions of people have safely received a COVID-19 vaccine under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.”
Most Americans can still get a COVID-19 vaccine for free. For people with health insurance, most plans will cover COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you. People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers; state, local, tribal, or territorial health department; and pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program. Children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program also may receive the vaccine from a provider enrolled in that program.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., M.P.H, noted in a release from the CDC. “CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones. This is the first fall and winter virus season where vaccines are available for the three viruses responsible for most hospitalizations – COVID-19, RSV, and flu. In addition to safe, updated COVID-19 vaccines, at-home tests for the virus can identify infection so you can protect your family, coworkers, and the general public. If you do get sick, talk to your doctor about proven, effective treatments that can reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.”
Earlier this week, the CDC’s Bridge Access Program officially launches, providing continued free coverage for the estimated 25-30 million adults who would have otherwise lost access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines now that the distribution of vaccines has transitioned to the commercial market. Doses will be available in some locations this week, with distribution increasing in the coming weeks.
“Administered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the more than $1 billion program will create a unique public-private partnership to help maintain uninsured individuals’ access to COVID-19 care at their local pharmacies, through existing public health infrastructure, and at their local health centers,” a release from the CDC noted. “Doses will be available in some locations this week, with distribution increasing in the coming weeks. With the updated and authorized updated COVID-19 vaccines now recommended for use, the CDC has taken steps to ensure all Americans are able to receive these vaccines at no-cost from their local provider, community health center, or pharmacy.”
“We have more tools than ever to protect against serious COVID-19 disease and death, but we must make sure everyone has equitable access to those tools,” Cohen noted in the CDC release. “This CDC program provides free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults at pharmacies, health centers and health departments around the country. To achieve this, CDC has leveraged an established network of state and local immunization programs to distribute updated COVID-19 vaccine through participating community-based providers, including local health departments and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-supported health centers. CDC has also modified existing Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program contracts with CVS, Walgreens, and eTrueNorth to offer vaccination services in areas with low vaccination coverage and access. As a result, CDC has contracted with more than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide to provide cost-free COVID-19 vaccines to people without insurance, or whose insurance requires a co-pay for in-network coverage. CDC will additionally ship and fund administration of vaccines to public health providers designated by state and local health departments – which could include more than 1,400 HRSA-supported health centers and 12,000 other vaccine providers.”
The Bridge Access Program is temporary and scheduled to end in December 2024. A longer-term solution is the Vaccines for Adults (VFA) program, proposed in both the FY 2023 and 2024 Presidential Budgets, which would cover all recommended vaccinations at no cost for uninsured adults. This proposal has not yet been enacted into law.
“COVID-19 vaccines remain free for most Americans through their health insurance plans – or through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides recommended vaccines and immunizations at no cost to about half of the nation’s children,” the CDC noted. “Vaccination remains the best available protection against the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. COVID-19 vaccines also reduce the chance of having Long COVID. If you have not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 2 months, CDC recommends getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect yourself in advance of any potential surges in virus circulation this fall and winter.”
For more information on the Bridge Access Program, visit CDC’s web site. Vaccines.gov will also soon be updated with COVID-19 vaccine availability as the vaccine is distributed.