Updated COVID vaccines may be covered by federal bridge program for uninsured people

Uninsured people can get an updated COVID vaccine at no cost through a new federal program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bridge Access Program, a new public-private partnership, works to maintain access by providing free COVID vaccines to underinsured or uninsured adults.

COVID vaccines were free to all during the public health emergency, but as of September 21, the U.S. government is no longer purchasing COVID vaccines, and updated 2023-2024 COVID vaccines are now available for private purchase on the commercial market.

Most private insurance companies, along with Medicare and Medicaid, will now cover the cost of getting the shot. For people who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover all COVID vaccine costs, the Bridge Program provides a path to safety.

The program was started in April. In a statement, the CDC reported that the more than $1 billion program would provide free coverage for an estimated 25 million to 30 million adults who would otherwise lose access to the vaccine.

Many children who do not have insurance can also get vaccines through the Vaccines for Children program. According to the CDC, children eligible to participate in the program must be under the age of 19, and either Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, underinsured, or American Indian or Alaska Native. The Vaccines for Children program has been in existence since 1994.

“We have more tools than ever to protect against serious COVID illness and death, but we must make sure everyone has equal access to those tools,” CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. ” “(The Bridge Access Program) provides free COVID vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults at pharmacies, health centers and health departments across the country.”

How to access the program

According to the CDC, the Bridge Access program is valid through December 2024. A long-term solution, the Vaccines for Adults (VFA) program, was proposed by the Biden administration but has not been enacted into law.

People seeking COVID vaccines who are uninsured can visit vaccines.gov and use the online tool to find COVID-19 vaccine providers that accept the Bridge Program.

In western Pennsylvania, those locations include CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, two pharmacy companies working with the federal government to help facilitate the Bridge program.

A CVS spokesperson confirmed that all of CVS’s more than 9,000 pharmacy locations are participating in the program.

“Uninsured patients do not need to do anything other than make an appointment or walk-in and request a vaccination,” CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault said. “The pharmacy team will confirm they are eligible based on their insurance status.”

A CDC page confirms that there is no enrollment process for the program.

“The burden of patient eligibility verification will fall on our health care systems, not patients,” the CDC says. “There is no enrollment process for eligible adults to receive free COVID-19 vaccines through the Bridge Access program. To determine eligibility, providers will ask patients if they have health insurance at the time of care.

Getting an updated COVID vaccine can help protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death, especially from new variants. While two additional spinoffs of the Omicron variant, BA.2.86 or “Pirola” and EG.5 or “Eris,” are now spreading in the U.S., the FDA says the new vaccines “are expected to provide good protection against Covid-19.” Hopefully “currently circulating variants.”

A Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson said the vaccine is available from local providers, select pharmacies, local health departments, state health centers and federally qualified health centers.

“Staying up to date about COVID vaccination is still the most effective way to avoid serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why everyone 6 months and older is encouraged to get the latest safe, effective vaccine.”

Julia Maruca is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at [email protected].

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