Covid Boosters Aren’t Reaching People Who Want Them

Covid Boosters Aren’t Reaching People Who Want Them
Covid Boosters Aren’t Reaching People Who Want Them


Public-health experts said setbacks related to scheduling and insurance coverage risk discouraging people from getting the shots.

The shift in responsibility for Covid-19 shot distribution from federal agencies to the commercial market is off to a rocky start.

People eager to get updated Covid-19 vaccines are having their appointments canceled or encountering confusion over insurance coverage. CVS said some appointments were rescheduled because of delivery delays. Walgreens paused online scheduling at some stores. Other people have encountered delays in insurance coverage for the shots, which was supposed to begin immediately.

Public-health experts said the setbacks risked discouraging people from getting the shots, as health officials are fighting to get more people vaccinated against a triple-threat of respiratory viruses this fall.

“This subgroup of people who really want to get this vaccine, and that may include people who are ill and are older, are not able to easily access it," said Jennifer Kates, who helped lead health-policy group KFF’s Covid-19 work.

The federal government is no longer paying for Covid-19 vaccines, after the public-health emergency ended in May. Payment for the shots has been taken over by insurance companies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set up a program for the uninsured to get free shots at some health departments, centers and pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens.

Most insurers are required to pay for the updated Covid-19 vaccines, which cost more than $120 without coverage. But some only fully cover them through in-network providers and pharmacies. Other insurers haven’t updated their plans yet to cover the shots for people who seek them out, health-policy experts said.

“It’s supposed to be immediate," said Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. People should call their insurance companies if they run into problems or are asked to pay, she said. “Don’t pay anything without checking first."

The Alliance of Community Health Plans and the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Cynthia Cox, a vice president at KFF, had trouble getting a shot last week before traveling to San Francisco. No in-network sites had the shot near Washington, D.C. The out-of-network Walgreens she went to said that it couldn’t accept cash and called her insurance company.

Her insurer said it needed her to get prior approval to get the shot out-of-network and asked for her doctor’s fax number. She left without getting vaccinated. She plans to drive to another area to get the shot this week. “Insurance companies and pharmacies have had months to prepare for this," Cox said.

Just 17% of people in the U.S. got a bivalent booster dose last season. Demand tends to be the heaviest in the first two to three weeks of a Covid-19 vaccine rollout, said Chris Altman, director of immunizations and clinical programs at Rite Aid.

“We try to take advantage of that," Altman said. “What we don’t like seeing is someone having a bad experience and not being able to find a vaccine."

Rite Aid started getting limited supplies of the shots last week.

CVS said that it is getting updated vaccines on a rolling basis and that most locations are honoring appointments. Walgreens said that most stores have enough supply and that it is helping find appointments for customers who had to be rescheduled because of delivery delays.

The CDC recommended on Sept. 12 that everyone ages six months and older get an updated Covid-19 shot, after the shots were cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. Covid-19 wastewater levels and hospitalizations have been rising from low levels since mid-July.

Write to Brianna Abbott at

Covid Boosters Aren’t Reaching People Who Want Them
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Covid Boosters Aren’t Reaching People Who Want Them
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