Health officials confident in availability of free COVID vaccine amid transition to commercial market


COLUMBUS – On Thursday, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Bruce Vanderhoff, MD, MBA, said he is confident that the COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be readily available to Ohioans, including to those without insurance, even as the vaccine supply next week begins to transition to a more traditional healthcare model.

In May, the federal government allowed the COVID-19 public-health emergency status to expire. That meant that the government would no longer be the sole supplier of vaccines. After Aug. 3, vaccine ordering through the public-health model ends, and in September, providers will start purchasing vaccine from manufacturers on the commercial market.

“Ohioans who have medical insurance should not have to pay out-of-pocket costs for the vaccines, as it typically is covered as a preventive health service,” said Dr. Vanderhoff, who had discussed the upcoming changes in detail at a May press conference, “and ODH, working with our federal partners, has several programs available to ensure that those without insurance can continue to get free vaccines, as well.”

ODH will continue to offer vaccines free of charge to eligible children, including those who are uninsured, through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The state has access to about 450,000 doses through this program.

For uninsured adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created the Bridge Access Program. Ohio has access to about 90,000 doses under this program, which will be in effect through the end of 2024. A possible longer-term solution is the Vaccines for Adults program, proposed in the most recent Presidential budget, which would create a permanent initiative modeled after the VFC program. This proposal has not been enacted into law.

In addition, the CDC will contract with pharmacy chains to allow them to continue offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to the uninsured. The list of pharmacies included in this program has not been announced.

Nearly 75% of adult Ohioans have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but Dr. Vanderhoff encouraged all Ohioans to continue to stay up to date with their vaccines.

“Keeping up to date with your vaccines is the best way to protect yourself against severe disease, especially with fall and winter just around the corner,” Vanderhoff said.

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