Will COVID booster shots cost you money when the public health emergency ends?
A University of Florida epidemiologist updates us on the vaccine, side affects, who's paying for it and the latest forecast for subvariants.
The second COVID-19 bivalent vaccine booster is available to certain people, including those over 65 or immune-compromised.
But the public health emergency is set to expire on May 11, which means the federal government will transition out of certain policies, such as free COVID tests.
Will boosters cost me money?
University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins says the end of the health emergency will not affect the free accessibility of the second bivalent booster. That’s because the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommended the vaccine beyond May 11..
“The expectation is that there's still coverage for vaccines through that point. And then most insurance companies would pay for the vaccine after that point, because of the ASAP recommendation,” Prins said. “The federal government does not charge for vaccines, and there's still some supply (in its inventory), that's going to be free as well, just because it's a federally purchased vaccine.”
The Department of Health & Human Services confirms this and also said that the emergency expiration would not affect access to certain treatments, such as Paxlovid and Lagevrio.
However, Prins also said there is an expectation that consumers would pay out of pocket for vaccines as they become more commercialized in the future.
Who can get it? And what are the side effects?
Currently, those who are 65 and older may receive the booster four months after their last shot. Those who are immune-compromised or have other underlying issues may also receive the second bivalent booster two months after their first shot.
Those receiving the shot shouldn't expect any new side effects, as the boosters appear to behave the same as previous doses.
"(People) have had the original vaccine, a booster, and probably a valence booster and there are folks probably moving on to dose number 5. You don't expect anything different at this point," Prins said.
About 23% of adults said they have received the September bivalent booster, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, and 25% said they were boosted but did not receive the bivalent shot.
KFF also found that about half of adults said they’re likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine annually if one was offered, like a flu shot. The report also showed that 1 in 4 adults were not vaccinated.
What's the COVID forecast?
State data show that positivity rate is about 8% for Florida. The World Health Organization's recommended level is 5% or lower. Prins expects that number to rise during the summer season following the pattern of the last few years.
"We've seen in the past that going into summertime definitely in Florida we've had an uptick in COVID-19 cases and that's happened in other parts of the US as well," she said. "Let's make sure that our vulnerable populations get covered for the summertime."
According to Helix, a surveillance company working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on tracking COVID variants, a new omicron subvariant is spreading in Florida: arcturus. The subvariant makes up about 5% of new cases in Florida.
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