Americans may have to pay for their COVID-19 vaccinations as early as January as federal funding for vaccine purchase and distribution runs out and the shots shift to the commercial market, according to a federal health official.
The announcement comes after the Department of Health and Human Services hosted over 100 representatives from state and local governments, including various stakeholders, insurers and pharmaceutical companies in a planning meeting on Tuesday.
“While the federal government has been pleased to play this role, we have always known that we would not be in this business forever,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, in a post on the ASPR site. “Unfortunately, the timeline to make the transition has accelerated over the past six months without additional funds from Congress to support this work.”
It’s been “more than 530 days” since the agency received funding for the coronavirus pandemic, O’Connell said. Congress cut out $22.5 billion (down from the initially requested $30 billion) in COVID-19 response funds from its $1.5 trillion March spending package that included aid to Ukraine and money to keep the government afloat until September.
In April, a $10 billion bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill failed in the Senate due to a proposed immigration amendment.
In addition to vaccines, the government anticipates running out of funding for the antiviral pill Paxlovid in mid-2023 along with the preventive Evusheld treatment early next year and another antiviral Lagevrio in the first or second quarter.
COVID-19 shots have been free to “anyone who wants one,” the HHS said, adding that shifting distribution to the commercial market could operate similarly to seasonal flu shots and other vaccinations.
The federal government is now focused on its updated fall booster vaccination campaign that provides protection against the omicron coronavirus variant as cases continue to trend downward. In July, the administration secured a $1.7 billion deal with Moderna for 66 million shots of the updated booster.