Quest for the New COVID Shot Shortages, Cost, and Frustration

Quest for the New COVID Shot Shortages, Cost, and Frustration

Rollout of COVID-19 Booster Faces Challenges: Supply Issues and Insurance Troubles

Sept. 29, 2023 – If you’re having trouble getting the latest COVID-19 booster, you’re not alone. As the rollout of the newly formulated shot begins in earnest, many Americans are finding roadblocks, while federal officials urge everyone to be patient and get the shot when you can.

Dana Tofig was one of the lucky ones. He signed up for the latest COVID-19 vaccine the minute it became available. When his appointment time came, he stood in line at a CVS in Gaithersburg, MD, and received his shot. Just as he finished, the pharmacy clerk told everyone in line behind to go home: There were no more doses available.

According to Tofig, the pharmacy had been given what they had anticipated was a week’s supply, but it ended up lasting just a few days. Despite appointments continuing to be canceled, a statement released after a meeting held by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and health insurance company leaders said that more than 6 million vaccines have been shipped to pharmacies, and so far, 2 million Americans have received their shots.

Unfortunately, in tandem with vaccine supply issues, those who have been able to get the shot have been running into trouble getting insurance to pay for it, reportedly due to technical issues. However, major health insurance companies have assured customers that these technical issues have largely been resolved. They are committed to fully covering the new COVID-19 shots, as required, with no cost sharing when consumers access them from a network provider or receive them through an out-of-network provider when in-network options are unavailable.

For individuals like Dotty Johnson, a 73-year-old retired college professor in Pennsylvania who recently completed chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, there is a sense of urgency to get the new monovalent shot. She and her husband have been trying to get the COVID vaccine but have faced numerous obstacles. Despite receiving the RSV vaccine in mid-September, they were informed by the pharmacist that CVS did not have the COVID vaccine yet and that they should make an appointment to come back. However, their Tuesday appointment was canceled, and there were no nearby appointments available. The Johnsons kept their appointment to get the flu shot, but the CVS Medicare system was down, so they had to choose between rescheduling or paying out-of-pocket for the flu vaccine.

CVS acknowledged some issues with its supply chain, stating that they are receiving updated COVID-19 vaccines on a rolling basis, and most locations can honor scheduled appointments, but due to delivery delays from wholesalers, some appointments may be rescheduled.

In New York City, Zoe Cohen and Levi Shaw-Faber had a similar unfortunate experience. They planned to get their shots a few days before their upcoming wedding. However, one hour before their scheduled appointment, they received a call from CVS explaining that they had run out of doses. By the time they started scrambling to find another availability that day, every pharmacy in the New York City area, besides one in New Jersey, was either fully booked or had run out of doses.

Despite these challenges, CDC Director Mandy Cohen remains optimistic, stating that “we’re in a different place than we were last year.” She has already received her flu shot and plans to get the COVID one as well. Leading infectious disease experts also face challenges, with Robert Hopkins Jr., MD, receiving his flu and COVID shots separately due to availability.

The COVID booster distribution chain is facing significant hurdles. According to Eric Topol, MD, founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, the supply levels are lower than anticipated, causing “eager beavers” who normally get vaccinated in the first few weeks to miss out on getting immunized. This situation not only poses challenges for individual vaccinations but also undermines the public health agencies’ coordination in a post-emergency state pandemic management.

In the past, the federal government purchased and distributed the COVID vaccines, providing a unified system. However, with the end of the national public health emergency in May, the purchasing and distribution process has shifted to individual healthcare providers ordering the vaccine, and manufacturers and distributors sending it out.

Despite the challenges faced in the rollout of the COVID-19 booster, it is important to remain patient and persistent in seeking vaccination. As supply issues are resolved and insurance coverage becomes more accessible, more Americans will have the opportunity to receive their booster shots. The commitment of federal officials and healthcare providers to ensure widespread access to the vaccine reinforces the importance of getting immunized to protect ourselves and others from the severe outcomes of COVID-19.