Since the introduction of the latest COVID vaccine in September, Vermont has faced significant challenges in ensuring that all residents who want a vaccine can access one. Particularly, individuals aged 65 and older and families with young children have struggled to find available appointments. While supply is gradually improving, as of last week, only around 12% of Vermonters had received an updated COVID shot, which is less than half the number of people who have received a flu vaccine.
Healthcare workers attribute this lack of availability to the federal government’s decision to no longer cover the cost of these shots. This has resulted in a slower production of vaccines, contributing to the scarcity experienced by many Vermonters. However, despite these challenges, the state is taking steps to address the situation and improve vaccine accessibility.
The Vermont Department of Health is responsible for ordering vaccines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC then distributes the vaccines to doctor’s offices and community health centers throughout the state, with healthcare providers not having to pay for the vaccines upfront. However, the CDC’s vaccine allocation is limited, and the Health Department can only order the maximum amount available.
One major challenge lies in the fact that the program is primarily meant for people under 65. Medicare and insurers covering individuals aged 65 and older do not contribute to the program’s funding, preventing the purchase of vaccines for this age group. As a result, many older individuals are directed to pharmacies for vaccination, adding further complications to the process.
Pharmacies face their own set of challenges when it comes to obtaining and administering COVID vaccines. These vaccines require special handling, shipping, and storage conditions, often necessitating a minimum order quantity. Once thawed, the vaccines have a limited potency window, adding a logistical burden to ensure they are administered within the specified timeframe. The cost of COVID vaccines is also higher than that of typical flu vaccines, resulting in financial challenges for some pharmacies, especially if insurance reimbursement is limited.
Moving forward, there are positive developments on the horizon. The Vermont Department of Health Access recently expanded reimbursement options for Medicaid recipients at pharmacies, including children aged 3 and older. This change provides more opportunities for vaccination outside of traditional healthcare settings. Additionally, as more people get vaccinated, there will be less competition for limited appointment slots.
The state program will continue to provide vaccines, and as supply improves, more health centers will offer walk-in clinics. The goal is to establish clinics throughout the state, serving both insured and uninsured individuals. These efforts will prioritize accessibility and ensure that anyone who wants a vaccine can receive one.
Overall, while challenges persist, Vermont is making progress in addressing vaccine availability. The state’s comprehensive approach, involving healthcare providers, pharmacies, and state programs, aims to meet the growing demand and provide vaccines to all residents efficiently and equitably.