HHS Bridge Access Program Ensures Free COVID-19 Vaccination for Uninsured and Underinsured Adults

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has officially launched the HHS Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments. This initiative, announced in April, aims to secure access to free COVID-19 vaccines for an estimated 25-30 million uninsured adults, as vaccine distribution transitions to the commercial market. The program is now available, with doses set to be distributed in certain locations this week, and availability increasing in the coming weeks.

Administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bridge Access Program represents a unique public-private partnership involving over $1 billion in funding. It seeks to maintain access to COVID-19 care for uninsured individuals at local pharmacies, through existing public health infrastructure and at local health centers.

Following the CDC’s recommendation of updated COVID-19 vaccines (link to CDC statement), the program ensures that all Americans can receive these vaccines free of charge from their local providers, community health centers, or pharmacies.

CDC Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., M.P.H, stressed the importance of equitable access to COVID-19 prevention tools. “We have more tools than ever to protect against serious COVID-19 disease and death, but we must make sure everyone has equitable access to those tools,” she said.

To achieve this, the CDC has utilized an established network of state and local immunization programs for the distribution of updated COVID-19 vaccines. The health agency has also modified existing contracts under the Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program with CVS, Walgreens, and eTrueNorth to offer vaccination services in areas with low vaccination coverage and access. As a result, the CDC has contracted with more than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide to provide cost-free COVID-19 vaccines to people without insurance, or whose insurance requires a co-pay for in-network coverage.

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The Bridge Access Program is temporary, set to end in December 2024. As a long-term solution, the Vaccines for Adults (VFA) program has been proposed in both the FY 2023 and 2024 Presidential Budgets. This program would offer all recommended vaccinations at no cost for uninsured adults. However, this proposal has not yet been enacted into law.

COVID-19 vaccines remain free for most Americans through their health insurance plans – or through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides recommended vaccines and immunizations at no cost to about half of the nation’s children. The CDC continues to recommend vaccination as the best protection against severe outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death, as well as reducing the chance of Long COVID.

For more information on the Bridge Access Program, visit CDC’s website. Vaccines.gov has been updated with COVID-19 vaccine availability as the vaccine is distributed.

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