Uninsured kids will still receive Covid vaccines for free after shots move to commercial market

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  • The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines to children under the age of 19 whose families cannot afford them.
  • Children are eligible if they qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured, underinsured, or Native American.
  • On Wednesday, independent consultants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously to include Covid shots in the program.

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On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took a major step to ensure that uninsured children can get free Covid-19 vaccines after the federal government moves its immunization program to the commercial market.

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On Wednesday, CDC independent advisors voted unanimously to include FDA-approved Covid vaccines for children in the federal government’s childhood vaccine program.

The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines to children under the age of 19 whose families cannot afford them. Children are eligible if they qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured, underinsured, or Native American.

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Including Covid shots in the program doesn’t make them a regular shot for kids at school, said Dr. Jose Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

During the pandemic, the federal government is providing free Covid vaccines to all US residents. But the Biden administration is working on a plan to commercialize the vaccination program as early as 2023, which means people will have to start paying for shots.

Dr. Jeanne Santoli, a spokesperson for the CDC, said the public health agency will begin contracting health care providers for free Covid shots for uninsured children.

Children aged 6 months and older are currently eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose primary series with first-generation vaccines targeting the original strain of Covid. Children as young as 5 years of age are eligible for new shots targeting the dominant omicron BA.5 subvariant.

The decision to include Covid shots in the free vaccination program will be critical to maintaining access for many children. Up to 5.3 million children are expected to lose health coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program when the Biden administration decides to end the public health emergency caused by Covid, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s an access issue. It’s a problem allowing kids who don’t have insurance to access this vaccine,” Romero said.

Although Covid-19 is generally less severe in children than in adults, more than 162,000 children under the age of 18 have been hospitalized with Covid since August 2020, according to the CDC. More than 1,800 children have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, according to the data.

Public health officials are also concerned that children develop prolonged Covid even after a mild infection.

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