(NEW YORK) — More than 4 million Americans have been vaccinated with the newest COVID shot as of Thursday, according to the latest government data, putting the uptake about equal to that of the COVID vaccine rolled out in October of last year.
While vaccination rates remaining on par with last year’s rollout is positive news for public health experts, the shot has reached fewer than 2% of Americans.
There are about 8 million more shots on hand for distribution, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and in total 12 million shots have been shipped to pharmacies, doctors offices and clinics over the last few weeks.
Public health officials rubber stamped the latest COVID shot in September, matching the shot to the currently-circulating strain of the virus and recommending it for everyone 6 months and older.
It’s the first time that the COVID vaccine distribution has shifted over to the commercial market as opposed to the government, which purchased and distributed COVID vaccines while the country was in an emergency phase of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which has shifted to the private market, is a lot different than it was last year when the government was distributing them,” a Health and Human Services Department spokesperson said.
The transition from government-run logistics to a medley of private insurance companies working with pharmacy chains, doctors offices and public health centers has resulted in a bumpy rollout, at times riddled with confusion about the cost of the vaccines, which are intended to be free, and challenges in getting appointments, particularly for children.
Insurance companies are supposed to cover the cost of COVID vaccines, per a law enacted by Congress, and anyone without insurance should have access to free vaccines through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-run program.
Pediatric vaccines have also been slower to become available than adult vaccines. According to CDC Director Mandy Cohen, manufacturers distributed adult doses of the shot first, but pediatric doses are following suit.
“Manufacturers and distributors were getting out the adult vaccines first. So that was what was shipping in the first number of days,” Cohen said last week. “The supply is filling out, and make sure that you’re calling ahead to your pediatrician or your pharmacy to see if the vaccine is available, and if not, check back again.”
Insurance companies, pharmacies and the government have said they’ve addressed any initial issues with the rollout and continue to monitor for ways to improve access.
“Certainly we’re aware of what consumers have experienced, these unexpected issues of point of service,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “And so, this is certainly a top priority for this administration.”
But public health officials warn that access issues during the initial rollout could deter people from getting their shots. According to Walgreens, the busiest weeks for COVID-19 immunizations historically have been the first four weeks after a vaccine becomes available.
And there has historically been a waning interest in COVID shots — just 17% of Americans, or 56.5 million people, received the booster shot that was rolled out last fall, according to data released by the CDC in May. That’s compared to nearly 70% of Americans, or 231.6 million people, who got vaccinated with the first COVID series.
There is also less data surrounding vaccinations — as well as COVID cases — because states are no longer required to report data with the same timeliness or consistency as they were during the public health emergency, which ended in May.
The data that is available, however, shows that hospitalizations rose over the summer and hit a peak in mid-September. Hospital admissions have decreased by about 3% since last week.
The government also relaunched its free COVID test resource, COVIDTests.Gov, about two weeks ago, predicting a fall and winter rise in cases once again.
So far, 45 million tests have been ordered and over 10 million tests delivered, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Officials expect they’ll continue to have ample inventory to meet demand, a spokesperson for the department said.
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