The Biden administration has begun to end federally funded access to COVID-19 resources, including booster vaccines, at-home tests, and medications used to treat the virus. The funding, along with the anti-COVID measures it supports, is expected to completely run out later this year. Several officials from the administration have come out to explain the plan to commercialize COVID-related medical supplies.
The Biden administration asked Congress for more funding to purchase enough booster shots for the newest variant of COVID and more at-home tests for Americans to order online. The increase in funding was denied, so the administration announced that they planned to stop providing vaccines and testing in order to save the vaccines and tests they had remaining and preserve the national stockpile of anti-COVID resources in case of another outbreak.
Before this news from Congress, billions of dollars of emergency federal funding supplied free COVID vaccines and booster vaccines to Americans and financial support for a website where Americans could request at-home tests to be sent to their homes. All of these measures will no longer be provided once the funding runs out.
According to several officials from the administration, the current plan is to carefully transition into allowing the commercial sale of COVID resources. The ability to request at-home testing has been removed since late 2022 and on Jan 11, vaccines and boosters were no longer free as Congress’s public health emergency declaration expired.
While it is understandable that the government is unable to continue paying for COVID resources, it is frightening to think that access to vaccines and testing for the average American could soon become severely limited. According to recent data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, access to certain medical care, including free vaccines and treatments, could become harder to attain for all Americans. This could especially impact beneficiaries of Medicare and people who are uninsured.
Even for insured Americans, gaining access to COVID prevention and treatment could now include extra steps. The Biden administration has also not worked particularly hard to publicize the new policies which could be unpopular with Democrats. This lack of publicity may cause even more issues for Americans unaware of the new policies.
Although the amount of federal funding for COVID countermeasures was unsustainable, the sudden transition to commercialization could potentially cause shortages of supplies. Earlier transparency about the amount of funding available and more planning for a smoother transition would have been beneficial in reassuring Americans that they would still be able to get the treatments they need and ensure that another wave of the pandemic is not triggered by the sudden lack of government-provided preventative measures.
The federal supply of COVID-related healthcare has also given Americans a taste of what a socialized healthcare system in other nations could look like within our healthcare system. The distribution of vaccines and testing has been relatively effective throughout the pandemic, and fear that commercialization will make the process more complicated and expensive has some people reconsidering their position on the possibility of American socialized healthcare.
The potential for the private sector to abuse the sale of COVID supplies is also reminiscent of the hot-button issue of insulin prices. Like the COVID vaccine, insulin is a drug that is essential for a large group of Americans. It has become more than triple the price it costs to make or costs in other countries due to a lack of price regulation in the American healthcare sector. It is worrying that, like diabetics who are forced to skip or ration insulin treatments because of the financial strain of purchasing it, Americans may be forced not to receive COVID boosters or test themselves for the virus when they show symptoms due to financial barriers.
Another aspect to consider is claims from experts that this year’s flu season has been the worst in thirteen years, and is only expected to worsen. If access to the COVID vaccine, particularly the booster targeting the newest strain, is lost, then the flu season could be even worse.
Regardless of when government-funded vaccines officially run out, BC students should receive both a flu shot and the most recent COVID booster available to them as soon as possible. As long as there is uncertainty about the availability of vaccines in the future, it is better to be safe than sorry.