Graham Kilmer

Federally Funded COVID-19 Vaccines Will End. What’s Next?

Cutoff could come by January, leaving county officials worried about impact.

By - Sep 27th, 2022 07:24 pm
COVID-19 vaccine. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

COVID-19 vaccine. (Pixabay License).

Federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics will likely run out by the end of the year in Milwaukee County, endangering free and wide access.

Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, held a briefing with local media Tuesday warning that once federal funding for COVID-19 healthcare treatments and vaccines runs out, “It’ll look similar to what most of the rest of our health system looks like where vulnerable folks without resources, without insurance, get left behind; and that’s at a time when COVID is the fourth leading cause of death in our country.” Currently the U.S. is averaging more than 400 deaths a day due to COVID-19.

In August, President Joe Biden‘s administration announced it would stop purchasing COVID-19 vaccines as the producers move to commercialize them. At which time, the access points for vaccines will transition to traditional healthcare systems.

Without sustained federal funding, the ability to provide COVID-19 vaccines and treatments is in jeopardy, Weston said. The resources marshalled by the federal government are on a scale that cannot easily be matched by states and local municipalities or health systems, he warned.

Given the uncertainty of continued funding, Weston said now is the time to get vaccinated and boosted, before free access likely runs out at the end of December. “If you have been a hold out on the vaccine or not yet received your booster, now is the time,” Weston said. “The vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of folks and proven to be safe and effective. And while you are at it, get protected from flu at the same time.”

The federal funds have not only been covering the purchase of the vaccine but also the personnel costs associated with staffing vaccination sites and administering to millions of people across the country. “We really need the federal funding to be able to keep the vaccination campaign, keep our immunity high and keep therapeutics widely and universally available,” Weston said. He noted that the city of Milwaukee is still “going into churches, into grocery stores, into other areas where we have high levels of vulnerability and low levels of vaccine.”

Seeking out funding is “practically a full time job” for public health departments in Milwaukee County, Weston said, noting that those efforts will continue. But unless federal funding is sustained, they won’t be able to match what is lost.

Disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status have existed since the first doses were rolled out. Weston said there are already numerous barriers to vaccination, including “logistical barriers, it might be that you have to drive across town, might be that you have to take a bus across town and maybe you have to take time off for work,” he said. “So there are inherent barriers to getting vaccinated, and that doesn’t even start to mention the misinformation barriers.”

Weston noted that it’s often the most vulnerable populations that have the lowest vaccination rates, and throughout the pandemic when a new variant arises and disease spikes they are the most affected. “Now, the last thing we need is an additional barrier, a financial barrier,” he said.

In Milwaukee County, the COVID-19 disease burden has recently been declining. An important tool in the fight against COVID-19 is vaccination, and limiting access would affect efforts to sustain immunity across the population, which wanes over time. If the federal funding runs out, as is anticipated, Weston said, come January, COVID-19 vaccination will be a “much more confusing landscape.”

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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