Washington, D.C.—With COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to rise across the U.S., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) HHS Bridge Access Program For COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments Program officially launched in mid-September.

The Bridge Access Program provides continued free coverage for the estimated 25 to 30 million adults who would have otherwise lost access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines now that the distribution of vaccines has transitioned to the commercial market.

Under the program, manufacturers are donating COVID-19 vaccines to pharmacies, and the CDC will cover administration costs. The program is temporary, however, and free COVID-19 vaccines through it will not be available after December 2024. The CDC stated the eventual plan is for a permanent Vaccines for Adults program to provide free shots, and the Biden Administration has requested an incremental $317 million in Fiscal Year 2024 to fund it.

“The early peak of COVID-19 activity that we are seeing this year reinforces the need for all of us to stay protected against these viruses, especially as flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] also begin to spread in our communities,” explained Kevin Ban, MD, Walgreens CMO, in a media release.

“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,” added CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH. “This CDC program provides free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults at pharmacies, health centers and health departments around the country.”

The CDC, which administers the program, says it has modified existing Increasing Community Access to Testing program contracts with CVS, Walgreens, and the point-of-care testing company eTrueNorth to offer vaccination services in areas with low-vaccination coverage and access. As a result, more than 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide are providing cost-free COVID-19 vaccines to the uninsured or those whose insurance requires a copay for in-network coverage.

COVID-19 vaccines remain free for most Americans through their health insurance plans or through the Vaccines for Children program, which provides recommended vaccines and immunizations at no cost to approximately one-half of the nation’s children.

Meanwhile, the HHS announced the reopening of its website (www.COVIDtests.gov) to deliver COVID-19 tests for free to households across the country. Households will again be able to order four free tests through the HHS website. These tests will detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variants, are intended for use through the end of 2023, and will include clear instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates.

This upcoming round of ordering follows four previous rounds in which the assistant secretary for preparedness and response and the United States Postal Service provided over 755 million tests free-of-charge to households across the country.

The HHS said the Biden Administration has invested $600 million across 12 domestic COVID-19 test manufacturers to achieve that goal. “These critical investments in U.S. manufacturing will improve preparedness for COVID-19 and other pandemic threats of the future, strengthen the nation’s capacity to manufacture tests and secure approximately 200 million new over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for future federal government use,” according to an HHS press release.

Combined, the 12 U.S. manufacturing companies operate production facilities across the country and employ hundreds of workers in seven states.

“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” said Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell. “ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future.”

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