Supply shortages, canceled appointments, and insurance headaches have made getting a COVID-19 booster a frustrating and confusing process for many Americans.
As cold and flu season approaches, medical experts urge people to stay healthy with boosters. Vaccine companies Moderna and Pfizer told the Globe they’ve shipped millions of vaccines, but New England residents have had trouble obtaining them.
Here are some tips for finding and receiving a vaccine without paying out of pocket or waiting for months.
Why is it so difficult to get a COVID booster?
Because the federal government is no longer in charge of buying and distributing COVID vaccines, shots are treated as commercial products — and endure the same insurance and supply hiccups that other medications in the American health care system.
Finding a pharmacy with boosters
Many people have reported trouble finding boosters close to them. To locate shots near you, start at vaccines.gov, a website that provides a list of nearby vaccination spots. Give the pharmacy a call before you schedule an appointment to confirm this location has enough boosters — many run out before their websites are updated. Once you’re sure the location has vaccines, schedule an appointment.
Since supply changes daily, follow up with your pharmacy before your appointment — preferably before leaving your home, so you don’t get there and discover they’ve run out of vaccines.
Making sure insurance covers your booster
Federal law requires Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies to cover the COVID-19 vaccine without copay. To make sure you don’t pay out of pocket, choose a pharmacy in your network and double check that your insurance company has updated its system to cover the newest COVID-19 booster. You can do this by calling the company.
When you arrive for your booster, double check with your pharmacist that you won’t pay out of pocket. Make sure you have your ID, COVID-19 vaccination card, and insurance information. If you’re told you’ll have a copay, reschedule your appointment and get in touch with your insurance company as soon as possible to find out when your plan will be updated.
Can I still get a booster if I don’t have insurance?
Where are boosters right now?
Ann Scales, a spokesperson from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said DPH can only track COVID-19 vaccines that are ordered through federal contracts for the state vaccine program. DPH has no visibility into commercially purchased COVID-19 vaccines, Scales said.
Moderna and Pfizer representatives told the Globe they have enough supply. Spokespeople said that Pfizer isn’t experiencing any shortages, that it has “shipped and delivered several million doses of its 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine.” Moderna released a statement last Thursday saying it had an “ample supply” of boosters, with an additional 6 million available that day.
The New York Times reported on Friday that CVS, Walgreens, and Safeway pharmacies experienced delayed shipments resulting in canceled or rescheduled vaccination appointments. Globe reporters visited a handful of CVS and Walgreens pharmacies in downtown Boston on Tuesday and found that three out of four had no boosters in stock. The fourth, a Walgreens, had a limited supply.