Your NPR news source
There have been supply and insurance issues in the latest rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

There have been supply and insurance issues in the latest rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Chicagoans looking for new COVID-19 shot face supply issues, insurance hiccups

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Chicago, and getting an updated vaccine engineered to target new variants is important, health officials warn, but availability and insurance hiccups have left some Chicagoans scrambling.

New vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna meant to target recent subvariants, including XBB.1.5 and EG.5, were approved last month, but the rollout is working a bit differently than the first round of COVID-19 vaccines, causing bumps in the road.

When the COVID-19 vaccine was first rolled out at the end of 2020, the federal government provided doses for all Americans, regardless of whether they had health insurance. Now the vaccine has shifted to the commercial market, meaning health insurance is now involved. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said most insurance plans are legally required to cover the dose.

Just under 40,000 Chicagoans, 1.4% of the city’s population, have received the updated dose, according to the city’s Department of Public Health.

Shots not available at Northwestern; UIC only giving shots to kids

Some providers are still waiting on their distribution of the new vaccine.

University of Illinois Chicago Health doesn’t have any vaccine doses for adults, and a shipment isn’t expected until next week, Chief Quality Officer Susan Bleasdale told the Chicago Sun-Times. The hospital only has doses available for children under 12.

Northwestern Medicine warns people that vaccines may not be available on its website.

“We are in the process of getting a supply of vaccines for our patients,” the Northwestern website reads. “During this short period of time, the vaccine may not be available at Northwestern Medicine.”

A shipment is expected next week, but availability will depend on supply, a Northwestern spokesperson said.

The new vaccine is in high demand, especially as people travel or plan to gather for holidays, and hospitals are referring people to pharmacies that have a more abundant supply of doses, Bleasdale said.

While COVID-19 hospitalizations in Chicago are nowhere near the peaks seen in the last three years, cases are ticking up, giving Chicagoans another reason to seek out the vaccine, Bleasdale said.

“There’s a lot of interest, which is encouraging,” Bleasdale said. “I think people are seeing it right now we’re in the midst of an increase.”

But pharmacies are facing their own hurdles in providing the vaccine as the transition to the commercial market continues. Some people have had their appointments canceled or have been told that their insurance wouldn’t cover the updated vaccine.

A cancellation notice from CVS Health obtained by the Sun-Times reads: “If you did not request this, we may have canceled due to weather conditions, a change to vaccine supply, or another issue impacting your pharmacy. We know this vaccine appointment is important for you, and apologize for any concerns or inconvenience. We’re here to help you get your vaccination(s) as soon as possible.”

One downtown resident with private insurance signed up online for a shot at a CVS in River North this week but was told when he arrived it would only be covered if it was done at the office of his health care provider. Otherwise, it would cost nearly $200, he was told.

A CVS Health spokesperson said coverage is expected to smooth out as companies add the vaccine coverage to their policies. Those insurance issues were much more common in the early days of disseminating the new vaccine last month, the spokesperson said.

Delivery delays are also leading to some appointment cancellations, the spokesperson said.

For people who don’t have health insurance, the city of Chicago is providing free doses at federally qualified health centers and at city-run family vaccination clinics. Many pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are also involved in a program that provides no-cost vaccines. Participating pharmacies can be found at vaccines.gov or vacunas.gov.

If obstacles continue, some doctors are concerned people will be deterred from getting the vaccine at all.

“We may lose some people to that frustration, but hopefully when they see their physician they’ll be encouraged to get it,” Bleasdale said.

The blips in the latest round of vaccine distribution aren’t unique to Chicago. Across the country, the rollout has been disorderly. Scheduling blunders, age cutoffs and insurance barriers leave parents saying their kids are being left behind in the latest phase of vaccinations, just as flu season is ramping up, CNN reported.

The Latest
Noon Whistle Brewing’s timely offering is made with the real insects.
Two experts from the regional EPA office join WBEZ to tell us what we can expect. Reporter: Lauren Frost; Host: Melba Lara
In the last five years, Chicago has seen double the number of cyclists in the city.
Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health care compared to white Americans.
With her latest book, a Chicago author provides a go-to guide for new managers to foster a safe, inclusive and productive workplace.