Advancing Access to Vaccines

Despite states reopening, the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues to spread in communities across the United States. Scientists are racing to find a vaccine and people across the world are eager for the hope of a full return to “normalcy” that a vaccine brings. But, while we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, this is a great opportunity to check with our health care providers to make sure we’re up to date on all our other immunizations, like pneumococcal and flu, and to advocate for policies that ensure everyone can receive the vaccines they need.

Because it is especially important for women living with heart disease to protect themselves from diseases that may cause more serious illness, WomenHeart is committed to ensuring that all adults and those with chronic conditions have access to recommended immunizations. Earlier this year we joined the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition, which works to raise awareness, improve access and increase utilization of vaccines among adults, and we support policies that address gaps in awareness and access.

Unfortunately, multiple barriers exist for many adults seeking vaccines, including lack of adequate information about recommended vaccines and financial and provider hurdles. Many of those barriers lead to low vaccinations rates, particularly for people of color. (Read our blog about pneumococcal vaccines for an example of disparities in vaccination rates for different communities).

In response, WomenHeart supports the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act (S. 1872 / H.R. 5076), a federal bill that would eliminate the out-of-pocket costs for vaccines covered under Medicare Part D. Currently, copayments apply to vaccines covered under Medicare Part D (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) and varicella zoster (shingles)) but not vaccines under Part B (flu, pneumococcal), which are available with no cost to the beneficiary. The bill will also improve education and access to recommended vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries, with the goal of helping to increase vaccination rates.

As we look forward to a future with a COVID-19 vaccine, it is critical that no one face structural inequities to vaccine access, which is why we must do the work now to break down any existing barriers. Fortunately, legislation passed by Congress in March included provisions to provide access to a future COVID-19 vaccine under Medicare and commercial insurance. But that’s just a first step. Policies must go further to invest in a comprehensive immunization response – not only to COVID-19 – but to other preventable illnesses that adversely impact people with chronic conditions, and we must commit to increasing education and awareness about the importance of immunizations.

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