'We're angry': RSV, COVID shot rollout hits wall

Health experts are betting on a collection of vaccines and a monoclonal antibody to prevent severe illness and minimize capacity strain on hospitals from flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus this respiratory virus season. However, hurdles in accessing the shots may prevent those most at risk for severe illness from getting vaccinated before virus season is in full swing


Across the U.S., many community health centers say they are still waiting on new COVID-19 shots to arrive, NBC News reported Oct. 12. The CDC director signed off on the updated shots Sept. 12. 

"We are actually waiting with bated breath," Veronica Ford, RN, nursing manager at Cahaba Medical, which has 26 community health centers in Alabama, told the news outlet. "We are checking daily to see if the state has received their supply so that we can get ours."

Community health centers, which are funded through the federal government and provide free or low-cost healthcare, often treat patients with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness from flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus. With the federal government no longer covering the cost of the shots, community health centers are largely relying on programs such as the CDC's Bridge to Access Program, which provides free doses to those without insurance. 

Officials with the National Association of Community Health Centers told NBC News they have heard from many health centers that are facing significant wait times to receive their vaccine orders, and in some cases, health centers are not receiving enough doses, leaving health centers to prioritize doses for people who are most at risk. 

"We don't have the resources to provide for the communities most in need," Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John's Community Health in Los Angeles, which is also facing shipment delays from the CDC's access program, told NBC News. "The same vaccine disparities seen before the pandemic are rearing their ugly head again."

A CDC spokesperson told the news outlet the agency is in contact with state health departments and has not been alerted of shortages or distribution barriers when it comes to getting the new shots to community health centers. 

Pharmacies, nursing homes and pediatrician offices are also struggling to stock up. 

COVID-19 shots are in short supply for a few reasons. Confusion with insurance plans is causing delays, and a new distribution model is disrupting shipments.  

For past COVID-19 vaccines, federal facilities shipped them. After drugmakers began selling the updated shots commercially for about $100 each, wholesalers are now in charge of sending the supply to pharmacies, which are grappling with staffing shortages

Nearly 14 million doses of the new shot have been shipped to pharmacies and other locations since their approval in September, according to HHS data. 


A similar issue is surfacing for Beyfortus, the first FDA-approved antibody for RSV, CBS News reported Oct. 11. 

Infrastructure issues for the antibody rollout are causing delays as healthcare workers have to order batches before knowing how much they will be reimbursed for the doses, which cost about $500 each. 

"We're angry," Lauren Fitzpatrick, MD, who works at Parole, Md.-based Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, told the news outlet. "As pediatricians, we're angry because it feels like we have an opportunity that may be missed."

Another issue is age cutoffs at some pharmacies, The Hill reported Oct. 10, forcing families to scramble to find pediatrician offices with enough supply. 

"Every pediatrician in town that I've called says, 'I don’t know, we have some ordered,' or, 'We haven't ordered them at all,'" Alexis Young, who lives in a semi-rural town in Washington and has a 3-year-old son, told The Hill. "It's been this long chain of phone calls going from place to place to figure out where I'm gonna get my kiddo boosted. And I still have no idea."


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