White House focusing on vaccine access for vulnerable

The White House is making it a priority to ensure vulnerable populations have access to needed vaccines, a top administration health official said.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said many of the most vulnerable in the country are seniors and disabled people on Medicare. In many cases, they are either unaware they need a particular vaccine or they can’t afford it because of Medicare coverage limitations.

Brooks-LaSure touted a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that requires all adult vaccines covered under Medicare Part D, like the one for shingles, be covered at no cost if they are recommended by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee.

“One of the things seniors are really excited about is access to the shingles vaccine. It has just become a huge game-changer in terms of health and now is more affordable,” Brooks-LaSure told moderator Bob Cusack during an event hosted by The Hill on reducing gaps in vaccine access to communities of color. The event was sponsored by Pfizer. 

That provision took effect at the beginning of this year, and Brooks-LaSure said the administration is working to get the word out.

Vaccination rates among adults and children plummeted during the pandemic and have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. Part of the reason, experts have said, is fallout from heated partisan fights over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and a distrust of public health authorities.

Brooks-LaSure said if people have questions about access to vaccines, it’s important for them to talk with trusted partners, whether those are faith-based groups, clinicians or even barbers. 

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who serves on the Ways and Means Committee and is the new chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, said he wants to make it easier for physicians to have those conversations with patients.

“There needs to be that discussion on all vaccines with patients. What the data really is, what the risk people are taking by not getting vaccines, what the risk is to our public health … and that needs to come from a one-on-one conversation,” Wenstrup said. “There’s a lot of mistrust out there. … We really need to have accurate data at the disposal of physicians.”

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