New Covid vaccine rollout hampered by canceled appointments, insurance issues


    Some people seeking the newest Covid vaccines are running into high demand, insurance headaches and supply delays coast to coast.

    Millions of the newly formulated vaccines have shipped out since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on them last week for ages 6 months and up. Cases started rising again in late summer, and experts hope the new shots will help protect people during the coming fall respiratory virus season.

    But some people have had to cancel appointments because their insurance hasn’t updated the billing codes to cover the vaccines. Others signed up for appointments, only for them to be canceled because of supply issues. And in some places, there are no available nearby vaccines: A search in Juneau, Alaska, through the federal government’s website shows no available appointments within 100 miles.

    Some pharmacies have limited supplies of the shots, Alaska Health Department spokesperson Alex Huseman said, but order backlogs and slow shipments have prevented the vaccines from being widely available. Private health care providers hopefully can get them as early as next week, she said.

    A pharmacist administers a new mRNA Covid vaccine COMIRNATY by Pfizer at CVS Pharmacy in Eagle Rock, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2023.
    A pharmacist administers a new mRNA Covid vaccine, Comirnaty by Pfizer, at a CVS Pharmacy in Eagle Rock, Calif., on Sept. 14.Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    “This rollout has been a little bumpier than anticipated, but we do not believe there will be any significant delay in vaccine availability,” Huseman said.

    It is the first time that the vaccines are reaching most people in the U.S. through the commercial market, bringing public and private health insurers back into the mix. Previously, the federal government bought and distributed Covid vaccines free since they became available.

    CVS Pharmacy spokesperson Matt Blanchette said some insurers are still updating their billing systems to cover the vaccines. For other people, the shots were covered by insurance without issue, but their pharmacies canceled their appointments because of supply delays.

    Walgreens and CVS confirmed that delivery delays to some stores across the country had led to canceled appointments.

    “We are aware of isolated incidences at a small number of locations where appointments had to be rescheduled due to delays in supply,” a Walgreens spokesperson said, saying most stores “have supply to support existing patient appointments.”

    Moderna and Pfizer representatives told The Associated Press that they have enough supply. Spokespeople said that Pfizer isn’t experiencing any shortages and that it has “shipped and delivered several million doses of its 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine.” Moderna had 6 million available Thursday, vice president of communications Chris Ridley said.

    Marwa Bakr, the owner of a small, private pharmacy on Milwaukee’s southwest side, said she put in a preorder for Pfizer’s and Moderna’s new vaccines a month ago. She got a call from Moderna this week telling her she should get the vaccines in the next two weeks, and Pfizer has said the shots could come by the end of next week.

    She used to order the vaccines through the federal government and said the return to the commercial process is “taking longer.”

    “I receive a lot of phone calls every day from people asking when the vaccine will be available,” Bakr said.

    Still, the supply issues aren’t deterring people from looking for the vaccines.

    Karen Ramos, of Temecula, California, made an appointment at her local CVS as soon as she heard that the vaccines had been approved. Ramos, 57, an insurance underwriter, has never had Covid-19 — at least, as far as she is aware. She wanted to keep it that way ahead of a scheduled Caribbean cruise on Oct. 1.

    She had scheduled an appointment last Saturday, but the day before, she got a text from the pharmacy saying the new vaccine wasn’t available and her appointment had been canceled. She set a new appointment for Tuesday, which also was canceled “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

    Ramos started searching for appointments at any CVS between her home and her office in San Diego. By expanding her search to Walgreens, she was able to snag an appointment in Temecula on Tuesday.

    “It was frustrating, because I was excited to get it two weeks in advance [of the cruise], and then having to scramble to reschedule,” she said.

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