CDC puts early end to free COVID vaccines for uninsured

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A federal program providing free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults is shutting down this summer, before the fall rollout of updated vaccines to fight against the latest variants. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its Bridge Access Program will end in August because of a lack of funding. The program has provided over 1.4 million free COVID-19 vaccines since it launched in September 2023 at a cost of more than $1 billion. 

The Bridge Access Program was meant to be temporary, but it was originally scheduled to end in December 2024.  

COVID-19 vaccines were available on the commercial marketplace for the first time last fall, as the federal government stopped distributing them once the public health emergency ended.  

Most private insurance companies cover the shot for free, but there are 25-30 million adults without health insurance and additional adults whose insurance does not cover all COVID-19 vaccine costs. The Bridge program allowed CDC to purchase the vaccines from the manufacturers and distribute them to state and local health departments as well as pharmacies, where they’d be made available for the uninsured.

The FY 2024 government funding bill rescinded $4.3 billion in COVID-19 funding that was never obligated, and a CDC spokesman indicated the agency had been using some of it to run the Bridge program.  

“Due to Congressional rescissions of COVID-19 funds in the FY 2024 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, difficult decisions had to be made about the future of CDC activities supported by those funds,” David Daigle told The Hill in an email. 

As a potential replacement, the CDC is advocating for a Vaccines for Adults proposal that was included in President Biden’s FY 2025 budget request. If enacted, it would give uninsured adults free access to recommended vaccines, similar to the successful Vaccines for Children program. The White House requested $25 billion over a decade to fund it.  

But even if the program is included, the appropriations process won’t be complete in time for a fall vaccine rollout.  

Until August, people can find where to locate a free COVID-19 Bridge vaccine at  

“After August, there may be a small amount of free vaccine available through health department immunization programs, but supply would be very limited.  We don’t yet know if the manufacturers will have patient assistance programs,” Daigle said.  

The Food and Drug Administration is meeting in early June to discuss which new COVID-19 variants the fall vaccines will target.  

But vaccination rates remain low. According to the latest federal estimates from the beginning of May, just 22.5 percent of adults reported received a 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine since they began rolling out in mid-September 2023. 

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