Health Watch: Kids on Dr. Dynasaur face COVID vaccine roadblock

Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - While the pandemic is over, COVID-19 is still spreading through communities. And as some parents try to vaccinate their kids, those on Vermont’s Dr. Dynasaur Medicaid program are running into roadblocks.

When Elaine Cissi brought her daughter to the pediatrician for a COVID vaccine, she heard what many parents are hearing this fall: they’re all out.

“We’re told that our best bet is to go to a pharmacy,” Cissi said.

With COVID vaccines becoming commercialized this year, pediatricians are limited to the number of doses the CDC makes available, with new allocations coming every two weeks.

Vermont’s epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says the state has distributed nearly 15 thousand pediatric doses statewide this year, a drop in the bucket compared to what pediatricians need to meet demand.

“Many providers haven’t been able to order large volumes like hundreds of doses at a time so that they can run clinics and provide vaccine to all their patients,” Kelso explained.

Parents are turning to pharmacies to fill this gap. But children younger than three can’t get vaccinated at pharmacies. And parents of older children, like Cissi, are hitting roadblocks, too.

“I was told five minutes before the appointment that Dr. Dynasaur does not cover covid vaccines in a pharmacy, only in a doctor’s office,” Cissi recalled.

Elaine’s daughter is one of 67 thousand kids covered by Dr. Dynasaur, the state’s Medicaid program for kids under 19.

Most kids, ages 3 and up, can get vaccinated at a pharmacy if they’re covered by private health insurance.

But Dr. Dynosaur doesn’t cover vaccines at pharmacies. State Medicaid director Monica Ogelby says the program is stuck in the pre-pandemic when kids only got vaccinated through pediatricians.

“The system has not evolved yet to think of pharmacists as vaccinating partners for kids,” Ogelby said.

At CVS, Cissi was asked to pay $192 out of pocket to cover her daughter’s vaccine. It wasn’t in her budget.

“It’s very frustrating as a parent to not be able to provide for your child,” Cissi said.

Ogelby expects an update soon from the federal government regarding improvements to vaccine access for kids. She hopes this includes a plan for reimbursing parents who have already paid out of pocket.