Saturday, July 20, 2024

Covid tests available at the Cambridge Main Library on March 29. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The updated Covid-19 vaccine will be available to residents at five Cambridge Public Health Department vaccination clinics next month although the federal government is no longer paying for the jabs. Instead, Cambridge Health Alliance will buy the supply for the city health department upfront, with reimbursement expected from insurance, department spokesperson Dawn Baxter said. Most residents with insurance coverage will pay nothing.

The vaccine, formulated to protect against serious disease, hospitalization and death from recent variants of the virus, was approved Sept. 12 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get at least one shot. Recommendations for children under 5 differ depending on their age, the vaccine and whether they were previously vaccinated. Details are here.

The approval of an updated vaccine means that the original Covid vaccine series and previous boosters will no longer be available.

Almost all Cambridge residents should be able to get free shots because of coverage from health insurers, Baxter said. She said 98 percent of Cambridge residents have health insurance. “With respect to residents who are uninsured, we are committed to supporting our community and we are looking at all options,” she said. Federal authorities are offering the “Bridge Access Program” for uninsured or underinsured adults at pharmacies, including CVS, until the end of this year. A number of CVS stores in Cambridge are participating, according to the federal government’s vaccines.gov website.

Five large Cambridge health department clinics offering influenza and Covid vaccine are scheduled:

  • Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge
  • Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Wellington-Harrington, Cambridge
  • Oct. 25 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Reservoir Church, 170 Rindge Ave., North Cambridge
  • Oct. 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Pisani Center, 131 Washington St., The Port, Cambridge
  • Oct. 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St., Riverside

Baxter said the city will also offer a number of smaller mobile clinics for “our most vulnerable residents.” They will be held at public housing buildings for seniors, meal sites and shelters beginning Oct. 4. As in previous years, the fire department will staff some of the clinics, she said.

The health department will add a link on its website allowing residents to make appointments for vaccinations at the large clinics after it gets vaccines, Baxter said. “We will be encouraging residents to pre-register for appointments and provide their insurance information in advance of the clinics,” she said. People can walk in and register at the clinics, but “the flow through the clinic will be faster if people provide the information in advance.”

Before Covid, the health department ran influenza vaccination campaigns for residents every fall. It now offers the flu vaccine along with Covid vaccinations at its large and small clinics. Baxter said flu vaccines are also recommended this season for everyone six months and older.

Previously, local health departments such as Cambridge’s received Covid vaccines for free from the state Department of Public Health, which got it from the federal government. Now, vaccine providers must buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. The price for an adult dose of the updated Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on the private market is $115 to $128, according to the CDC. Insurers would reimburse that.

Besides providing city clinics with vaccine, CHA will offer shots to its patients at their doctor’s office. Any member of the public can also get the vaccine at its outpatient pharmacies “soon,” according to the Alliance website. Beth Israel Lahey Health, the health care system that includes Mount Auburn Hospital, refers patients to the federal vaccines.gov website to find a vaccination site.

Public health officials have stopped assuring the public that the Covid – and flu – vaccines will keep them from getting infected, because that protection wanes after several months. Instead they emphasize that the vaccines prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death for a longer period. There is also some evidence that getting vaccinated may prevent long Covid.