COVID vaccines costing up to $140 without insurance; hundreds in SF line up for free shot

UCSF Infectious Diseases expert Dr. Gandhi says COVID vaccines are costing about "$25 per shot" to make.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2023
COVID shots costing up to $140 without insurance
COVID-19 vaccines are not as accessible for people without insurance this year. The booster shot can cost up to $140.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While it's the season to get your COVID-19 booster, many uninsured people are finding it's a lot harder to get the shot this year.

What used to be free, is now costing over a hundred dollars.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people waited in line in San Francisco's Mission District to get their free COVID-19 booster shots on 24th Street. Only 200 made it to the front the line successfully.

"We turned over 300 people away this weekend from getting the vaccine. Definitely the need and demand is there - unfortunately the supply is what we don't have," said Susana Rojas, spokesperson for Unidos en Salud.

Reality is that now COVID-19 vaccines are not as accessible for people without insurance. This year's booster can cost $130 to $140.

MORE: Many people experiencing COVID vaccine cost confusion due to delay in insurance coding

"Is this capitalism or is this everything gone array because to be honest, I don't know why they are that expensive. With the investments these companies have received from tax payer dollars to develop the vaccines through Operation Warp Speed and beyond that - we should not have them be this expensive," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, UCSF Infectious Diseases.

According to Dr. Gandhi's research, at this point these vaccines are not costing much to make.

"Something like $25 per shot, so this is quite a price hike. Five times higher," said Dr. Gandhi.

At Mission Wellness Pharmacy, the owner is noticing firsthand the setbacks many are facing now.

"Some of the limitations would be - if their insurance would allow them to get the vaccine here; if a patient is insured, can they come to Mission Wellness to get the vaccine?," said Maria Lopez, Owner of Mission Wellness Pharmacy. "Some insurances require their patients to go to certain places."

MORE: Doctor shares how to prevent and treat viruses this 'sick season'

We met Odera Okafor waiting in line for her COVID booster appointment at Walgreens. She was shocked to learn of the current price and was concerned of the equity aspect of it.

"I did not know about the price if you didn't have health insurance. I think that is a little wild," said Okafor.

If you don't have insurance, the federal Bridge Access Program provides no-cost COVID-19 vaccines, but not all pharmacies participate in this program. Dr. Gandhi is concerned not many know of this option.

"When they ended the public health emergency on May 11, 2024, there was a promise made by this administration that we would have ongoing access until Sept. 2024 to vaccinate for under and uninsured patients," said Dr. Gandhi, "It's not always being honored and I'm really worried about that for uninsured patients."

Dr. Gandhi broke down who should get vaccinated, "The WHO and most of the organizations are saying those who are older, those on immune suppressants and those with multiple comorbidities. I would encourage those groups to get vaccine."

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