Benefit Bulletin: February 2021

Benefit Bulletin: February 2021

Are You Ready For a COVID-19 Vaccine?

By Rick Delaney, Chairman of the Board, TSCL

An unprecedented nationwide effort to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19 is underway, and older adults are among the first on the list to be vaccinated.  With limited initial supplies of vaccines available, those who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 have been given top priority to get the first vaccines.

The CARES Act which became law in March of 2020 requires Medicare to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccines without any cost-sharing for the beneficiary.  But that law applies only to vaccines that are licensed for use.  The earliest COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been licensed, having only been approved for emergency use.  Now, questions have been raised as to how long these emergency use vaccines will be available without a copay.  Will Medicare beneficiaries face cost-sharing by the time it’s their turn to get vaccinated?  TSCL recently endorsed legislation that would ensure beneficiaries would have access to COVID-19 vaccines without cost-sharing.

The earliest vaccines have been reported to have high efficacy rates and come from Pfizer and Moderna.  The vaccine by Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, has an overall efficacy rate of 94% in adults age 75 and older.  Moderna’s vaccine has an 87% efficacy rate in preventing moderate COVID-19 disease in older adults.

While the vaccines have shown they are good at preventing serious illness, it’s still too early to know how well they will prevent the spread of COVID-19.  There are concerns that some vaccinated people could become infected without developing symptoms, and then could transmit the virus.  Health experts continue to say that we are going to need to wear face masks and socially distance for a few more months because some people still could be contagious.

The first people to get the vaccine included healthcare workers as well as residents of nursing homes and assisted care facilities.  This is due to the extraordinary toll that the coronavirus has taken in many long-term care facilities.  Although these residents represent only 1% of the U.S. population, this age group accounts for 40% of COVID-19 deaths to-date, more than 281,179.

If you haven’t spoken to your doctor already, TSCL strongly encourages you to contact your primary care doctor very soon.  Find out whether he or she recommends that you get a COVID-19 vaccine, and when you should get it.  Learn about which vaccine is available, side effects for which you should monitor, and the time frame in which the two required doses will be administered.  Find out where the vaccines are administered in your area.  When you do get vaccinated, we hope you will share your experience — encourage friends and other family members to ask their doctor about getting vaccinated as well.

Sources:  “What Seniors Can Expect When COVID Vaccines Begin to Roll Out,” Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News, December 9, 2020.  “Here’s Why Vaccinated People Still Need to Wear a Mask,” Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times, December 8, 2020.