Coronavirus Outbreak: Will Medicare Cover the Vaccine?

Table of Contents:

  1. Vaccines in the Works
  2. Bills in the Works
  3. Staying Safe in the Meantime

Due to their aging immune systems, seniors run a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) that’s currently spreading across the globe. They’re also significantly more likely to experience fatal symptoms. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to ensure this vulnerable population is protected. This week, the New York Senator announced his intention to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to Medicare beneficiaries.

Vaccines in the Works

At this point, Schumer’s proposal is purely theoretical. There is currently no vaccine to prevent or cure COVID-19. With infections approaching 100,000, he is (understandably) advocating for a proactive approach.

Scientists around the globe are hard at work developing a vaccine for COVID-19. CNN reports that at least 20 potential vaccines are at some stage in their development. Human trials for existing drugs, including antivirals like remdesivir, are already underway. The hope is that these drugs could alleviate symptoms and even cure patients who’ve already contracted COVID-19. To put that into perspective, it took more than 20 months to start human trials for a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) vaccine.

Health officials are quick, however, to insist that approval for any vaccine will take at least a year. In a best case scenario, Phase 1 clinical trials will begin about two months from now. These trials would last about three months and, if effective, lead into a six-to-eight-month trial featuring hundreds of people.

Bills in the Works

President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike. Congress is currently debating a request for $2.5 billion in additional funding to address the disease. While administration officials have deflected criticism, Congress has raised questions about both the amount of funds and the lack of transparency around the subject.


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Schumer would add a provision to the proposed spending package, ensuring seniors can be vaccinated at no additional cost. “My plan to have Medicare fully cover the cost of the vaccine,” the Senator said, “will mean no senior will be forced to make the choice between shelling out and going without.” He believes this will save money in the long term if it can cut down on the total number of infections.

He has also proposed an $8.5 billion response plan that would devote $2 billion to state and local governments and an additional billion to vaccine production.

Democratic presidential candidates are already using the campaign trail to discuss COVID-19 and criticize the Trump administration’s response. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was the first to address COVID-19 on the debate stage, has built an entire campaign ad around the subject.

Staying Safe in the Meantime

You don’t have to wait for a vaccine to keep yourself safe and healthy. Seniors can take a number of precautions throughout their day to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises many of the same safety protocol seniors would already follow during cold and flu season. These include regularly washing hands, avoiding contact with the eyes and face, practicing good respiratory hygiene, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Check out our summary of WHO’s health and safety guidelines.

Seniors who are experiencing a fever, severe cough, or shortness of breath should reach out to their doctor or healthcare provider immediately. Take care, however, to provide enough notice. Arriving unannounced could mean putting your doctor and other patients at undue risk of contracting COVID-19.

During this chaotic period, it is especially crucial to remain calm and avoid falling prey to misinformation. Facebook and other social networks are cracking down on fake news, but seniors should familiarize themselves with the warning signs and identify credible sources. WHO has already published a comprehensive guide to the disease and will continue to provide additional information throughout the coming weeks and months.