Are COVID-19 Booster Shots Free?

COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Photo by Laura Kalcheff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot:

  • Charge you for a vaccine
  • Charge you directly for any administration fees, copays, or coinsurance
  • Deny vaccination to anyone who does not have health insurance coverage, is underinsured, or is out of network
  • Charge an office visit or other fee to the recipient if the only service provided is a COVID-19 vaccination
  • Require additional services in order for a person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine; however, additional healthcare services can be provided at the same time and billed as appropriate.
  • Similar to the COVID-19 primary vaccinations, the booster shots will be offered free of charge, regardless of immigration or health insurance status.
  • Vaccine providers can seek reimbursement from health insurance companies, but not from patients.
  • If you get charged, you should report it immediately and contest the charge with your provider.

In August, U.S. health officials announced their plan to offer booster shots of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to fully vaccinated adults starting in September—free of charge for Americans, regardless of immigration or health insurance status.

Since that announcement, all three vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson—have been approved for boosters, and a booster dose is now recommended for those aged 18 and older in the U.S who have completed their initial COVID-19 vaccine series.

Additionally, in January 2022 the CDC approved Pfizer to:

  • Expand the use of a single booster dose to include individuals 12 years of age and older.
  • Shorten the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer vaccine and a booster dose to at least five months.
  • Allow for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age.

Who Is Eligible for a Booster?

According to the CDC, you are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot if:

  • You are 18 years of age and older and received the Moderna primary vaccine series at least five months ago
  • You are 5 years of age and older and received the Pfizer primary vaccine series at least five months ago
  • You are 18 years of age and older and received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago

Eligible adults are able to choose any authorized COVID-19 booster—regardless of the vaccine type that was used for the initial vaccination (although mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are preferred in most situations). Children and teens ages 5 to 17 who completed Pfizer's primary series are only eligible for the Pfizer booster.

Additionally, people 12 years of age and older with certain kinds of immunocompromise and all people age 50+ who have received an initial mRNA booster dose at least four months ago are now eligible for a second booster dose.  

Adults who have received a primary vaccine and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine at least four months ago can now receive a second booster using an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Although it’s been months since the vaccine rollout began, many individuals might still be concerned that the vaccines will come at a cost. Experts say this misconception can prevent people from getting vaccinated.

Why Are COVID-19 Vaccines And Boosters Free? 

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are offered free for people who are living in the U.S.—even those without health insurance—thanks to American taxpayers' money.

“It’s in the government's best interest to cover the cost of an effective vaccine that can protect the health of its residents,” Jackson Higginbottom, MPH, COVID-19 communications coordinator at the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, tells Verywell. “We know that the COVID-19 vaccines protect against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. This lowers any costs the government might be responsible for associated with treatment, hospitalization, and lost wages due to COVID-19.”

Through federal funding and partnerships with health insurance companies, the government is able to provide vaccines and booster shots to everyone at no cost.

“Booster shots will likely work the same way as the initial rollout of vaccines across the U.S,” Matthew Eisenberg, PhD, assistant professor in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “If this is the case, patients should make an appointment—or go to a walk-in clinic—to receive their booster shot.”

Keep in mind that while vaccine providers are allowed to seek reimbursement from private and public insurance companies, they can’t pass this cost to their clients.

“[Patients] will likely be asked for a copy of their insurance card,” Eisenberg says. “If the patient has insurance, the provider will bill the patient’s insurance for the cost of the booster shot. If the patient does not have insurance, the provider will bill the federal government for the cost of the booster shot. In no circumstance should the patient be required to pay for the shot.” Some providers may charge to administer the vaccine, but not for the vaccine itself.

What This Means For You

The booster shot is free, regardless of your immigration or health insurance status. If you get billed, contest it with your vaccine provider or report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS.

Cost Is a Vaccination Barrier

It’s important that the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are offered free of charge because a fee would serve as a barrier, especially for lower-income communities.

“We know from health economics research that some patients can be sensitive to prospective out-of-pocket costs and may delay or avoid seeking costly care,” Eisenberg says. “Given the enormous individual and societal benefits of broad vaccinations, it makes sense that the federal government would want to remove as many possible barriers to vaccinations as possible—including cost.”

Many Americans are hesitant to get the vaccine, not because of safety or effectiveness concerns, but due to the perceived cost of vaccination. This misconception about the vaccine rollout, or skepticism that a vital public health tool is free, caused some to delay their vaccination.

“When the COVID-19 vaccines were first available to the public, there was a lot of misinformation circulating within our communities that you had to pay or needed health insurance to get the vaccine,” Higginbottom says. “Early on in our outreach, we encountered residents who reported not getting the vaccine due to not having health insurance.”

According to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation back in April, 32% of Americans were concerned that they would have to pay out-of-pocket costs for the COVID-19 vaccine. Black (37%) and Hispanic (52%) adults were more likely to express this concern than White adults (24%).

“In the United States, people of color are less likely to have health insurance than White residents, and, as we’ve seen, Black and Brown communities have been the hardest hit by COVID-19,” Higginbottom says. “Research has shown that people who are uninsured have less access to care than people who are insured and often go without necessary treatments due to cost. If these vaccines were not free, cost concerns would be a barrier for many, especially for people who are uninsured. It’s a health equity and racial justice issue.”

What If You Get Billed?

Providers can seek reimbursement from health insurance companies for administering the vaccine, but individuals should not be billed. However, additional healthcare services can be provided at the same time and billed appropriately.

If you were charged a fee related to the vaccine booster, you can report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS.

“According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot charge you for a vaccine or charge you directly for any associated costs,” Higginbottom says. “If you get billed for the COVID-19 booster shot, do not pay the bill. Contact your vaccine provider or insurer to straighten things out.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. Press briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 response team and public health officials.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC expands booster shot eligibility and strengthens recommendations for 12-17 year olds.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC strengthens recommendations and expands eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC recommends additional boosters for certain individuals.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines are free to the public.

  7. Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: April 2021.

  8. Department of Health & Human Services. COVID-19 care for uninsured individuals.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.