Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Free If You’re Uninsured?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been programs in place to help cover the costs of vaccines, testing, and treatment.

But in April 2022, federal programs stopped reimbursing healthcare providers for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to people without insurance. Because of this, many people were faced with paying out of pocket for these services.

Most health insurance plans in the United States have been covering the cost of COVID-19 vaccines for members. However, nearly 30 million Americans were uninsured in 2019. That number has only gone up since then because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

If you don’t have health coverage that will pay the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine, can you still get it at no cost? How can you make sure you don’t get a surprise bill for a vaccine you thought was free?

This article will go over what you need to know about the costs of getting a COVID vaccine if you don’t have health insurance.

Vials of COVID-19 vaccines
MarsBars / Getty Images

Vaccines for Uninsured Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both said that children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years can get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Caregivers of young children who can get vaccinated might be wondering if the COVID vaccine is covered like other childhood immunizations are.

The costs of routine childhood vaccines are taken care of by the CDC's Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The federal program provides funding for vaccines to children under the age of 19 who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, underinsured, American Indian, or Alaskan native.

The VFC program ensures that children have access to vaccines even if their families can’t pay. Most pediatricians in the United States take part in the VFC program.

While the vaccines are provided free of charge through the VFC program, there are sometimes fees for the office visit. However, a VFC provider cannot refuse to give a shot if a family is unable to pay. In these cases, office fees might be waived.

Does the VFC Cover COVID Shots?

A program similar to VFC was put in place to cover COVID vaccines. According to the CDC, vaccines bought with federal funds can be given to any person who is old enough, regardless of their health insurance coverage.

As of April 2022, most providers are still offering free COVID vaccines. However, with the loss of federal funding, there might be a limited supply of free COVID vaccines moving forward.

Vaccines for Uninsured Adults

In the spring of 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPPHCEA) were enacted and provided a total of $175 billion in federal funding for a Provider Relief Fund.

The fund was run by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). It provided financial assistance to healthcare providers participating in the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs.

The federal government gave vaccines to states at no cost, but the Provider Relief Fund reimbursed providers for administering the vaccine. Most of the money was used to pay back providers for the cost of vaccinating people who did not have health insurance.

In April of 2022, the program came to an end and Congress did not approve more funding.

Plans That Are Not Insurance

The term “uninsured” can also apply to people who have coverage that does not technically count as health insurance. For example, a fixed indemnity plan or a healthcare sharing ministry plan.

If your health plan does not cover the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine, it might be because the plan is not technically health insurance.

The CDC still says that COVID vaccines bought with federal money are to be given to any person who is old enough to get one, regardless of whether they have health insurance.

If you don’t have health insurance, you might be worried that the situation change and you’ll be left with a bill for a COVID vaccine.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re looking for a free COVID vaccine:

  • Check with healthcare providers, hospitals, and community health clinics to see if they are still offering vaccines for free. If they are not, ask them how much it will cost.
  • Go to a local pharmacy, grocery store, or other businesses that have been offering COVID shots and ask about the cost.
  • Ask your employer if they will help cover the cost of a vaccine—especially if they require it.

Get Covered

If you’re uninsured, you might be able to get a low or no-cost healthcare plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance marketplace exchange.

To find out if you meet the income requirements, visit healthcare.gov.

What to Do If You Get a Bill

If you receive a bill for your vaccination, call your provider to find out why. If you are unable to pay the cost, don’t ignore the bill.

There are often resources for people who can’t pay for healthcare—for example, you might be able to get a payment plan instead of paying the whole cost upfront.

If you are billed and believe it was a mistake, you can call your state Department of Health and report it as a consumer complaint (1-800-HHS-TIPS).

Summary

Federal funding helped pay for COVID-related healthcare services throughout the pandemic, but in April of 2022, those programs came to an end. People who do not have health insurance may have to pay out of pocket for COVID care.

Kids who are old enough to get a COVID vaccine can still get it for free if their pediatrician’s office is part of the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.

If you don’t have health insurance, you may still be able to get a COVID vaccine for free as well. Ask your provider’s office, community health center, or local pharmacy if they are still covering the cost of COVID vaccines. If they’re not, find out how much it will cost to get vaccinated.

If you can’t pay for a vaccine or get a bill that you think is an error, don’t ignore it. You might be able to get a payment plan rather than pay the cost all at once. If the bill was a mistake, call 1-800-HHS-TIPS to report it.

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.

6 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. Health Resources and Services Administration. COVID-19 claims reimbursement to health care providers and facilities for testing, treatment, and vaccine administration for the uninsured.

  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Key facts about the uninsured population.

  3. Shen AK, Hughes IV R, DeWald E, Rosenbaum S, Pisani A, Orenstein W. Ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in the US: current system challenges and opportunitiesHealth Aff (Millwood). 2021;40(1):62-69. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01554

  4. Health Resources and Services Administration. Provider relief fund general information (FAQs).

  5. Department of Health and Human Services. Answers to National Governors Association questions on vaccine distribution and planning.

  6. Health Resources and Services Administration. Impact on patients.

By Louise Norris
 Louise Norris has been a licensed health insurance agent since 2003 after graduating magna cum laude from Colorado State with a BS in psychology.