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Federal covid emergency's end will impact how Kern residents access vaccines and treatment

As the federal emergency ends, how the public and healthcare providers approach testing, treatment, and vaccines will need to change.
adventist health medical center (file)
Posted at 5:48 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 23:20:40-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — After 3 years, the U.S. federal health emergency from covid is ending. This will affect the funding provided for things like covid vaccines, tests, and treatments across the country.

According to Division Director of Health Services at the Kern County Department of Public Health Kimberly Hernandez, the end of the federal emergency will affect access to these resources, but it may take some time for the public to feel that impact.

"There are federally purchased vaccines, covid tests, and treatments that have already been paid for, so they are in the pipeline, in the system in our community," said Hernandez. "So for a period of time, as long as those supplies last, there shouldn't be any change to what people are seeing."

After the supply of federally-bought treatments and tests runs out, people will have to go through traditional channels, and insurance companies will start setting the prices for out-of-pocket costs.

kimberly Hernandez
Kern County Public Health Division Director of Health Services Kimberly Hernandez

"Then we'll go through those normal mechanisms of billing insurance if you have insurance, or receiving services from a no-cost or low-cost health care provider if you don't have insurance, and so it changes just depending on what type of health plan you are involved in," said Hernandez.

Dr. Royce Johnson, Chief of Infectious Disease at Kern Medical, says the U.S. is now transitioning into a new phase of how we view the disease.

"CoV-2 ends up being an illness much like influenza in the sense that we end up with annual immunization against the virus, and it may change from time to time because of mutations in the virus, much like the influenza vaccine does," said Johnson.

Local hospitals like Kern Medical received funding for extra staff to cover increased care demand during the pandemic, but that also will no longer be available. Johnson says that lack of funding may hinder public health efforts in the case of another pandemic.

"It tends to be a quick forgetting curve for what happened, and this tends to be predicated on the availability of funds," said Johnson. "I think the public health system is chronically underfunded. We are certainly seeing problems with hospital funding."

royce johnson
Dr. Royce Johnson, Chief of Infectious Disease for Kern Medical

Those who may see the biggest impacts are the uninsured. Roughly 10 percent of Kern County's population under the age of 65 falls into this category. However, the Kern County Department of Health and Human Services has announced they're spending $1.1 billion to maintain access to health care for those without insurance, and will still offer covid vaccines and boosters for free.

"There will still exist free and low-cost vaccines at places like the public health department, at our federally qualified health centers, where they may have a sliding scale depending on income," said Hernandez. "Otherwise there may be an out-of-pocket cost."

Hernandez says the impact on people will vary by health plan.

"It's really going to be important for everybody in our community to talk to their health plan about what that impact is going to be," said Hernandez.

Both Hernandez and Johnson stressed that although the federal emergency declaration has expired, the disease of covid-19 is still a risk and people should still be getting vaccinated. Doctors urge anyone who thinks they've been exposed or is experiencing symptoms to get tested and treated.