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What You Need to Know About the End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

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The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, which allowed millions of Americans to access free vaccines, tests, and treatments, comes to an end today. The declaration, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), comes just a few days after the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency.

“For more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the director-general of the WHO, at a news conference.

Since January 2021, COVID-19 deaths are down 95 percent and hospitalizations are down 90 percent, according to the HHS.

“Science — COVID testing, vaccines, and treatments — that’s what was able to turn the tide,” says Sharon Nachman, MD, the division chief of pediatric infectious diseases and a professor of pediatrics at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine in Stony Brook, New York. “It’s why COVID is no longer a catastrophic infection killing people around the globe. It’s now a manageable, identifiable, and treatable respiratory viral illness.”

The ending of the public health emergency will trigger significant changes to the COVID-19 response that could impact testing and treatment, vaccines, data reporting, health coverage, and telemedicine.

Keep reading to find out what to know about COVID-19 moving forward and how to protect yourself against the coronavirus during this new stage of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Vaccines Will Still Be Free — for Now

The U.S. government still has supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, and everyone — regardless of insurance status — will still be able to access this stockpile at no cost, according to the HHS. Even after that supply is depleted, vaccines will still be free to most people with private and public insurance, due to the Affordable Care Act.

Once federal supplies are exhausted, people who aren’t on Medicaid or who are underinsured will likely face out-of-pocket expenses, similar to cost sharing for other drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a not-for-profit health policy organization.

Older adults will continue to have access to no-cost COVID-19 vaccines under Medicare Part B.

Emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for COVID-19 vaccines aren’t affected by the end of the public health emergency — they are linked to a separate emergency declaration known as the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

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