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Fact-checking questions about the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency

The federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration expires on May 11. Here’s what you need to know about vaccines, testing, and whether the pandemic is over.

May 11 marks the end of the federal public health emergency declaration regarding COVID-19 in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that while COVID-19 remains a public health priority, the federal government is transitioning away from the emergency phase.

This has left many people online wondering if the services and tools they have had access to throughout the pandemic, such as COVID-19 vaccines and free, at-home COVID-19 tests, will still be available after the public health emergency ends. One VERIFY viewer also asked if this means the pandemic is officially over.



Will you still be able to get free COVID-19 at-home tests from the federal government?


This is false.

No, you won’t still be able to get free COVID-19 at-home tests from the federal government.

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After May 11, free COVID-19 at-home tests will no longer be available from the federal government to the general public, according to the CDC, KFF and Public Health Insider, the official blog of Public Health - Seattle & King County in Washington state. However, some insurance companies may continue to cover them at no cost. In addition, some states and communities are still giving away free tests.

Individuals enrolled in a government Medicaid program may continue to receive free, at-home COVID-19 tests from their local pharmacy until September 2024, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says. After that date, KFF notes that home test coverage will vary by state.

Although free, at-home tests will no longer be available from the federal government, the CDC’s no cost COVID-19 testing locator tool can help people with or without insurance find current community and pharmacy in-person testing locations. You can also visit the HHS website to find out about other community-based testing sites for COVID-19.


Will COVID-19 vaccines still be free?


This is true.

Yes, COVID-19 vaccines will still be free while federal supplies last. They are expected to last through summer 2023.


COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage, as long as the national vaccine supply lasts, according to the CDC,  KFF and Public Health Insider.

The large supply of COVID-19 vaccines, which were purchased by the federal government, is predicted to last through summer 2023, Public Health Insider says.

KFF notes that once the federal supply is gone, vaccines will continue to be free of charge to the vast majority of people with private and public insurance due to the Affordable Care Act and other recent legislation.

Meanwhile, local pharmacies and community health centers also plan on providing vaccines for free for those who are uninsured, according to Public Health Insider.

KFF says the commercial prices for COVID-19 vaccines after the federal supply runs out are not yet known. But Pfizer has said it will charge between $110 and $130 per dose for its vaccine. Moderna has also suggested a similar price range.

Visit vaccines.gov to find a free COVID‑19 vaccine in your area.


Do federal employees and contractors need to be vaccinated?


This is false.

No, federal employees and contractors are no longer required to be vaccinated after May 11.


After May 11, federal employees and contractors are no longer required to be vaccinated, according to the White House.

In 2021, the Biden-Harris administration announced COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees and contractors “to promote the health and safety of individuals and the efficiency of workplaces.”

But in a May 1 announcement, the administration said it will end the COVID-19 vaccine requirements for all federal employees and federal contractors once the public health emergency expires on May 11.

Outside of the federal government, private employers are still free to make their own rules about whether their workers need to be vaccinated.


Does the end of the public health emergency mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over?


This is false.

No, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet.

Public health officials have determined that COVID-19 is an ongoing health issue and have started to transition to long-term management of the pandemic in the U.S. and internationally.


Although the federal COVID-19 public health emergency expires in the U.S. on May 11, that does not mean that the pandemic is over.

“As a nation, we now find ourselves at a different point in the pandemic – with more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities,” the CDC says on its website.

On May 4, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee advised that it is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic globally. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted the emergency committee’s advice, and determined that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue.

The next day, on May 5, WHO announced that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a public health emergency of international concern.

“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” Tedros said. “That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat.”

On Jan. 30, 2020, WHO first declared the coronavirus to be an international health crisis. At that time, the virus hadn't been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China. The next day, on Jan. 31, 2020, U.S. health officials declared the outbreak a public health emergency.

Although WHO does not officially declare the beginning or end of pandemics, it first used the term to describe the global outbreak in March 2020, after the virus had spread to every continent except Antarctica. More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 765 million cases globally, an estimated 7 to 20 million deaths worldwide, and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The WHO says thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week, and millions of others are suffering from debilitating, long-term effects.

“The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases and deaths,” Tedros said. “What this news means is that it's time for countries to transition from emergency mode to managing COVID-19 alongside other infectious diseases.”

It is unclear at this time when the pandemic will officially be over.

“It took decades...for the pandemic virus of 1918 to disappear,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said. “Pandemics only truly end when the next pandemic begins.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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