The U.S. purchased 171 million COVID-19 booster shots. Where are the takers? 


October 7, 2022

A new study released this week revealed some sobering news.

The study, which was conducted by the Commonwealth Fund and Yale School of Public Health, found that if booster vaccinations continue at their current low pace, the U.S. could see a fatality rate approaching 1,200 deaths per day by March. That’s about three times the current rate. 

But if as many people received the boosters as received the flu vaccine in 2020-21, it would prevent more than 75,000 deaths and more than 745,000 hospitalizations, and would generate medical cost savings of $44 billion by the end of March. 

These findings make it all the more disappointing that so few Americans have received the new COVID-19 booster shot.

In late August, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration approved updated bivalent COVID-19 booster shots aimed at preventing infection from Omicron and its many subvariants, as well as from the original COVID-19 strain. 

By the end of September, however, only 7.6 million Americans had received the boosters, according to the CDC. That represents about 3.5 percent of the 215.5 million people in the United States aged 12 or older who are eligible to receive the shots because they have completed their primary vaccination series. 

As experts warn of a coming uptick in COVID-19 infections this fall and winter, hesitancy to receive the boosters has potentially dire implications. 

“Evidence is building that the northern hemisphere is on course for a surge of COVID-19 cases this autumn and winter,” warns Nature magazine. “New immune-evading strains of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, behavior changes, and waning immunity mean that many countries could soon see large numbers of COVID infections — and potentially hospitalizations — say scientists.” 

Why aren’t people getting the shots? There appear to be many reasons, ranging from vaccine hesitancy to misinformation campaigns to worries about safety to a feeling that the pandemic has ended, rendering further protection unnecessary. 

“President Biden’s recent declaration that the pandemic is over might have left many people with the mistaken impression they don’t need the booster,” the Washington Post recently editorialized.  “The pandemic is not over, and the BA.4/5 variants are still infecting and sickening people. Another reason for reluctance could be that bivalent vaccines are new and were not subjected to large human clinical trials before deployment. But new scientific studies based on humans have been coming out and showing the boosters are stimulating an immune response.”  

A recent poll conducted in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that around two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are not planning to get the updated COVID-19 booster shots soon. One third said they either already received the booster or they plan to as soon as possible. 

About 18 percent said they would wait and see whether they would get the new booster shot, while 10 percent said they would only get it if it was required. About 12 percent of adults surveyed said they would definitely not get the shot, while 27 percent said they were not eligible because they were not fully vaccinated. 

One disturbing finding: awareness of the updated boosters was relatively modest, with only about half of adults saying they’ve heard “a lot” (17 percent) or “some” (33 percent) about the new shots. In addition, many respondents were uncertain whether they were even eligible for the boosters. 

Another reason to get a booster is to lower the chance of infection and developing long Covid. The same day this week that the Commonwealth Fund/Yale School of Public Health study was published, CDC released disturbing new statistics on the number of Americans it estimates are suffering from long Covid. 

CDC reports that nearly 24 million Americans have long Covid, and a significant number of those are having trouble carrying out daily activities. The CDC figures show that between September 14 and September 26, more than one in four adults with long Covid reported significant limitations on daily activities. 

And there is evidence that communities of color are being hit hardest. About 40 percent of respondents with long Covid who are Black or Latino, reported trouble with daily activities, compared to 20 percent of White respondents. 

As winter approaches, a real fear exists that millions more could join their ranks. 

Meanwhile, POLITICO reports this week that an effort by the Biden Administration to develop next-generation vaccines to guard against future COVID-19 variants has stalled, mainly because Congress has refused to provide the $8 billion needed to fund the initiative. Experts say the U.S. has now fallen behind countries such as China and India in the fight to prevent future infections. 

“The notion we’re going to sit on the sidelines and watch other nations build this stuff should be totally anathema to us,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha told POLITICO. “I think of this very much as a biosecurity issue as well as a pandemic preparedness issue.”