COVID-19 booster vaccinations can save tens of thousands of lives in the weeks and months ahead, Biden administration officials said, citing new data that shows the impact of previous shots on hospitalizations and deaths among older Americans.
Primary immunizations were associated with up to 680,000 fewer COVID hospitalizations and between 330,000 to 370,000 fewer related deaths among Medicare beneficiaries in 2021, according to research from the Department of Health and Human Services. Prevention of COVID hospitalizations was associated with savings of more than $16 billion in direct costs, the report found.
Just over one-third of Americans have received their first booster dose, creating concerns about the lag in uptake for updated shots that experts warn leaves the U.S. more vulnerable to a winter surge as COVID variants continue to emerge and the Biden administration struggles to convince Republicans that another $22 billion in funding is needed to keep fighting the virus.
“Given that we have a highly contagious virus that’s still circulating, the single biggest thing people can be doing to protect themselves and their families is getting vaccinated,” White House COVID Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said. “We need everybody to pull in that direction.”
While the dollar saving of COVID shots are significant, those numbers don’t show the full impact of vaccination, according to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
“You can’t really put a price tag on the value of saving someone’s life,” he said.
In September, the US began rolling out updated bivalent boosters that target the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of omicron, the currently dominant COVID strain. As many as 15 million Americans have gotten the new shots, half of them seniors, health officials said Friday. People older than 75 who are unvaccinated or not up-to-date on boosters continue to account for 70% of deaths occurring today, although overall COVID death rates have dropped significantly from earlier in the pandemic.
Still, the administration’s fall booster campaign has been “substantially hampered by the lack of funding from Congress,” Jha said.
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