WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the number of people contracting the omicron variant grows by the day, the number of people getting vaccinated for COVID is stagnating.
“We have about close to 75% with one dose, just over 60% with two doses and we're at 25% for boosters,” said former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
It is boosters that some experts now say needs to become the new target for vaccinations.
“Boosters are critical,” said Dr. Eric Schneider, with the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.
The Commonwealth Fund, along with the Yale School of Public Health and the University of Toronto, recently studied the impact of COVID booster shots. Currently in the U.S., about 770,000 boosters are administered each day.
“We wondered whether doubling or tripling that would actually have a big effect on hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Schneider said.
Their findings show it could have a huge effect.
If the current number of boosters administered daily in the U.S. doubles to 1.5 million, the study showed it would prevent 200,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 additional deaths by April.
If the number of boosters triples to 2.3 million per day, researchers found it would prevent 600,000 hospitalizations and 60,000 deaths, also by April.
So, why would focusing on boosters now be a more effective strategy? Experts say it comes down to the time involved to develop immunity for those who are unvaccinated.
“We don't have that kind of time right now,” Dr. Schneider said, “and so here we really do need to pivot, at least temporarily, from primary vaccination to booster vaccination if we want to prevent deaths and hospitalizations in the near term.”
In addition, only about 60% of older adults - over the age of 65 - are currently boosted.
“That's a problem because those people are at high risk of hospitalization and death,” Dr. Schneider said. “We need that number to be up around 90-95%.”
That’s, in part, why some are urging a greater push for COVID booster shots.
“While it’s great to continue to urge people to get vaccinated in the first place, let’s go to the willing, the people who have stepped up who have had at least one shot, and let’s get people fully vaccinated and get people boosted,” Sebelius said.
However, COVID still necessitates a multi-prong strategy, including getting more vaccine doses out to countries overseas, where new variants can potentially spread unchecked.
“We really do have to try to do all of all of the above there, because the more viruses circulating globally, the more variants will emerge and come back to the U.S.,” Schneider said. “Can't take our foot off the gas when it comes to accelerating the availability of vaccines overseas, but we also can't take our foot off the gas when it comes to getting the population here boosted and protected.”
It’s an ongoing effort to protect people from a pandemic still gripping the world.