HHS touts need for boosters amid slow uptake for fall COVID-19 bivalent shots

A new report from the Biden administration highlighted the benefits of getting COVID-19 vaccinations last year as a new survey shows that very few Americans are getting boosted so far this fall.

Health and Human Services released a report on Friday that shows COVID-19 vaccinations led to more than 650,000 fewer hospitalizations for the virus and more than 300,000 fewer deaths. But a new survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows only a third of adults have gotten the new booster aimed at the highly transmissible omicron variant. 

“Over 90% of Americans live within five miles of where they can access these vaccines for free,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “I urge everyone eligible to get an updated COVID vaccine to protect yourself ahead of the fall and winter.”

The report released by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation looked at vaccination and booster rates throughout 2021.

It found the largest vaccine-related reductions in COVID-19 hospitalizations “and deaths occurred during the summer delta surge,” the report said. 

There were an estimated 670,000 to 680,000 fewer hospitalizations and 330,000 to 370,000 fewer deaths among Medicare beneficiaries through 2021. 

“This represents a 39% to 47% reduction in these outcomes,” the report added. 

Reductions for hospitalizations helped garner up to $16.5 billion in hospitalization savings.

HHS reported that more than 90% of seniors got fully vaccinated last year and more than 70% got a booster. 

However, new data shows that the latest booster campaign is falling flat. The Food and Drug Administration approved a new bivalent booster created to tackle the highly transmissible omicron variant and shots were widely distributed last month.

A new survey released late last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that half of the public has heard little to nothing about the new booster. Only 17% of adults said they heard a lot about the boosters and 33% had heard some about the shots. 

“About a third of all adults (32%) say they’ve already gotten a new booster dose or intend to get one ‘as soon as possible,’” according to a release on the survey.

There is considerable uptake among seniors to get the boosters as 45% of those surveyed who were 65 years old or above have gotten the bivalent booster or will get it soon. 

Other findings show slow booster rates. As of Oct. 3, only 36% of adults age 50 or higher got their second booster, a Commonwealth Fund analysis shows.

“The rates of vaccination, including boosters, declined to less than 100,000 doses administered daily by Sept. 12,” the analysis said. “That number is beginning to increase as more people get updated booster shots but dwindling federal funding for vaccination threatens to undermine any goal of high coverage.”