A nursing home resident receives a booster shot

An early fall COVID-19 booster vaccination push that equals the reach of the 2020/2021 influenza vaccination campaign would prevent nearly 102,000 deaths over eight months, according to a new analysis from the Commonwealth Fund.

In an even more optimistic estimate, the analysts project 160,000 deaths averted in that time frame if 80% of the eligible U.S. population receive COVID-19 booster doses this fall. This latter scenario, when compared with a daily vaccination rate that remains unchanged, would also prevent more than 1.7 million hospitalizations and save $109 billion in direct medical costs over eight months, the healthcare advocacy organization wrote in a report published Tuesday.

If no new variants disrupt vaccine efficacy and vaccines with improved effectiveness against omicron are rolled out as expected this fall, these results may be underestimated, the authors contended. 

“With more efficacious vaccines, a fall campaign would suppress COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths even further,” they stated.

The Commonwealth Fund in April presented a sobering estimation of the effect of COVID-19 in the United States without the availability of vaccination, namely 2.2 million more deaths and 66 million additional infections. Yet despite the actual success of the vaccines, “vaccination has not reached all who could benefit,” it stated in the Tuesday report.

Pace of vaccinations declining 

About 67% of Americans are fully vaccinated, but fewer than half of those have received an additional dose to retain high immunity. And in adults aged 50 and older, less than one-third of people have received second booster doses, the advocate reported. What’s more, the pace of all vaccinations — boosters included — has declined in recent months. Only about 233,000 doses are administered daily, the organization noted. 

Meanwhile, the risk for severe COVID-19 illness is nearly quadrupled in adults age 60 and older if they have not received a recent booster. 

Funds needed

One major obstacle to a successful fall vaccination push is the lack of new support from Congress, it stated. 

“The effort to fully cover the U.S. population with booster doses is being threatened by congressional inaction regarding additional funding,” the authors wrote. 

Quick action is needed as the omicron sub-variants spread throughout the population, they said. Along with the relaxed COVID-19 mitigation mandates, this “could lead to a wave that arrives earlier and is much larger in magnitude than what we have predicted in our analysis,” they wrote. “As such, it will be important to ramp up booster vaccination as early as possible.”

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