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COVID-19 vaccines have saved about 5,600 lives among nursing home Medicare beneficiaries since the vaccine rollout earlier this year, according to new estimates by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Between January and May, vaccination of Medicare recipients grew from 1% to 47%  among adults aged 18 to 64 years and from 1% to 80% among seniors, according to researchers from HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE).

That time period also saw a corresponding decrease in severe COVID-19 outcomes, they added. Among Medicare beneficiaries overall, weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths decreased between 11% and 12%  for every 10% increase in county vaccination rates. 

In summary, vaccinations were linked to a reduction of approximately 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries in the early months of the vaccine rollout.

Prioritizing and vaccinating seniors directly saves lives, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. Nearly 80% of the 352,000 COVID-19 deaths that occurred in the first nine months of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, were among people 65 and older who were also Medicare-eligible, he noted. 

“This report reaffirms what we hear routinely from states: COVID-19 vaccines save lives, prevent hospitalizations, and reduce infection,” Becerra said. “The Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized getting vaccines quickly to pharmacies, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and even provided increased reimbursement rates for at-home COVID-19 vaccinations, so that seniors and others can easily get vaccinated.”

HHS in late September authorized all CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program providers to offer Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses to all eligible recipients, including seniors age 65 and older. 

The ASPE report can be found here.