​​Fall COVID-19 booster drive could save up to 160,000 U.S. lives: report

Story at a glance

  • Booster administration rates in the United States are stalling.

  • But if aggressive efforts are made early in the fall of 2022, up to 160,000 COVID-19 deaths could be averted.

  • A ramped up booster campaign would result in billions of dollars of savings.

Amid continued spread of omicron subvariant BA.5, a new report from The Commonwealth Fund shows a booster campaign carried out this fall could prevent up to 160,000 American deaths. 

Currently, booster shots are available for any individual aged five and older. Second booster doses are available for any immunocompromised individual over the age of 12 and any person over the age of 50. Nearly all Americans are eligible for initial COVID-19 vaccines, authors wrote. 

More than 67 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, and of these, fewer than half have not received a booster dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Vaccination against COVID-19 significantly reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes and death, while data show a booster dose can further increase protection against the delta and omicron variants. 

But as millions of Americans remain unvaccinated and demand for booster doses wanes, researchers took a look at the potential impacts of an early fall booster campaign on U.S. hospitalizations, deaths and health care costs. 

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

To test how the campaign would play out during another surge in cases, authors modeled differing vaccination rates under several scenarios. Current daily rates served as a baseline scenario, while a second scenario mirrored 2020-2021 influenza vaccination coverage. In the third most ambitious scenario, 80 percent of those five and older eligible for their first or second booster received it.

Under the influenza model, 120,000 U.S. deaths could be averted, in addition to 1 million hospitalizations. By March of 2023, this scenario would generate $63 billion in savings related to direct health care costs compared with the baseline.

The more ambitious model would result in 160,000 deaths prevented and 1.7 million hospitalizations averted. Under this scenario, by March of 2023, the U.S. would save $109 billion in direct medical costs compared with current rates. 

“If vaccination continued at its current pace through the end of March 2023, a potential fall surge in COVID-19 infections could result in a peak of around 1,500 deaths per day in December 2022,” researchers wrote. 

“Under both of the vaccination campaign scenarios modeled, we found an aggressive early fall booster vaccination campaign could prevent COVID-19 deaths from exceeding 1,000 deaths per day.”

A major chunk of medical cost savings would come from avoided intensive care unit stays among infected individuals. The influenza scenario would generate $1,241 in savings per dose compared with $706 per dose under the 80 percent scenario.

However, in March 2022 Congress declined to provide any additional COVID-19 relief funds and the federal government currently does not have enough resources to offer those who received their third dose of an mRNA vaccine a second booster. 

The Commonwealth Fund analysis also does not account for any significantly different COVID-19 variants that may occur, though it did adjust for waning vaccine efficacy and naturally acquired immunity.

“The continued absence of new federal funding for COVID-19 vaccination will limit efforts to increase booster vaccination coverage and could lead to thousands of avoidable hospitalizations and deaths,” researchers concluded.