If you were looking for reasons to get a Covid-19 booster shot, here’s one: Covid vaccines saved the lives of over 300,000 seniors and other Americans enrolled in Medicare in 2021, according to a government report. Vaccines were also credited for more than 650,000 hospitalization and savings of $16 billion in direct medical costs.
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) looked at county-level data on vaccination rates and changes in hospitalization and death among Medicare beneficiaries ages 18 and older. Hawaii and Texas weren’t included in the study due to incomplete vaccination data. Over 85% of Medicare recipients are aged 65 and older.
The importance of vaccinations
Covid-19 vaccines were first authorized for emergency use in the US back in December 2020. There are four approved vaccines in the US: Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (both mRNA vaccines), Novavax (a protein subunit vaccine), and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (a viral vector vaccine). The data in the report covered until the end of 2021.
“Thanks to the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the country for free we can say that many of our communities continue to have the opportunity to hug and kiss and enjoy the holidays with loved ones who might otherwise not be with us,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a call with reporters, introducing the report’s findings.
To date, 93% of Americans 65 years and older have received their primary vaccination series, and 71% of those seniors got at least one booster shot. The HHS report estimates that if no vaccine were available, there would have been more than 700,000 deaths and 1,7 million hospitalizations among the 64 million Medicare recipients last year.
Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, praised the Biden administration for launching a robust vaccination scheme that led to most seniors in the country being inoculated. The vaccines were developed during Donald Trump’s presidency but saw a delayed rollout in his last weeks in office, with Trump blaming state officials for the slow rollout.
Not over yet
Despite the vaccine coverage among seniors, more than 300 people are dying every day on average from Covid, while over 3,300 are hospitalized daily, according to CDC data. Jha said 70% of current Covid deaths are among people ages 75 and older, which he described as “unacceptable” due to the availability of Covid vaccine and treatments.
Jha advised people in this age group to get the new booster shots that target the dominant omicron BA.5 subvariant as well as the original strain of Covid. If people are up to date with their vaccines and get treated when they have a breakthrough infection, their chances of dying are close to zero, even in high-risk populations, he added.
US government officials said they will renew their call for Congress to approve more than $22 billion in emergency funding to help tackle Covid-19. Officials said the money is needed to boost research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics to keep up with the evolution of the virus and support the global response.