WASHINGTON, D.C. — The race to get more Americans vaccinated moved into a new phase this week, with Pfizer applying to move its COVID-19 vaccine from emergency use to full FDA approval.
"For a lot of people who are on the fence who are worried about, 'Well, this is an emergency use, should I get vaccinated?' it will give them confidence,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
That confidence currently appears to be lacking, as the number of COVID vaccinations is starting to slow down in the U.S.
“You're trying to reach people who are harder to reach,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and executive director of PHICOR (Public Health Informatics, Computational and Operations Research).
Dr.Lee is also the senior author of a new study from CUNY, Baylor College and Johns Hopkins University. Using computer modeling, researchers looked at the high cost of low vaccination rates.
Right now, around 35% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.
If that number reaches 40%, the U.S. could:
- prevent 24.3 million COVID cases
- save $33 billion in medical costs and productivity losses
If that number reaches 70%, so-called herd immunity, the U.S. could:
- prevent another 9.5 million COVID cases
- save an additional $11 billion in medical costs and productivity losses
“Certainly, one of the goals is to reach try to reach as close as possible to herd immunity thresholds,” Dr. Lee said.
Researchers found even small increases help. Once 40% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated, every 1% increase above that could prevent:
- 1.6 million COVID cases
- 60,000 hospitalizations
- 7,100 deaths
It would also save $2.1 billion in medical costs and productivity losses.
“This emphasizes the fact that we just need to get more and more coverage,” Dr. Lee said. “And even if we can't reach herd immunity thresholds immediately, or soon, there's still significant benefit for increasing vaccination coverage.”
The study also found the timing of when people get vaccinated could also play a critical role.
“We've observed that the virus probably has at least some degree of seasonality, meaning that transmission of the virus seemed to pick up when the weather got colder or less humid,” Dr. Lee said. “And if that's the case, then it's really important to get people covered before the weather turns again.”
It makes it a race against time with a virus that is still making the rounds.