Updated Covid-19 boosters are ‘most important thing’ Americans can do for their health today, official says

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About 11.5 million people in the United States have gotten an updated Covid-19 booster, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but more people need to prepare for fall and winter by getting their shots now, health officials said Friday.

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha estimated during a news briefing that about 13 million to 15 million people – about half of whom are seniors – will have received their bivalent booster shot by the end of this week.

“Our message is very simple: Don’t wait. Get vaccinated. Go get vaccinated now; get it before Halloween so you are ready before Thanksgiving and Chrismas and the holidays,” Jha said.

In the US, some models have predicted that Covid-19 cases will begin to rise again this month and continue to increase into the winter.

“The most important thing every American can do to reduce their likelihood of having significant, preventable health issues in the next three to six months is to go get an updated Covid vaccine,” Jha said. “Beyond that, we need to make sure that everyone over the age of 50 or otherwise with high-risk conditions gets treatments if they do get infected. We have treatments widely available.”

Respiratory viruses are known to spread quickly in winter, when people people head indoors and gather for holiday celebrations. Rising Covid-19 cases in the UK and Europe may be a signal of what’s to come in the United States. Although the Omicron BA.5 subvariant continues to dominate globally, other variants are beginning to spread, too.

According to a study released Friday by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the US Department of Health and Human Services, Covid-19 vaccinations led to nearly 700,000 fewer hospitalizations and up to 370,000 fewer deaths from the coronavirus last year.

That translates to more than $16 billion saved in medical costs, the office said in a news release.

The study analyzed and extrapolated data from 26.8 million older Americans and others enrolled in a Medicare fee-for-service health plan through the end of 2021. It included data from the Delta and Omicron surges last year.

“This report that they have issued, I believe, doubles down on the work that we’re doing on vaccination, why it’s so important to continue this effort and to get the right information out to Americans who can benefit and ultimately stay alive, stay healthy, stay out of the hospital and help us defeat Covid once and for all,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Friday.

An analysis published this week found that if more people in the United States get their booster by the end of the year, about 90,000 Covid-19 deaths could be prevented this fall and winter.

But if booster vaccinations continue at their current pace, the nation could see a peak of more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths per day this winter, according to the study by The Commonwealth Fund. There are now more than 400 daily Covid-19 deaths, on average, in the United States.

Becerra said the administration continues to urge people to get the updated Covid-19 boosters now available for ages 12 and up. Moderna and Pfizer have requested US Food and Drug Administration authorization for the updated boosters for children as young as 5.

“We hope that with this report we can continue to encourage Americans to get updated with their vaccinations and get us prepared for the fall and winter that’s coming,” Becerra said.