COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Drive falters in US

(New York) – The COVID-19 booster drive in the US is losing steam, worrying health experts have begged Americans for an extra chance to bolster their protections against the highly contagious Omicron strain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose. And the average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the US has plummeted from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 last week.

Also, a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans view the first vaccinations rather than a booster as essential.
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“Clearly, the booster effort is falling short,” said Jason Schwartz, a vaccine policy expert at Yale University.

In general, the vaccination campaign in the US has been slow. More than 13 months after it started, only 63% of Americans, or 210 million people, have been fully vaccinated with the first rounds of injections. Mandates that could increase that number have been hampered by legal challenges.

Vaccination rates are stagnating in states such as Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi and Alabama, which hover below 50%.

In Wyoming, 44% are fully vaccinated, just over 41% in September. To increase the numbers, the state has placed TV ads featuring health professionals giving grim stories of unvaccinated people struggling with COVID-19.

“Of course we would like to see higher rates. But it would be wrong for anyone to think that the rates we have are due to a lack of effort,” Wyoming Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said Tuesday.

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And in neighboring Idaho, which also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, the number of people receiving their first vaccine dose has fallen below 1,000 almost every day this year, and the number of boosters is also declining. Still, officials say they won’t give up.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘resigned,'” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, an administrator for the Idaho Division of Public Health. “I think we just have to keep saying it over and over, how important it is.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont is a national leader in the percentage of people who have been fully vaccinated and given a booster shot. About 60% of the population over 18 has received a booster. But it’s not enough, said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

“I’d like to see that percentage be much closer to 90%,” Levine said.

The US and many other countries have urged adults to get boosters because the vaccine’s protection may be diminished. Research has also shown that while the vaccines have been shown to be less effective against Omicron, boosters can boost the body’s defenses against the threat.

As for why an estimated 86 million Americans who are fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster have not yet received one, Schwartz said public confusion is a major reason.

“I think the evidence is now overwhelming that the booster is not just an optional addition, but a fundamental part of protection,” he said. “But that message has clearly been lost.”

The need for all Americans to get boosters was initially discussed by scientists, and at first the government recommended only certain groups of people, such as seniors, be given extra doses. The advent of ommicron, and additional evidence on declining immunity, more clearly showed a widespread need for boosters.

But the message “has been lost in the sea of ​​changing recommendations and guidance,” Schwartz said.

The AP-NORC Center poll found that 59% of Americans believe it is essential that they receive a vaccine to participate fully in public life without risking a COVID-19 infection. Only 47% say the same about a booster shot.

Keller Anne Ruble, 32, of Denver, got her two doses of the Moderna vaccine but didn’t get her booster. She said she had a bad reaction to the second dose and was in bed for four days with a fever and flu-like symptoms.

“I believe in the power of vaccines and I know it will protect me,” said Ruble, the owner of a greeting card delivery service. But the vaccine “just completely turned me off and scared me to get the booster.”

She said she plans to get the booster in the coming weeks and will wear an N95 mask in the meantime and try to stay home.

“I just don’t want COVID in general,” she said. “It scares me.”

Blake Hassler, 26, of Nashville, Tennessee, said he has no intention of getting the booster. He received two doses of Pfizer last year after having a mild case of COVID-19 in 2020. He said he considers himself in a low-risk category.

“Right now we need to focus on preventing serious illness at the onset of symptoms rather than making another injection every six weeks and creating more divisiveness,” he said.


AP writers Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.

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