Americans Aren't Getting Enough Booster Shots, and It's Causing a Serious Problem

Only 25 percent of U.S. adults have received a COVID booster vaccine, and experts have told Newsweek this is concerning in terms of controlling the pandemic as average daily cases climb past 100,000 once again.

On November 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its vaccine guidance to recommend that those aged 18 or older in the country should get a booster shot once six months had passed from the date of their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months from their initial J&J shot.

Booster shots have become particularly significant recently due to the recent emergence of the Omicron COVID variant, which the CDC said "further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts."

Meanwhile the seven-day moving average of new daily COVID cases in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 for three consecutive days recently from December 3 to December 5.

Despite booster doses being recommended, the uptake is still relatively low. CDC data shows that 47 million U.S. citizens aged 18 and over had opted to get the booster—25.4 percent.

A Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, taken in the middle of November, suggested that around 53 percent of all adults said they would be likely to get a booster shot or had already gotten one.

This figure fell lower for Republicans, of whom just 36 percent included in the Kaiser poll said they would get the booster compared with 77 percent of Democrats.

"With waning immunity coupled with the emergence of new likely more transmissible variants, there is concern about continued and worsening surge leading to increasing cases, hospitalizations and deaths," said Dr. Uzma Syed, a partner at South Shore Infectious Diseases Travel Medicine Consultants in Long Island, New York. "Vaccine hesitancy still prevails for a myriad of reasons as misinformation and disinformation continue to spread rampantly."

For Dr. Saket Kottewar, clinical assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Texas Health, San Antonio, this hesitancy is worrisome.

"The clear-cut benefits of the primary vaccine series were the main reasons behind the overall lower hospitalizations or severe complications of the COVID infection during the last surge when you compare all previous surges," he told Newsweek.

"We would need to use every possible tool to slow down the next COVID surge and protect the vulnerable population. Our vaccination drive—primary series and the booster—will be the superior tool of all."

Dr. Jake Scott, clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases and geographic medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, echoed the point, highlighting the circulation of the Omicron variant.

"With the emergence of the potentially more contagious Omicron variant coinciding with an overall rise in levels of infection in some areas, it is critical that those who are unvaccinated get vaccinated, and it is also important that boosters be considered by those who are eligible for them," he said.

There is also the issue of waning immunity—vaccines providing less and less protection over time, explained Syed. "The next chapter of the pandemic is largely unknown as the story of Omicron pans out.

"What we do know is that regardless of whether the threat is from an already circulating Delta variant that has outcompeted all others or the latest variant Omicron, we are already seeing more cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated individuals due to waning immunity from current vaccines."

The issue of waning immunity has been raised in countries like Israel, where vaccination drives were initially strong.

For now, health officials are urging people to get booster shots to add further protection amid increasing Omicron cases.

COVID vaccine being given
A photo of a COVID vaccine being administered in Los Angeles, California, on January 7, 2021. The CDC is recommending booster shots for U.S. adults. Mario Tama/Getty