U.S. Faces Challenge as Covid-19 Vaccine Uptake Stalls Despite Ongoing Pandemic

Three years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that only 15.7% of U.S. adults have received the latest Covid shots from Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax. The CDC expressed concern in a recent update, stating that the vaccine uptake is lower than desired, leaving many individuals without added protection against severe Covid-19.

The slumping Covid shot uptake poses challenges for vaccine makers and health experts, who predict that vaccination rates in 2024 will likely resemble the current trends. The bigger uncertainty revolves around whether rates could increase in the future and the factors that might drive more people to get vaccinated.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

Experts and vaccine makers agree that low vaccination rates increase the risk of severe Covid infections, and vaccines remain a critical tool in preventing death or hospitalization from the virus. Dr. Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist, warns that lower vaccination rates also leave the U.S. less prepared for potential surges caused by new, more concerning variants.

According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), approximately half of adults cite a lack of concern about Covid, while others point to factors like not seeing a significant spike in infections, existing immunity from previous vaccinations or infections, and the perception that the Omicron variants are less severe.

The KFF poll also reveals that nearly 4 in 10 adults claim to be too busy to get the new Covid shot. Dr. Brad Pollock of UC Davis Health suggests that confusion about personal risk levels and the benefits of additional boosters may contribute to some individuals deprioritizing Covid shots.

Political affiliations also influence vaccine decisions, with 23% of Republicans, 40% of independents, and 74% of Democrats planning to get the latest Covid shot. Dr. Nicole Iovine of the University of Florida highlights the lack of urgency around Covid, which may affect uptake in the coming years.

Despite these challenges, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and Moderna CFO Jamey Mock believe that Covid vaccination rates will remain stable due to factors like Covid fatigue and anti-vaccination sentiments. Some optimism arises from the potential for increased uptake through the administration of combined flu and Covid shots, making vaccination more convenient.

However, skepticism remains regarding the impact of combination shots, with analysts like Jefferies' Yee suggesting that convenience may not be the deciding factor for vaccine uptake. Public health officials and providers are urged to communicate clearly that Covid shots will become a routine part of healthcare, potentially increasing uptake.

The FDA and CDC are exploring a transition to a flu shot-like model for Covid vaccines, with an annual single jab updated to target the latest circulating variant. However, concerns have been raised about the uncertainty of Covid's seasonality, and establishing an annualized approach to Covid vaccination may take time in the minds of the American public.