Booster Hesitancy?

65 million Americans are fully vaccinated but just 35 percent are boosted.

I am not quite sure what to make of the NYT report “More Americans are eligible for boosters. But getting shots in arms hasn’t been easy.”

The Biden administration has largely responded to the near vertical rise in coronavirus cases by pushing for more people to get not only their initial doses of vaccine, but booster shots as well.

This week, federal health officials endorsed boosters for youths 12 to 17 who had initially gotten the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The government also changed the definition of “up to date” Covid vaccination to include boosters.

But even as the United States has moved rapidly to expand who is eligible for boosters, progress in persuading Covid-fatigued Americans to get them has stalled.

About 62 percent of Americans — about 206 million people — are fully vaccinated, according to federal data. But according to a C.D.C. database, only about 35 percent of Americans have received a booster since mid-August, when additional shots were first authorized, even as eligibility has greatly expanded.

On Nov. 19, the F.D.A. authorized boosters for everyone 18 and older who had received two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and on Dec. 9, it authorized boosters of the Pfizer vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Those changes led to more Americans getting boosters, according to the federal database, but that has since leveled off.

As I’ve noted before, my wife and I are both boosted. Our children, ranging in age from 22 to 10, are all vaccinated but not yet boosted.

The three oldest (aged 22, 21, and 18) are all scheduled for boosters. But it’s weird to treat the fact that they haven’t yet gotten the shots as some sort of failure in the public health system. They were only vaccinated to begin with in May and only got authorized for boosters six weeks ago. The 18-year-old got vaccinated in June, I think (she didn’t turn 18 until July) and is barely eligible, as the six months since her second dose is just up.

Similarly, my 13-year-old just became eligible for a booster this week and she got her second jab in late June or early July. It’s not as though we’re being laggards.

And my 10-year-old just got her second jab last month. She’s among the “fully vaccinated” but not even eligible for a booster, either in terms of age or time passed since the initial round. So, again, it makes no sense to count her as a deficit in getting people boosted.

Now, where I do suspect there to be a real issue is in the vaxxed-because-they-had-to crowd. I don’t have the numbers available but there are literally millions of people just among government employees and presumably more than that who work for companies that mandate vaccinations as a matter of continued employment. Obviously, a substantial number of those people would have gotten the shots, anyway, out of good judgment. But there’s a huge number of Americans who were reluctant to get the shots but were coerced into getting them. Until there’s a change in policy to make “fully vaccinated” mean “boosted,” one imagines most of these people will not do so.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    There is a small, but very loud, anti-public-health community out there working tirelessly to kill off conservative voters in quantities large enough to affect the 2022 midterms.

    It’s not the path to victory I would have chosen, but I suppose the outcome is the same either way.

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  2. CSK says:

    In my case, it was far less a hassle to get boosted than vaxxed, and I suspect that’s true for most people.

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  3. Jen says:

    I got boosted the day after my 6-month mark passed, which was prior to Omicron and before boosters had been opened up to everyone. I scheduled an appointment with no problem and there was only one other person at the CVS to get boosted when I went.

    As with everything else in this pandemic, there are probably multiple factors at work. One, the people who were required to get vaccinated probably aren’t clamoring for another shot, as James points out. But, here in NH, the booster rollout has been erratic. As I noted, I had no issue getting my booster, but at the time a LOT of people in nursing homes–both staff and residents–had not yet been boosted. We still haven’t heard why the distribution to the most vulnerable was so uneven. As far as the general public goes, a number of friends are reporting that they can’t get appointments. This is particularly true for friends who are back to in-office work.

    In short, it’s probably a mix of “I don’t need it”,”I can’t get it”, and “I’ll deal with it later.”

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  4. Tony W says:

    @Jen: Same with us – same-day appointments available at CVS for our preferred vaccine – Moderna.

    My mother-in-law lives in senior housing and they came to her! They set up shop in the lobby of the building and all the seniors just came down the elevator and got their boosters.

    Frankly, that’s how I thought they’d do the original vaccine.

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  5. CSK says:

    @Jen: @Tony W:
    I do wonder if the vaccines had been as easy to obtain as the booster, a lot more people would be fully vaxxed (and boosted) by now.

    Getting vaxxed required a trip into Boston for me (about a 50-mile round trip), finding a place to park, wandering through a giant hospital complex, and hanging around with several hundred others. Getting boosted? It took less time than waiting for a prescription at the CVS a mile from my place.

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    Here in Illinois it was easier for me to get vaccinated than boosted. That’s partly because they’ve handed off the boosting (alone) aspect to places like CVS (I could have gotten boosted at a hospital if I had gone in for something else as well) which meant I had to get an actual appointment while the original vaccine at the hospital was a walk-in.

    I also wonder how many people are holding off because of trying to match their boosters to their vaccines. AFAIK, CVS isn’t boosting with Moderna yet.

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  7. grumpy realist says:

    (Tony W. mentions getting boosted with Moderna at CVS above. So it looks like the availability of the type of booster changes with location. It certainly wasn’t an option at the CVS I went in to get boosted at here in Illinois.)

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Tony W. mentions getting boosted with Moderna at CVS above. So it looks like the availability of the type of booster changes with location.

    Could well be. The wife and I got boosted with Moderna at a NoVa CVS, which also has Pfizer, as that’s what all but the oldest kid got.

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  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Both my mom and I are finally boosted. I waited until early December because I needed to find a weekend that was clear enough of responsibilities that I could get it done on Friday and sleep through whatever side effects came my way.

    With Mom’s it was much less of an urgent need because she almost never leaves the house unless it is a quick shopping trip or a medical appointment, so she’s not really exposed to shared air on a regular basis. She finally got hers done this week because we needed to replace our dishwasher and I told her that I wasn’t going to let her come shopping with me until she got boosted.

    For both of us, the shot was super easy. The County health district has been running a daily walk-in clinic for the past few months. Each of us was in and out in under 30 minutes.

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  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Purely anecdotal, but it just feels less urgent to get boosted today if you’ve already got Moderna or Pfizer than it did to get vaxxed last Spring.

    Both my mom and I are finally boosted. We were eligible on November 1.

    I waited until early December because I needed to find a weekend that was clear enough of responsibilities that I could get it done on Friday and sleep through whatever side effects came my way.

    With Mom’s it was much less of an urgent need because she almost never leaves the house unless it is a quick shopping trip or a medical appointment, so she’s not really exposed to shared air on a regular basis. She finally got hers done this week because we needed to replace our dishwasher and I told her that I wasn’t going to let her come shopping with me until she got boosted.

    For both of us, the shot was super easy. The County health district has been running a daily walk-in clinic for the past few months. Each of us was in and out in under 30 minutes.

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  11. Kathy says:

    Thus far Omicron has proven less sever, but not the mild common cold lookalike people pretend it is. People still are hospitalized with Omicron, and people still die of Omicron. Meantime unvaxxed morons provide fertile ground for new variants. Who’s to say the next one will not be more severe?

    If it is, then all those who could have gotten a booster and been better prepared for it, will instead be scrambling to get one. Never mind those who remain unvaccinated.

    One can squarely blame several national leaders for incompetent handling of the pandemic in 2020, and for outright idiocy of downplaying it, and place millions of deaths squarely on their shoulders. But in 2021, the fault lies mostly with those who refuse to take the strongest and best protection available, especially in places where it is literally free for the taking.

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    Having pharmacies and clinics be the source of boosters and initial vax, is both an advantage and disadvantage to those considering vaccination. Yes the locations are convenient, but the individual must seek them out and usually schedule an appointment. (It would be interesting to know what percentage of appointments end up as no shows.)

    Last spring and summer, my wife volunteered at state sponsored vax clinics and when the booster clinics were authorized she’s volunteered to staff those. At the first, before xmas, several thousand people showed up and the one that is scheduled for tomorrow, has 4000 appointment. In many ways those big clinics are easier to promote and take less initiative on the part of the citizen.

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  13. KM says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:
    It’s the notion that some protection is better than none. That you’ll be fine as you have some cover.

    Being unvaxxed is wandering around naked on the battlefield filled with snipers – you *will* get hit eventually, it’s just a matter of how deadly the hit was. Being vaxxed is wearing a bullet-proof vest in that it doesn’t stop you from being shot but keeps you alive when you are. Being vaxxed and boosted is wearing a helmet because the sniper figured out headshots can bypass the chest-protection you’re wearing. Now keep in mind, vests wear out or can be damaged due to repeated wear and tear to be less effective; just owning an older vest means you’re less protected then you were at first issue. You can get new gear at any time for free so it’s up to you what level and quality of gear you want to sport.

    Now the question is – do you feel comfortable wandering around helmetless because you think the bullet-proof vest is enough? You’ll likely be fine unless you take a direct hit to an unprotected area so your chances of survival are pretty high. What are the chances of that, amirite? Sure your vest is becoming raggy and won’t protect you forever but right now, it’s fine right? The vest feels like enough….. until you realize everyone’s getting sniped in a different location because it’s adapted to our behavior. You’ll probably be fine but why not ensure it’s not something you need to worry about?

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  14. CSK says:

    @KM:
    Great analogy.

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  15. JKB says:

    @Kathy: Meantime unvaxxed morons provide fertile ground for new variants.

    Or, as is now thought of the Omicron variant, there will be a reverse zoonosis event. Omicron has roots in the wild SARS 2.0 virus. Not the Alpha, Beta or Delta variants that we’ve had outbreaks from. Genetically, it is looking like it may have evolved in mice then jumped back into humans.

    On the upside, the Omicron has been found to also give neutralizing immunity to Delta, which should cause Delta to die out. And as everyone gets Omicron, the impact of Omicron will decline from the neutralizing immunity. A Danish study has found that while vaccine+booster does better with Omicron right on the heels are those with natural immunity, then vaccinate. But we know the Boosted will lose their extra protection within a matter of months. But if they’ve had a milder Omicron infection, they’ll join the natural immunity group right along with the unvaccinated, who are running the risk of a worse case of Omicron COVID, but still milder than earlier variants.

    In any case, end of January, first of February, Omicron will have likely infected everyone and then it’s on to the recently reported first case of “Flurona”.

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  16. just nutha says:

    @JKB: It’s just like reading a freshman comp paper. […sigh…]

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  17. Mike in Arlington says:

    I’m in Northern Virginia and I had trouble getting a booster shot. Part of this is that I don’t have a car, which limited my choices. I was able to find a CVS with a booster in mid December (which I went in and received). I received my shot only 2 days before my girlfriend exposed me to the ‘rona. Again. (My case was extremely mild, but I had to cancel my trip to see my parents in Chicago over the festivus holiday)

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @Mike in Arlington: Your transport problem brought to mind the difficulties the the mostly suburbanite state officials had in wrapping their heads around the idea that many city residents, especially poor ones, don’t have access to a car or, of course, have a drivers license. Their initial comments about how to set up mass vaccination sites, testing, treatment, etc were laughable. One guy proposed drive through only as being the safest way and couldn’t understand why that might be a problem in downtown Baltimore. I guess he thought we could shut down a couple of miles of one of main streets and then give everyone their own car and teach them to drive?

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  19. Monala says:

    @Mike in Arlington @MarkedMan: when I scheduled my booster in September, I received an offer for a free Uber ride to the appointment if I needed it. Are they no longer offering that?

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