COVID-19 booster drive is faltering in the US

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The nation’s booster drive is losing steam, worrying health experts are urging Americans to get an extra shot at boosting their defenses against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Riley Bradbeck, 13, from Westminster, VT, looks away while receiving a Pfizer COVID-19 booster during a vaccine clinic at the Bellows Falls Fire Department on Friday, January 14, 2022 in Bellows Falls, VT. The Associated Press

New York (AP) — The COVID-19 Booster drives are losing steam in the US, worrying health experts are urging Americans to get an extra shot at boosting their protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose. And the average number of booster shots given daily in the US has fallen from a peak of 1 million in early December to nearly 490,000 over the past week.

Plus, a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans are more likely to see early vaccinations — rather than boosters — as necessary.

“It’s clear that the booster effort is falling short,” said Jason Schwartz, a vaccine policy expert at Yale University.

Overall, the US vaccination campaign has been sluggish. More than 13 months after it began, only 63% of Americans, or 210 million people, have been fully vaccinated with the initial round of shots. Mandates that could have increased those numbers faced legal challenges.

States such as Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi and Alabama have stagnant vaccination numbers, hovering below 50%.

The US and many other countries are urging adults to get boosters because the vaccine’s safety may be reduced. In addition, research has shown that while vaccines have been shown to be less effective against Omicron, boosters can enhance the body’s defenses against the threat.

As to why the estimated 86 million Americans who are fully vaccinated and eligible for boosters have not yet received one, Schwartz said public confusion is a key reason.

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

The need for all Americans to receive the booster was initially debated by scientists, and was first recommended by the government that certain groups of people, such as senior citizens, receive additional doses. The advent of Omicron, and additional evidence about declining immunity, more clearly showed the widespread need for boosters.

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

An AP-NORC Center poll found that 59% of Americans think it is necessary to receive a vaccine to fully participate in public life without realizing the risk of COVID-19 infection. Only about 47% say so about booster shots.

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

“I believe in the power of vaccines, and I know it’s going to protect me,” said Ruble, the owner of a greeting card-sending service. But the vaccine “completely freaked me out and scared me about getting a booster.”

She said she plans to get a booster in the next few weeks and in the meantime wears an N95 mask and tries to stay at home.

“I don’t want to get COVID in general,” she said. “it freaks me out.”

Blake Hasler, 26, of Nashville, Tennessee, said he doesn’t plan to get a booster. He received two doses of Pfizer last year after having a mild case of COVID-19 in 2020. He said that he considers himself in the low-risk category.

“At this point, we need to focus on prevention of severe disease at the onset of symptoms rather than a more divisive mandate, creating a new shot every six weeks,” he said.

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AP writer Mike Stobe in New York contributed to this report.

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