In his Rose Garden remarks after returning from a COVID-19 absence in July, President Joe Biden echoed the importance of booster vaccinations – a key component of the national vaccination program also stressed by members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team in a prior press briefing.
“Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against severe outcomes,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on July 12. “Currently, many Americans are undervaccinated.”
Indeed, data shows that trend has continued, and the country’s booster efforts have struggled to gain continued traction. Even as omicron subvariants have surged in the U.S. this summer, about one-half of “fully vaccinated” Americans – or a third of the country – are not up to date with their first booster vaccines, based on federal data.
As of Aug. 3, only about 32% of Americans had received their first booster shot – defined by the CDC as either a specific booster dose or an additional primary series dose given since Aug. 13, 2021. That’s despite the fact that some 65% of the population had reached the eligibility thresholds recommended by the CDC after completing an initial vaccine series or single-shot regimen.
Aside from lagging boosters, 21.2% of Americans had not received any vaccine doses, and an additional 11.6% had not completed an initial series. Even portions of the boosted population likely have waning protection – only about 34% of the 60.7 million Americans eligible for their second additional dose had received one.
All told, by the CDC’s recommendations, over three-quarters of Americans are considered not up to date.
The CDC distinguishes between being “fully vaccinated” and being “up to date,” with the latter designation including the receipt of booster doses when eligible. Since boosters were first introduced in 2021, federal officials have expanded eligibility to include all adults as well as children aged 5 to 18 who received an initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series.
Over two-thirds (67%) of the U.S. population is considered “fully vaccinated” even as a significant portion of this group has yet to receive additional doses.
The standard recommendation is to get a booster dose five months after completion of an initial mRNA vaccine series or two months after receiving Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose Janssen vaccine. The CDC recommends shorter intervals and additional primary vaccine doses in some cases, particularly for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
The proportion of the population that is fully vaccinated but not boosted is growing, as vaccinated Americans are reaching eligibility at a faster rate than boosters are being administered. In the last five months, about 9% of Americans have become eligible for their first booster, while just 3.8% of the population received one. Overall, the rate at which Americans are getting their first booster sat at less than 1 percentage point over the past month.
Together, these figures point to a struggling vaccination program, as boosters aim to protect against the waning effectiveness of an initial vaccine series. And an increase in Americans who are not up to date means an increase in overall vulnerability to the virus.