NEW YORK – The COVID-19 booster drive in the U.S. is losing steam, worrying health experts who have pleaded with Americans to get an extra shot to shore up their protection against the highly contagious omicron variant.
Just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the U.S. has plummeted from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 as of last week.
Also, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans are more likely to see the initial vaccinations – rather than a booster – as essential.
“It's clear that the booster effort is falling short,” said Jason Schwartz, a vaccine policy expert at Yale University.
Overall, the U.S. vaccination campaign has been sluggish. More than 13 months after it began, just 63% of Americans, or 210 million people, are fully vaccinated with the initial rounds of shots. Mandates that could raise those numbers have been hobbled by legal challenges.
Vaccination numbers are stagnant in states such as Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi and Alabama, which have been hovering below 50%.
In Wyoming, 44% are fully vaccinated, up just slightly from 41% in September. To boost numbers, the state has been running TV ads with health care workers giving grim accounts of unvaccinated people struggling with COVID-19.
“Certainly we would like to see higher rates. But it would be wrong for anyone to think that the rates we have are due to lack of effort,” Wyoming Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said Tuesday.
At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont is a national leader in the percentage of people who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot. About 60% of the population over 18 has gotten a booster. But it's not enough, said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine.
“I'd love to see that percentage much closer to 90%,” Levine said.
The U.S. and other nations have been urging adults to get boosters because the vaccine's protection can wane. Also, research has shown that while the vaccines have proved less effective against omicron, boosters can rev up the body's defenses against the threat.
As for why an estimated 86 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated and are eligible for a booster have not yet gotten one, Schwartz said public confusion is one important reason.
“I think the evidence is now overwhelming that the booster is not simply an optional supplement, but it is a foundational part of protection,” he said. “But clearly that message has been lost.”
The AP-NORC Center poll found that 59% of Americans think it is essential that they receive a vaccine to fully participate in public life without feeling at risk of COVID-19 infection. Only 47% say the same about a booster shot.
Pfizer testing omicron vaccine
Pfizer is enrolling healthy adults to test a reformulated COVID-19 vaccine that matches the hugely contagious omicron variant, to see how it compares with the original shots.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.
COVID-19 vaccine-makers have been updating their shots to better match omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.
Biden vaccine mandate withdrawn
The Biden administration has officially withdrawn a rule that would have required workers at big companies to get vaccinated or face regular COVID testing requirements.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed the withdrawal Tuesday. But the agency said it still strongly encourages workers to get vaccinated.
On Jan. 13, the Supreme Court concluded that OSHA's mandate had overstepped its authority.