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lllustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios

Getting more Americans vaccinated should be important to the majority of American adults who have already gotten the shot, experts say.

Why it matters: Beyond the philosophical considerations, public health experts say there are direct impacts — including the risk of breakthrough cases, new variants and economic pullbacks.

"The key thing that keeps getting lost is that this matters to the vaccinated," said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University.

The first concern is for the immediate health of the unvaccinated, as well as the pressure that caring for them puts on local health systems.

  • "Hospitalization and deaths in the U.S. are going back up. We can see the actual impact of it right now," said Jen Kates, KFF's senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy.
  • "We're seeing a lot of nurses with compassion fatigue, and I am really scared how that is going to play out because a lot of the cases we're seeing are in non-vaccinated individuals," one western Arkansas nurse told CNN.

Breakthrough infections — infections in vaccinated people — are still rare, and few are life-threatening, but COVID-19's continued circulation makes them more probable, and it will also help give rise to new variants.

  • The more people COVID can infect, the higher the possibility of new variants that are more transmissible, deadly or even able to evade the defense of our vaccines.

Zoom in: Vermont is a successful U.S. model, said Eric Topol, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

  • It has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, and hospitalizations have been going down, even amid the nationwide surge caused by the Delta variant.
  • "Other people, those without prior-COVID or who aren't vaccinated, are protected because COVID can't find them," Topol said.
  • But in the U.S. more broadly, he said, the opposite model is happening. "Instead of how it was supposed to work, [the unvaccinated] are infecting the vaccinated because it's such a highly transmissible version of the virus," Topol said.

What's next: With millions of Americans, including children, still unvaccinated amid the spread of Delta, some experts fear that the rebound in COVID cases could slow economic growth.

  • In a recent note to investors, Bank of America economists Stephen Juneau and Anna Zhou said the Delta variant is expected to lead to a shift in consumer behavior such as a “sharp pullback in services spending,” Insider reported.
  • They pointed to Michigan, which did not tighten its restrictions during a surge in COVID cases earlier this year, but still saw consumer spending decrease as fewer consumers dined out.

The bottom line: Springfield, Missouri-based CoxHealth had less than 20 patients hospitalized for COVID in mid-May, but had 160 patients last week.

  • "It just skyrocketed over the past few weeks, and projections show it's probably going to get worse," said Kaitlyn McConnell, a spokesperson for CoxHealth.
  • "I don't think there's ever a point where we're going to stop trying to educate people" about getting the vaccine, she said, "even if sometimes you wonder if you'll change minds."

Go deeper

Updated Sep 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question — Los Angeles County to require vaccination proof at indoor bars — France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health workers without pay.
  2. Health: Worsening crisis at Rikers Island jail spurs call for action — 1 in 500 Americans has died — Cases are falling, but deaths are rising.
  3. Politics: White House invites call with Nicki Minaj to discuss vaccine — Gottlieb says CDC hampered U.S. response — 26 states have limited state or local officials' public health powers.
  4. Education: Denver looks to students to close Latino vaccination gap — Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools — Massachusetts activates National Guard to help with school transportation.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Sep 17, 2021 - Health

CDC: Moderna vaccine most effective against hospitalization in U.S.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Overall healthy adults with the Moderna COVID vaccine had 93% vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization over five months compared to those with 88% protection with Pfizer and 71% from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a new report out Friday from the CDC shows.

Why it matters: The report comes as the Food and Drug Administrations meets Friday to consider whether to endorse a contentious plan for booster shots among the fully vaccinated.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Sep 17, 2021 - Health

Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A key FDA advisory committee is meeting today to discuss Pfizer's proposal for a COVID vaccine booster — but it will set the stage for the entire booster debate.

The big question: Not only whether experts believe there’s enough evidence to support boosters, but also whether they believe additional shots should be made available for everyone or limited to older Americans and the immunocompromised.