News Release

Extensive Fall Booster Campaign Could Save 160,000 Lives


The FDA authorized the use of new booster shots on Wednesday, but public health experts caution that participation might be low. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and researcher at the School of Public Health at Brown University, told the Institute for Public Accuracy this week that she hopes “25 to 30 percent of the population, especially immunocompromised and older folks” get the shots. “That could potentially be really impactful,” she said. 

In late July, the Commonwealth Fund released an analysis estimating that an extensive fall booster vaccination campaign could save 160,000 lives and avert $109 billion in medical costs. 

BENJY RENTON;, @bhrenton 
    Renton is a research assistant supporting Ariadne Labs’ Covid-19 vaccine delivery work.

TAISON BELL;, @TaisonBell
    Dr. Bell is an assistant professor of medicine in the divisions of Infectious Diseases and International Health and Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia.

Bell wrote on Twitter: The booster authorization “is great news. We’re overdue for an update to the [Covid] vaccines and the timing is good going into the fall and winter. But, given our current booster rate, this also needs to come with a campaign to encourage vaccination.”

Bell told the Institute for Public Accuracy on Thursday: “Funding for Covid has largely dried up from Congress, so what will be very important with the rollout of the boosters is to encourage people to take it. The access issues won’t be as big of an issue as they were in the beginning; we should have widespread distribution. But we need to let people understand how important it is to get boosted in the first place. I want to make sure that people don’t miss the mark and think that just making [the boosters] available is the solution. It’s a heavier lift than that, given our current rate of boosting.” 

Some of Bell’s patients have also “raised concerns about the accelerated authorization” of the boosters. They’re asking, “Is it so new that it could cause harm?” Bell says there needs to be a campaign to address those concerns. “It is a safe vaccine and it is beneficial to get the update. People need to understand that.” In the past, Bell’s institution, the University of Virginia, “did outreach with local churches and community leaders.” He wants to see more of that: a “multipronged campaign––on the bus, subway, radio––but also a targeted campaign in higher-risk communities.”

The Commonwealth Fund’s researchers examined the impact of an early fall vaccination campaign that would reach coverage similar to 2020–2021 influenza vaccination. The team found that such a campaign would prevent nearly 102,000 deaths, more than 1 million hospitalizations, and save $63 billion in direct medical costs by the end of March 2023. Without such a campaign, the authors estimate that a surge of the virus could lead to more than 260,000 additional deaths by the end of March 2023. 

“An even more successful campaign, which results in 80 percent of the eligible U.S. population receiving booster doses,” wrote the authors, “would prevent approximately 160,000 deaths, more than 1.7 million hospitalizations, and avert $109 billion in direct medical costs over the course of the next eight months, compared with a scenario in which there is an unchanged daily vaccination rate.” Either of these scenarios could prevent deaths from exceeding 1,000 per day. 

Renton told the Institute for Public Accuracy on Wednesday: “A successful fall booster campaign will ensure that all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to this new booster in places that are most familiar and comfortable to them. We still have work to do when it comes to increasing access, especially as Congress has failed to authorize more funding for state and local health departments.”