The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a report that shows that COVID-19 vaccinations may have helped prevent hundreds of thousands of new COVID-19 infections and tens of thousands of deaths among seniors.
The study, which was conducted by researchers with HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), found that vaccinations were linked to a reduction of approximately 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations, and 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries between January and May 2021.
“This report reaffirms what we hear routinely from states: COVID-19 vaccines save lives, prevent hospitalizations, and reduce infection,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Data from South Carolina corroborates the report’s findings, said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC director.
“In South Carolina, we prioritized senior citizens to receive the vaccine, and these efforts paid off,” Simmer said. “Over 72 percent of South Carolinians age 65 and over are fully vaccinated, which resulted in a lower-than-expected number of COVID-19 cases in seniors during the recent surge. Keeping our seniors safe and saving lives is the primary goal of DHEC’s COVID-19 efforts, and as this study shows, vaccination is the most effective way to do so,” Simmer noted.
Nationwide, more than 352,000 lives were lost during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the availability of vaccines, nearly 80 percent of these deaths were among people 65 and older who were also Medicare eligible.
For the period of January to May 2021, when vaccination grew from one percent to 47 percent among adults 18 to 64 and from one percent to 80 percent among seniors, the study found an 11-12 percent decrease in weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths among Medicare beneficiaries for every 10 percent increase in county vaccination rates.
All racial and ethnic groups and all 48 states analyzed experienced reduced numbers of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, and infections, linked to vaccination rate increases. Texas and Hawaii were excluded from this analysis due to data reporting limitations. American Indian and Alaska Native Medicare beneficiaries saw the largest vaccination-related percentage decrease in SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The study also found that vaccines were linked to a reduction of about 5,600 deaths among nursing home Medicare beneficiaries, a group that was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
This report further underscores why it’s critically important to get all eligible individuals living in the United States vaccinated against COVID-19. The study found that high vaccination rates for all adults were even more protective for Medicare beneficiaries than just a high elderly vaccination rate on its own. The COVID-19 vaccines protect communities by reducing infections, deaths, and hospitalizations.
Recently, Secretary Becerra issued a directive, effective September 25, authorizing all CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program providers to make available and administer Pfizer-BioNTech booster doses to all people who are eligible. This includes seniors over age 65. The science has demonstrated this authorized booster can provide added protection to seniors. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also issued a reminder to Medicare beneficiaries that all COVID-19 vaccines, including the authorized booster will be covered without cost-sharing.