Share on Pinterest
Experts say the extra protection provided by COVID-19 booster shots can help get us closer to herd immunity. Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • The average daily rate for COVID-19 vaccine doses in the United States is about 800,000 a day.
  • Health officials note that more people are now getting booster shots than initial vaccine doses.
  • They say the boosters will bolster immune responses in vaccinated people and help slow the spread of COVID-19, edging us closer to herd immunity.

When it comes to defeating COVID-19, boosters are now the popular item, with first and second doses becoming relatively old news.

Experts say the trend is great for those keeping up with their vaccinations, but maybe not so great when it comes to herd immunity and slowing the rate of new cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 57 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. The daily vaccination rate is about 800,000 a day.

However, of those daily vaccinations, there are about 1.3 times as many people getting boosters as those receiving first or second shots.

So, while the number of new cases has dropped to about 70,000 a day, there is still a large chunk of the United States refusing to get vaccinated at all.

“Transmission rates are still highest for those unvaccinated, at rates 9-to-1, and they are more likely to end up in the hospital,” Dr. Nana Afoh-Mann, an emergency room physician and co-founder of the Shared Harvest/MyCovidMD app, told Healthline.

“We are also seeing more cases in children and those previously vaccinated, which speaks in large part to the virulence of the virus,” Afoh-Mann added. “Regardless, these breakthrough cases are doing far better in the recovery period than those who were not vaccinated, to begin with.”

The CDC reports there have been more than 413 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States.

More than 190 million people are fully vaccinated, and 220 million have received at least one dose, about 66 percent of the U.S. population.

But that means there is still a third of Americans either not able or unwilling to get that initial dose.

“We are not out of the woods,” Afoh-Mann said. “There are several states, like Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas, that have very low compliance for vaccination and, unfortunately, as we open travel, commerce, and schools, we cannot act like we live in a bubble. We are all impacted by each other, and it’s going to take a seismic shift in our thinking and approach to public health and healthcare overall before we can say we are out of the woods.”

There is some encouraging news.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that a mix-and-match approach to boosters will still be effective, regardless of whether they are from Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, or Johnson & Johnson.

In addition, the FDA’s independent vaccine advisory board is scheduled to meet on Oct. 26 to discuss whether the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should be authorized for children ages 5 to 11.

Both boosters and expanding the age range of those getting vaccinated could help finally get the country closer to herd immunity, where enough people have immune system protection against the novel coronavirus to prevent new cases from increasing.

“As more and more people get their boosters and vaccines, and the population reaches the so-called threshold of protection, the pandemic will be controlled, and even unprotected individuals will have a lower chance of being infected,” Dr. Ivan Salgo, the head of medical, clinical, and scientific affairs at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in New Jersey, told Healthline.

“Boosters can help more people to develop immune responses, especially immunosuppressed individuals, and can help people to maintain the strength of their immune responses – antibody level wanes over time – to the virus. So, boosters can help to reach herd immunity. The more people are vaccinated and acquired protection, the sooner the herd immunity can be established,” Salgo added.

Dr. Kenneth Campbell, program director at Tulane University’s Master of Health Administration program in New Orleans, told Healthline there’s reason for optimism.

“Nothing is perfect, but tremendous scientific progress has been made, and the public health community has remained vigilant. Social distancing works, masks work, the vaccines work, and handwashing works,” he said.

Campbell added that the apparent enthusiasm over boosters might serve us well moving forward as COVID-19 seems intent on sticking around as long as possible.

“I think the boosters will help in reducing the rate of transmission,” he said. “According to the CDC, protection against the virus may decrease over time and be less able to protect against the Delta variant. Emerging evidence also shows that among healthcare and other frontline workers, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infections is decreasing over time.

“I think getting the booster shot will increase vaccine effectiveness. I think everyone, at some point, will need a booster,” Campbell said.