Low vaccine booster rates are now a key factor in COVID-19 deaths – and racial disparities in booster rates persist

More than 450 people are dying of COVID-19 in the U.S. each day as of late August 2022.

When COVID-19 vaccines first became available, public officials, community organizations and policymakers mobilized to get shots into arms. These efforts included significant investments in making vaccines accessible to Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native populations. These groups experienced exceptionally high COVID-19 death rates early in the pandemic and had low initial vaccine rates.

The efforts worked. As of August 2022, vaccination rates for the primary series – or required initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines – for Black and Hispanic people exceeded those of white Americans.

But boosters are a different story. Comparable booster vaccine promotion efforts have been lacking. Confusion in the public health messaging surrounding boosters and limited federal funding for rolling out vaccination campaigns have resulted in slow booster uptake across the country.

As a result, divides have once again emerged. A recent study of COVID-19 booster rates found that 45% of white adults and 52% of Asian American adults had received boosters by January 2022. But only 29% of Black adults and 31% of adults who reported another racial or ethnic identity, such as American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or multiracial, were boosted.

As of late August 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 36.3% of white adults in the U.S. 50 years or older and eligible for a second booster shot had received one. This is compared to only 28.4% for the Black population, 31.3% for American Indian or Alaska Native populations, and 25.1% for the Hispanic population.

New boosters aimed at the currently dominant omicron subvariant are expected to become available in early September 2022. But the benefits of this new booster will be limited if it is not widely used.