Unvaccinated COVID-19 Hospital Admissions Cost Taxpayers Billions

Est. Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Key Insights

  • Nearly 24 percent of U.S. adults stated they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Preventable hospitalizations between June and August 2021 cost taxpayers more than $5.7 billion
  • Evidence shows that vaccine-hesitant U.S. adults may be more willing to get the shot if they know it will protect them and their family members

 

Background

Despite powerful evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective against the virus, roughly 24 percent of U.S. adults “do not plan to be vaccinated.” Among those who do not plan to be vaccinated, “78 percent say they are unlikely to reconsider their plans, including 51 percent who say they are ‘not likely at all’ to change their mind and get vaccinated.”

A Gallup survey conducted in May 2021 did not find a common reason for hesitancy among the population that does not plan on getting vaccinated. However, some commonalities among vaccine-hesitant adults and healthcare workers stand out:

  • Belief that one can get COVID-19 from mRNA vaccines
  • Lack of trust in the healthcare system
  • Preference for natural immunity

Some are also hesitant because they believe getting the vaccine should remain a choice. Overall, public support for vaccine mandates in the U.S. is strong. In a recent poll, 61 percent of U.S. adults stated they support “federal, state, and local governments requiring that everyone be vaccinated” depending on the type of mandate. A further 60+ percent of U.S. adults support vaccine mandates for people to get on an airplane, return to school, or go back to college.

Preventable Hospitalizations

Aside from slowing disease transmission to adults who are ineligible for the vaccine, vaccines help prevent unnecessary and costly hospitalizations.

A study of unvaccinated COVID-19 hospitalizations by Peterson and the Kaiser Family Foundation found roughly 278,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations between June and August 2021 that would have been preventable by vaccine. The study estimated that each hospitalization averaged $20,000 “based on prior studies of previous admissions,” meaning the preventable hospitalizations cost U.S. taxpayers about $5.7 billion.

The study notes that the $5.7 billion does not include outpatient treatment, which Blue Cross estimated costs to be between $500 and $1,000 per patient. It also does not factor in the cost of social capital, such as the risk imposed on healthcare workers, the lack of resources for patients who need emergency care for conditions unrelated to COVID-19 (i.e., heart attacks, injuries, etc.), and the risk of exposing immunocompromised patients to the disease.

Although the unvaccinated patient may pay substantial costs for their hospital care, “it is far less than the amount covered by public and private insurance coverage.”

Reducing Vaccine Hesitancy Rates

The vaccine hesitancy rate remains high, but evidence shows it may be decreasing. Since March 2021, the hesitation rate for all U.S. adults dropped from 28 to 15 percent. Additionally, “the proportion of Americans who worry that the long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are unknown dropped over 10 percentage points, from 58 percent in March to 47 percent in June.” While this change is heading in a positive direction, there is still a significant number of U.S. adults who are hesitant to get the vaccine.

However, vaccine-hesitant individuals have stated they are more likely to get the vaccine if a family member persuades them instead of their healthcare provider. Twenty-seven percent of those who got vaccinated did so to “protect themselves or reduce their own risk.” Those who got the jab attributed positive feelings of safety and relief to getting the vaccine.

The evidence implies that weighing the overwhelming benefits of receiving the vaccine against potential risks may be one way physicians and providers can reach vaccine-hesitant individuals, with the most critical benefit being protecting themselves and their family members.

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