Nearly a year after COVID vaccines were made publicly available in the United States, one-fourth of adult Americans are still unvaccinated, revealing the economic impact of vaccine reluctance. It indicates a financial risk for people, businesses, and government-funded initiatives.
Vaccine hesitancy is estimated to be responsible for tens of billions of dollars in avoidable hospitalisation expenses in the United States, as well as hundreds of thousands of needless deaths, according to public health experts.
Layoffs and ineligibility for unemployment benefits are possible consequences of not getting vaccinated, as are higher insurance premiums, rising out-of-pocket medical costs, and the loss of academic scholarships.
Vaccine apprehension can result in a shortage of workers for employers. It might put a financial strain on programmes like Medicare, which provides healthcare to the elderly.
Some employers are considering charging unvaccinated workers a risk premium, similar to how smokers are charged higher health insurance. Unvaccinated employees will be charged an extra $200 per month in insurance, according to one airline.
“When the vaccines first were available, it appeared like everyone wanted one, and the main concern was how long it would take to meet demand,” said Kosali Simon, an Indiana University professor of health economics. “It never occurred to me that a year later, we’d be looking into the expense of people refusing vaccines.”
Alicia Royce, a 38-year-old special education teacher in Coachella, California, declined to have the COVID vaccine administered to her two vaccine-eligible children. Royce’s parents received the shots, but she is concerned about tales of unpleasant reactions.
Royce is in a precarious position as a result of his decision. Last year, her school, like many others in California, began requiring staff to get vaccines. For the time being, Royce has a religious exemption and is tested twice a week for COVID before entering the classroom. The scenario has driven her family to consider a transfer to Alabama following the school year, where schools have not enforced regulations.
“I’ll be paid less,” Royce added, adding that he expects to lose $40,000 each year. “However, I’m moving to exercise my personal freedom of choice.”
As the pandemic approaches its third year, the number of COVID patients admitted to hospitals in the United States has dropped to a 17-month low. Even while experts foresee an increase in illnesses from the BA.2 sub-variant, most Americans have been vaccinated, and the country is regaining some sort of routine.
Yet, as millions return to work, public transportation, and other social settings, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly a quarter of all adults in the United States have not been fully vaccinated, and the latest data suggests that many sceptics will be hard to persuade: In the United States, the number of patients seeking their first COVID immunisation has dropped to 14-month lows.
Vaccines have shown to be an effective weapon in the fight against the virus. According to CDC data from the Delta wave of 2021, unvaccinated Americans had a four-fold increased chance of infection and a nearly 13-fold increased risk of mortality from COVID. The differences were much more pronounced for those who had booster doses, who were 53 times less likely to succumb to COVID. So yet, only around half of the country’s immunised population has received a booster shot.
Unvaccinated American adults accounted for $13.8 billion in “preventable” COVID hospitalisation expenses nationally between June and November 2021, according to a December research by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies U.S. health policy and results.
Vaccinations could have prevented 59 percent of COVID hospitalizations among U.S. adults during that six-month period, which included the Delta wave, according to Kaiser. A total of 690,000 vaccine-preventable hospitalizations were recorded by Kaiser, with an average cost of $20,000 per case. Vaccinations could have avoided 163,000 fatalities in the United States over the same time span, according to the study.
According to media, if vaccine hesitancy accounted for half of the more than 1 million new COVID admissions in the United States since December, the additional cost of avoidable hospital stays might total $10 billion.
One thing is certain: as insurance companies and hospital networks in the United States grapple with vaccination hesitancy, people hospitalised for COVID are likely to foot a larger share of the expense.
“Not only are these hospitalizations traumatic for patients and their families, but they could also put patients on the hook for thousands of dollars,” Krutika Amin, a Kaiser associate director and one of the study’s co-authors, told Reuters. Most private health insurers have begun eliminating cost-sharing or deductibles for COVID patients who end up in the hospital, unlike earlier in the pandemic, according to Amin.
According to her, the cost of “in-network” services for a hospitalised COVID patient can surpass $8,000 in some insurance plans. The costs for the uninsured and those seeking out-of-network care could skyrocket.
Insurance companies are expecting patients to carry more of these costs now that Americans have the option to protect themselves with vaccines, but “many people do not have enough money to pay,” according to Amin.
More current research, which covers the Omicron wave, emphasises the unvaccinated’s risk. Unvaccinated adults were more than 13 times more likely than fully vaccinated adults to be hospitalised with COVID in New York State in January, according to state health department data.
According to federal data, the United States has spent billions to get vaccination doses into the hands of Americans, including more than $19.3 billion to help develop vaccines.
Despite this, the United States has one of the highest rates of COVID vaccine refusal among developed countries, as some people question the need for vaccinations or object to government or workplace mandates.
“The anti-COVID vaccination part of the population, ready to abandon jobs or test in order to get to work, is now very hardened,” said Julie Downs, a social psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
COVID vaccinations have become a political flashpoint, with immunisation rates varying greatly from region to region: According to public health data, 84 percent of people aged 18 and above in Vermont are completely vaccinated, while the figure in Alabama is just over 60 percent.
According to CDC data, about 76 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, but just 64 percent are fully vaccinated across all age categories. A COVID vaccine for children under the age of five has yet to be licenced by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to Kaiser’s Amin, the biggest financial risk vaccine sceptics have faced is being laid off from their jobs.
New York City, which mandates city workers to get vaccinated, dismissed more than 1,400 of them last month after they failed to acquire a vaccine shot by the official’s deadline, while roughly 9,000 others were still seeking exemptions, according to city records. The vast majority of the city’s 370,000 employees are immunised.
According to a nationwide study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in October, approximately a quarter of workers indicated their company demanded proof of immunisation. Only 1% of workers questioned — and 5% of unvaccinated workers — said they had quit their job because of a workplace vaccine mandate.
According to a report from Fierce Healthcare, which follows the trend, a small fraction of healthcare professionals across the country have been dismissed or placed on work leave because they elected to remain unvaccinated, but the dismissals still amount to thousands of layoffs.
J.P. Morgan and Bank of America have told their U.S. employees that if they don’t present proof of vaccination, they can expect to pay more – or enjoy fewer rewards through company health programmes.
If unvaccinated spouses or family members of employees desire to be insured as a dependant under an employee’s health plan, other companies have extended an insurance premium surcharge.
Insurers will be aiming to calibrate premiums more closely to COVID mortality risks in the future, according to Reuters, after global life insurance carriers were struck with a higher-than-expected $5.5 billion in claims during the first nine months of 2021.
When consumers seek coverage, life insurers can look at their vaccination status as well as other health risks like as obesity or smoking. Individuals seeking health insurance in the United States cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, such as COVID, or be charged more because they have not been vaccinated, according to the Affordable Care Act. Companies that fund some of their employees’ health insurance costs, on the other hand, may be able to pass on increased costs to unvaccinated personnel.
Last year, Delta Airlines announced that non-vaccinated employees would be charged an extra $200 per month for health insurance. The airline explained that the higher fee represented the higher likelihood of COVID hospitalisation for those employees, and that COVID hospitalizations have cost an average of $50,000 per employee so far.
Opting out may also have financial ramifications for university students. At least 500 institutions in the United States have vaccine requirements, with some denying admission or in-person education to individuals who do not comply, or requiring them to undergo frequent COVID testing.
Cait Corrigan said she was awarded an academic scholarship and enrolled in a master’s programme in theology at Boston University this year. Corrigan, who has led anti-vaccine agitation, said she received a religious exemption from the school’s vaccine requirement, but the school compelled her to perform regular nose swab testing in order to attend. Corrigan stated that she refused nose tests for “medical reasons.”
According to her, the institution suspended her and removed her funding. “It was a significant setback.” A request for comment from Boston University was not returned.
Corrigan is now competing as a Republican for a congressional seat in New York. “Medical freedom” is her platform.