Unvaccinated Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 cost the U.S. health care system $2.3 billion in June and July: report

Unvaccinated Americans who were hospitalized with COVID-19 cost the U.S. health care system $2.3 billion in June and July, according to a new report from The Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation — and that’s “likely an understatement,” the researchers wrote.

The report analyzed CDC data, finding there were 37,000 preventable COVID hospitalizations in June and another 76,000 in July among unvaccinated adults in the U.S.

An average COVID hospitalization costs roughly $20,000, the report said, meaning “these largely avoidable hospitalizations have already cost the U.S. health system billions of dollars since the beginning of June.”

The report only focused on hospitalizations of adults in the U.S., as some children are still ineligible to receive the vaccine. An estimated 98.3% of the adults hospitalized due to COVID in June and July were unvaccinated, the report said.

The authors used conservative assumptions to arrive at the $2.3 billion figure, the report said, adding that “this ballpark figure is likely an understatement of the cost burden on the health system from treatment of COVID-19 among unvaccinated adults.”

“The monetary cost of treating unvaccinated people for COVID-19 is borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly,” the report’s authors wrote.

And though there is a societal cost to the free vaccines — as the research, development and distribution has been largely funded by the federal government — the report concludes that “the vaccines save the U.S. health system money in the longer run by preventing costly hospitalizations.”

In addition to the direct monetary strain of treating unvaccinated people, school reopenings and economic recovery also continue to suffer, the report said.

After a short-lived decline in new COVID cases right after the vaccines became widely available earlier this year, cases have continued to surge across the U.S. this summer as the delta variant became the dominant strain of the virus. 

The seven-day moving average as of Aug. 20 was 137,188 cases per day and 738 deaths per day, according to the CDC. Hospitalizations were up 43% to 92,482, the most since Feb. 6, according to the New York Times tracker

Roughly 51.5% of the total population is now fully vaccinated, and 71% of those who qualify for the vaccine have received at least one shot. As the more contagious delta variant continues to spread, herd immunity is even further out of reach. Experts say up to 85% or 90% of the population will need to be immune to the virus to reach herd immunity. 

See also: As the more contagious delta variant circulates, public health experts say herd immunity has become an even more distant goal

The report notes that the vaccines — which are highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death — have been widely available since mid-April, but vaccination rates have stalled in some states and among young people. 

The FDA formally approved BioNTech BNTX, +9.58% and Pfizer’s PFE, +2.48% COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. 

Read more: FDA approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, making it the first vaccine to receive ‘full’ approval in the U.S.

Now that at least one vaccine has received full FDA approval, there is hope that vaccination rates could go up, as about 30% of unvaccinated American adults, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 tracking project, said they would be more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were fully approved by the FDA.