The pandemic has demonstrated the incredible power of vaccination.
March marked the second anniversary of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly one million people in the United States have died. For all of us, normal routines have been disrupted and important routine preventative health care has been put on hold.
But, as the trajectory and response to the pandemic began to evolve, it brought to life an imminent threat. Between January 2020 and July 2021, more than 37.1 million adult and adolescent vaccines, recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were missed, according to an analysis of health insurance claims d’Avalere, ordered by GSK.
How did it happen? During the pandemic, the United States responded to the immediate impact of COVID-19, but unwittingly let its guard down on other vaccine-preventable diseases, which, without attention, have the potential to put our society at risk. preventable diseases and epidemics. Older people most at risk due to low vaccination ratesas well as underserved racial and ethnic communities. These groups have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
We are now at an inflection point and have a rapidly closing window to recalibrate. The pandemic has underscored the incredible power of vaccination and given us the opportunity to remind Americans that it’s not just COVID-19 that vaccines protect against, but also shingles, hepatitis, and more. other preventable diseases. Vaccines do not save lives, vaccinations do.
It is now. Americans are more attentive than ever to conversations about the risks associated with foregoing the protection of these vaccines. The pandemic has shown us that we can reverse the trend of low vaccination rates when industry, lawmakers, public health officials, health advocates, the medical community and trusted local voices work together. The numbers tell the story; three-quarters of all adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including nearly 90% of people aged 65 and over. This is unprecedented for any adult vaccine.
And so, as a company that prides itself on providing more than two million doses of vaccines a day to people living in more than 160 countries, we call on policymakers and public health officials to work beyond of COVID-19 to achieve the long-standing U.S. ambition to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with vaccine-preventable diseases across the lifespan.
We believe there are three main actions to immediately resolve the issue, based on the successes we have seen with COVID-19; eliminate out-of-pocket fees, expand the ranks of those trained to administer adult vaccines, and increase efforts to communicate the importance of immunization year-round.
Remove remaining financial barriers. We know that nationally, out-of-pocket costs are one of the most preventable barriers to immunization. Early in the pandemic, policymakers wisely ensured that COVID-19 vaccines were free, acknowledging a known barrier to their adoption. Congress should now take the long-awaited step of providing seniors with access to all CDC-recommended vaccines, at no out-of-pocket cost, by passing the bipartisan Immunization Protection for Older Adults Act.
Increase adult vaccinators. Increasing the number of vaccinators and vaccination sites for ages 19 and older has also been effective in increasing vaccinations during the pandemic, thanks to the legislation that made this possible. Knowing that most Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, we believe states should continue to deploy pharmacy technicians as vaccinators for adult vaccines, especially to increase access for underserved populations.
Support and adapt education campaigns. Finally, we cannot underestimate the power of communication. Awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine was high, thanks in large part to an unprecedented coming together of local and national initiatives. Tailored to each community, the public health messages were culturally relevant and traditional and non-traditional partners worked to amplify the message. This playbook was a great success that should be replicated in the future to amplify the importance of routine immunization.
As one of the world’s largest vaccine companies, it is our responsibility now to scale up and build on the successes of the COVID-19 response. We will continue to amplify these important actions with policymakers to chart a new course for vaccines in the United States. We partner with healthcare professionals, medical associations and public health officials to discuss barriers and opportunities for improvement – so together we can work to close the vaccine gap. We plan to share our findings regularly and call on other stakeholders to do the same.
We cannot let lower vaccination rates become the norm. Let’s learn from the lessons of COVID-19 and work to prevent the significant medical, economic and societal costs that arise from the burden of disease that could have been prevented with timely vaccination. We all have a role to play in preventing disease and creating healthier communities; and we look forward to taking up the challenge and achieving this ambition together.
Judy Stewart, a pharmaceutical and vaccines executive with more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, is Senior Vice President and Head of US Vaccines at GSK. Judy holds a BS from the University of Maryland in Marketing and International Business and earned an MBA from Drexel University. She also holds a Professional Certificate from the University of Pennsylvania in Transformational Leadership for Executives. She was co-chair of the Vaccine Policy Advisory Committee for Bio, a cross-industry trade association.
 Williams, WW, Lu, P.-J., O’Halloran, A., Kim, DK, Grohskopf, LA, Pilishvili, T., Fiebelkorn, AP (2017). Monitoring immunization coverage among adult populations—United States, 2015. MMWR. Surveillance summaries, 66(11), 1–28. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6611a1
 Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. (2018). Vaccination coverage among adults in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imzmanagers/coverage/adultvaxview/pubs-resources/NHIS-2016.html