Opinion | An analysis recently published by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) of San Francisco, California found that hospitalizations for COVID-19 symptoms among unvaccinated adults in the United States during June-August 2021 cost an estimated $5.7 billion, or an average of $20,000 per hospitalization. According to the KFF analysis, reportedly based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32,000 of the hospitalizations occurred in June, 68,000 in July and 187,000 in August, for a total of 287,000 hospitalizations for unvaccinated adults in the U.S.1 2 3 4
Other Factors Can Contribute to Hospitalization for COVID Besides Vaccination Status
The analysis concluded that those 287,000 hospitalizations and, consequently, the associated hospitalization costs, “could have been prevented by vaccination.”1 2 3 4 Of course, there is no way to gauge the accuracy of this assumption. There are many factors that determine the degree of an individual’s susceptibility to COVID—not the least of which is age, weight, overall health, lifestyle choices and where one lives.5 6 7 8 9 This is true for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
A huge factor for the likelihood of people being hospitalized for COVID is their body mass index (BMI). Earlier this year, the CDC came out with a study showing that 78 percent of people who were hospitalized for COVID or died from the disease were overweight or obese.10 The CDC wrote:
As clinicians develop care plans for COVID-19 patients, they should consider the risk for severe outcomes in patients with higher BMIs, especially for those with severe obesity.10
The CDC determined that the risk for hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) and deaths from COVID was lowest for people with BMIs under 25. It noted that the risk of severe illness from COVID “sharply increases” as BMIs increased, especially among people 65 years of age and older.
Another major factor that can contribute to someone being hospitalized for COVID is smoking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
Tobacco use may increase the risk of suffering from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 illness. Early research indicates that, compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences.11
One reasonable question that might be asked is, “Are there certain characteristics of unvaccinated people who are hospitalized for COVID that make them more susceptible to developing symptoms of the disease, apart from their vaccination status?” In other words, the popular assumption is that the reason there appears to be so many more unvaccinated Americans hospitalized for COVID is solely because they’re unvaccinated. But is that necessarily true?
Vaccinated People are Being Hospitalized for COVID Too
Also, being vaccinated does not outright eliminate the risk of people being hospitalized for COVID or even dying from it. In fact, there have been reports throughout the U.S. of vaccinated people increasingly being hospitalized for COVID and dying.12 13 Note that the KFF analysis further found that, during June-August, 7,617 fully vaccinated adults in the U.S. were hospitalized for COVID, for an estimated cost of $152.3 million to the U.S. health care system.1 4
Clearly, these figures are dwarfed by those for unvaccinated adults, but they are not insignificant—particularly when the main thrust of the rationale by U.S. political leaders, public health officials and most health care professionals is that if you get vaccinated you’ll be protected from becoming severely sick from COVID and dying.14 The reality (as shown by the KFF analysis) is that such an assurance is, at best, deceptive and, at worst, untrue.
The underlying and not-so-subtle message of the KFF analysis is unmistakably, “Get a COVID shot and save the country a ton of money.” In the analysis, the authors refer to the “cost burden from preventable treatment of COVID-19 among unvaccinated adults.”1 They add:
The monetary cost of treating unvaccinated people for COVID-19 is borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly, including taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums paid by workers, businesses, and individual purchasers.1
Putting COVID Hospitalization Costs into Perspective
Makes sense, right? After all, were the estimated cost of hospital care for unvaccinated people during June-August to be multiplied by four, that would come to a whopping $22.8 billion for an entire year. That’s a lot of money. But it begs some perspective. For example, that figure is dwarfed by the estimated $147 billion annual cost to the U.S. health care system of treating obesity and the wide range of diseases and conditions associated with it or the more than $225 billion in direct medical care for smoking-related illnesses among adults in the U.S. each year.
Judged strictly by their financial burden to U. S. society, obesity and smoking vastly outweigh the cost of providing hospital care for unvaccinated and vaccinated people with COVID. Plus, that burden is carried forth year after year and, at least in the case of obesity, keeps growing worse.
Why are these chronic disease epidemics continually drowned out by the calls to rebuke those who opt out of getting jabbed? Especially since it is these two epidemics that may be contributing vastly more to the lethality of the pandemic than anything having to do with one’s vaccination status.
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Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.
Click here to view References:
1 Amin K, Cynthia Cox C. Unvaccinated COVID-19 hospitalizations cost billions of dollars. Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker Sept. 14, 2021.
2 Hart R. Unvaccinated U.S. Covid Patients Cost $5.7 Billion To Treat In Last 3 Months, Study Finds. Forbes Sept. 14, 2021.
3 Langmaid V. New analysis estimates $5.7 billion price tag for treating unvaccinated Covid-19 patients in the last 3 months. CNN Sept. 14, 2021.
4 Paavola A. Unvaccinated COVID-19 hospitalizations cost $5.7B in 3 months, analysis says. Becker’s Hospital Review Sept. 15, 2021.
5 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization, and Death By Age Group. Sept. 9, 2021.
6 CDC. Overweight & Obesity. Aug. 21, 2021.
7 Bugos C. Regular Exercise Can Reduce Your Risk of a Severe COVID-19 Case. Very Well Health Apr. 22, 2021.
8 Association for Psychological Science. Contracting COVID-19: lifestyle and social connections may play a role. Science Daily July 9, 2020.
9 Ducharme J. These Maps Show How Drastically COVID-19 Risk Varies By Neighborhood. TIME July 22, 2020.
10 Lovelace B. CDC study finds about 78% of people hospitalized for Covid were overweight or obese. CNBC Mar. 8, 2021.
11 World Health Organization. Tobacco Free Initiative.
12 Cáceres M. More Breakthrough Cases of COVID Ending in Hospitalization or Death. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 7, 2021.
13 Cáceres M. Vaccinated Americans are Being Hospitalized for COVID and Dying. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 15, 2021.
14 Cáceres M. If You’re Vaccinated, You’re Protected… or Not. The Vaccine Reaction July 11, 2021.