Hundreds of Americans die each day from COVID — and the unvaccinated make up a majority of those dead and hospitalized.
That's according to former FDA Deputy Chief for Vaccines Dr. Phil Krause, who said the government needs to focus on getting the unvaccinated vaxxed in order to end the pandemic.
"The problem isn't that we're not getting enough boosters ... The problem is that we're not vaccinating, reaching, the people who haven't yet gotten vaccines," Krause said Thursday at a Hepatitis B Foundation event in Pennsylvania.
The CDC estimates 20% of the U.S. population has yet to receive one dose and a little over 30% have not completed the primary series.
"To me, the fact that we still have several hundred people a day dying of COVID is a serious public health problem," he told Yahoo Finance following the event.
Krause, who left the FDA prior to booster authorizations along with colleague Dr. Marion Gruber, has been steadfast in this belief since leaving the agency last November.
In a November 2021 op-ed with Gruber and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Dr. Paul Offit, a top vaccine expert, the trio emphasized the need to target the unvaccinated and noted that only those at highest risk of severe disease or death from the virus should be the focus of the booster campaign.
"We don’t think boosters for all are necessary, even with the emergence of the omicron variant," the trio said.
Offit has previously told Yahoo Finance that he believes the emphasis on boosters should largely be on the older or more vulnerable populations in the U.S. — a point Krause agrees with.
"Boosters can increase your own cellular immunity...which is responsible chiefly for protection against mild disease, and it's fairly short-lived. Boosters have never been shown to reduce transmission," Krause said.
And by pushing boosters onto a population that doesn't need it, it affects "the worldwide supply of vaccines and may prolong the pandemic," he added.
The U.S. averages more than 35,000 COVID cases daily and more than 2,000 deaths weekly. And the CDC's projections show a rise in hospitalizations in coming weeks.
But the message of boosting, and universal boosters, has already undermined confidence in the original vaccine series — two doses of an mRNA of either Moderna (MRNA) or Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE/BNTX) vaccines, or two doses of Novavax (NVAX), or one dose of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) — even though they remain protective against variants, Krause told Yahoo Finance.
To get the focus back on the unvaccinated will require a heavy lift of public health messaging.
"I think who the message comes from is actually very important and to reach the people who haven't been vaccinated, it's important to engage people who believe in the the value of the vaccines and amplify their message among people who trust them," Krause said.
That doesn't mean that boosting isn't important for some, but the messages will interfere with each other at the broader population level, he explained. And the amount of attention on the boosting message has drowned out efforts to get the unvaccinated vaccinated.
Still, Krause is pleased to see that one year later, the idea is starting to catch on.
"More people are recognizing the futility of continuously boosting people and the importance of refocusing on getting the unvaccinated, vaccinated. And so, while it's taken a long time to get there, I'm pleased that the conversation is at least moving along," he said.
Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem