The costs of treating unvaccinated people for coronavirus infections were $5.7 billion between June and August of 2021, a new report from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has concluded. In the world of health care, that might not be much. Americans spent about $3.8 trillion dollars on health care in 2019, so $5.7 billion represents just 0.15% of overall health care spending.

But in the world that most of us live in, $5.7 billion is a lot. It represents a staggering loss that didn’t have to happen.

Since mid-April, safe and effective vaccines have been available without charge to virtually every American adult. Yet only 63% of Americans are fully vaccinated; 25% have yet to receive a single shot of the vaccine.

Those unvaccinated people fueled a huge surge in cases from June to August, a number that continued to grow in early September. The Kaiser study estimates that 530,000 adult coronavirus cases were admitted to American hospitals from June 1 to Aug. 31. Of them, the authors estimated that 86% — 455,800 people — were unvaccinated.

Coronavirus hospitalizations doubled in July compared with June, the study found; they rose to 345,000 in August, up from 125,000 in July. In total, 287,000 hospitalizations from June through the end of August could have been prevented if more Americans were vaccinated, the study found. Those hospitalizations had an average cost of $20,000 each, which should be sobering news to the unvaccinated.

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We’ve previously noted that insurance companies, which had waived deductibles and copayments for coronavirus treatments during the early part of the pandemic, were backing away from that policy. While the $20,000-per-case figure was being shared widely by insurance companies and the government, it will soon start hitting unvaccinated Americans in the pocketbook — as it should.

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, a 15% copay on $20,000 works out to $3,000. A $20,000 hospital bill is just the tip of the iceberg. Every dollar spent on health care is a dollar that can’t be spent on a competing need.

The $5.7 billion cost of treating people who likely wouldn’t have been infected if vaccinated means $5.7 billion less to spend on education, or repairing crumbling infrastructure. It could have gone a long way toward providing high-speed internet to rural areas that are notoriously underserved.

And then there are all of the lost lives: the fathers and mothers who will not raise their children, the grandparents whose loss blew a hole in thousands of American families. Those costs are incalculable.

An even bigger waste from the failure to immunize all Americans is that the nation still cannot be done with this pandemic and return to normal. It’s time for the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves and stop wasting America’s time and money. And patience.

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