Older adults voice safety, efficacy concerns with COVID boosters as fewer than half take up the shots

Older adults are expressing concerns for the bivalent COVID booster shots, according to a recent Health Canal survey.

Despite the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for older adults to have new bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, which were launched last year, so far only 42.4% of that age group have received the booster.

Why? Patients are citing personal health and safety concerns (40.7%) as the top reasons for not getting the booster, according to the survey.

They are also deterred by risks they see as associated with the vaccine and potential side effects (31.1%), while another reason listed for not getting the booster was skepticism about the new formula’s effectiveness, with 27.8% reporting that concern.

There is also a belief that they still have strong protection against COVID-19 (29.4%) and the belief that they have strong protection against severe illness due to COVID-19, with just over 20% of respondents reporting that.

As many as 57.2% of older adults said they are likely to get the booster at some point. Those planning to get the booster said they would get it to protect against the new omicron variant, 88.9%; to protect against severe illness due to COVD-19, 70%; to prevent long-term COVID symptoms, 60.9%; and due to the CDC recommendation, 53.8%.

Currently, 95% of people in the 65-plus demographic in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the original COVID-19 vaccine, according to Health Canal.

The discrepancy in the numbers of adults who have received the updated booster is likely due to misinformation, according to Shiv Pillai, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, director of the Autoimmune Center of Excellence at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the Ragon Institute of Mass General, MIT and Harvard.

Pillai also commented that these beliefs could be misguided and that COVID-19 is still very serious for unvaccinated older adults. However, he is hopeful that awareness of the new bivalent booster is increasing as only 4.8% of respondents said they did not know that the booster exists and another 4.4% did not know whether they were eligible.

Overall, safety was the top motivator either for or against getting the bivalent booster. Therefore, Health Canal believes more information about the omicron variant and potential vaccine side effects should be made available to the public.