Adults 50 and up have been considered a high-risk group for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic because they are more likely to develop severe illness as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
People 65 and older are at greatest risk. Eighty percent of COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak have taken place among the 65+ age group according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Experts agree that older adults should be prioritized for vaccination once new vaccines come to market. It is not clear how many older adults will decide to be vaccinated, however. A University of Michigan poll of over 2000 older Americans’ attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine found that many are unsure if or when they will get the vaccine when one becomes available.
Many seniors are unsure if or when they will get the vaccine when one becomes available. A public buy-in on the safety and effectiveness of any COVID-19 vaccine will be key to ending the pandemic.
The overall inclination among the adults taking UM’s National Poll on Healthy Aging seems to be that while they want the vaccine when it becomes available, many have concerns about the vaccine’s safety and prefer to take a “wait and see” approach to better understand the vaccine’s impact before deciding to seek it out for themselves.
The poll’s data reveal a distinct split in attitudes about the COVID vaccine along social, class, race and gender. Older women, people of color and individuals with lower income and education levels were all less likely to report that they planned to seek vaccination for COVID-19.
The findings may reflect the fact that, at times, medicine has been advanced on the backs of marginalized groups. The Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment, the development of the birth control pill in Puerto Rico and the advances in modern obstetrics/gynecology ushered in by medical interventions forced upon three enslaved women at the hands of Dr. Marion Sims are examples of the kind of unethical medical interventions that have led to distrust and skepticism of medicine among certain sectors of society.
Sound science explains how the new COVID vaccines have been developed so quickly while still being safe, but messaging and communications about the pandemic, and even mask use, have often been confusing and contradictory.
Older women, people of color and individuals with lower income and education levels were all less likely to report that they planned to seek vaccination for COVID-19.
When it comes to communicating the benefits of getting the COVID vaccine to those who are more likely to resist and mistrust the medical industry, health professionals must contend not only with rapidly evolving information, but with false claims and misleading misinformation.
Hopefully, as clinical trials of the three vaccines available from Pfizer, Moderna and the University of Oxford proceed, more and more seniors, people of color and others in historically disenfranchised groups will overcome their vaccine hesitancy.