Flu and COVID-19 vaccine attitudes vary by age

A mid-October poll of older Americans found major differences in vaccine attitudes between different groups.

With the coming of flu season and the continued COVID-19 pandemic, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans older than 50 have received vaccines aimed at protecting them from the two diseases, but there are still large disparities in attitudes on vaccination in this group.

According to a news release, the National Poll on Healthy Aging found that one in three older adults feel that it is more important to get vaccinated against the flu this year that in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic while nearly all the other respondents say the importance of the shots is the same this year as in years past.

In all, last year, 54 percent of people between the age of 50 and 64 say they’d gotten a flu shot compared to 83 percent of those over 65. There was little difference in vaccination rates by gender, race/ethnicity, income, or living situation. There was a difference based on political party and region, with those living in the south less likely to have received a flu shot in 2020 than those living in other regions, the release says.

This year’s flu shot has had a wider reach among older adults with 64 percent of people between the age of 50 and 64 having already received the shot or planning to receive it, compared to 86 percent of those over 65. People over 65 were about twice as likely as those between 50 and 64 to have already received their flu shot by the time of the poll. The political divide remained with 87 percent of people who identified as Democrats saying they’d already received their flu shot or planned to get one compared to 67 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents, according to the release.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, 76 percent of those between age 50 and 64 and 87 percent of those over 65 say they’ve been vaccinated against the disease, though the poll did not ask if they’d received both doses of a two-dose vaccine. The political divide is more pronounced when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations with Democrats being 94 percent more likely to receive the vaccine than Republicans, 71 percent, or independents, 69 percent, the release says.

A large majority, 85 percent, of the older adults who received the COVID-19 vaccine say they also plan to get a flu shot this year or already have. Among those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, 66 percent say they don’t intend to get a flu shot, according to the release.

“While I’m encouraged that most older adults are seeking this protection against two viruses that can make them seriously ill, these data show we need to do a better job of helping some people, including those in their 50s and early 60s, understand that these vaccines can really protect them, their families and their communities,” said Preeti Malani, MD, the poll’s director and an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine with training in geriatrics.