COVID-19 boosters this fall? Most older adults are ready to roll up their sleeves

COVID-19 boosters this fall?  Most older adults are ready to roll up their sleeves
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The new poll shows that only 19% of people age 50-64, and 44% of people over 65, have gotten two booster doses.

Past COVID-19 infections and testing

With officially reported cases surging in recent weeks, and many more cases going unreported because results of at-home tests aren’t tracked, the poll has some surprising findings about older adults’ experiences with the disease and testing.

  • In all, 50% of those aged 50 to 64, and 69% of those over age 65, said they had never had COVID-19 by late July 2022.

  • In the 50-to-64 age group, 29% said they had had COVID-19 once, 9% said they had had it more than once, and 12% said they may have had it but weren’t sure.

  • In the over-65 group, 24% said they had had it once, 2% had had it more than once and 5% said they may have had it.

At-home tests, which were scarce until early 2022 and have been made available for free through the federal government, health insurance companies and community locations, have been used by 44% of older adults. The percentage who had ever used an at-home test was highest among those aged 50 to 64, those with higher incomes and education levels, and those who are working.

Meanwhile, 57% of older adults had had PCR testing, which is what feeds the official reporting of COVID-19 rates, but has become less widely used in recent months given the ease and availability of at-home tests. The same groups that were more likely to have used at-home tests were also more likely to have had a PCR test.

SEE ALSO: Which older adults are getting their flu shots and COVID boosters?

But 28% of those over age 65, and 22% of those age 50 to 64, said they had never been tested for COVID-19. Those with high school educations or less, and those with incomes under $30,000, were most likely to say this.

Of those who said they had had COVID-19 at least once, 21% said they had never gotten a test but had had symptoms. Meanwhile, 53% of this group said they had tested positive on a home test and 43% said they had a positive PCR test; respondents could indicate that they had tested positive on both kinds of tests.

Fall booster attitudes varied based on COVID-19 history. Two thirds (66%) of those who had not had COVID-19 by the time they took the survey, and had received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past, said they were very likely to get a fall booster, as did 56% of vaccinated people who had had COVID-19 once.

Meanwhile, 39% of those who had had COVID-19 more than once, and had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, said they were not likely to get a booster this fall.

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Flu vaccination

The poll also asked older adults if they plan to get vaccinated against influenza this fall; the optimal time for this year’s flu shots is likely to coincide with the availability of new COVID-19 boosters. Vaccine experts have advised in the past that the two vaccines can be given at the same time.

The difference between the two age groups was striking:

  • 74% of people over 65 said they were very likely to get a flu shot, compared with 46% of people age 50 to 64.

  • Another 13% of the younger group, and 6% of the older group, said they were somewhat likely to get a flu shot.

Education level made a big difference in flu shot likelihood, with 70% of those who have college degrees or higher saying they are very likely to get a flu shot, compared with 53% of those whose formal educations ended earlier.

Three quarters (75%) of those who said they were very likely to get a flu shot were also people who had gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and said they were very likely to get a fall COVID-19 booster.

In contrast, 20% of those who have never gotten a dose of COVID vaccine said they were likely to get a flu shot.

“We can’t forget that flu can pose a threat to older and more medically vulnerable adults, and the same precautions that work against COVID-19 – vaccination, masks, good ventilation and keeping sick people away from others until their symptoms are over – work against flu,” says Malani. “Although we avoided a ‘twindemic’ of both viruses at once last winter, it’s not clear we’ll be so lucky again this winter. I encourage everyone to follow the CDC recommendations for their age and health status regarding vaccination and prevention.”

The National Poll on Healthy Aging results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,024 adults aged over 50 from the Foresight 50+ Omnibus panel, which draws from the Foresight 50+ Panel by AARP and NORC at the University of Chicago who answered a wide range of questions online and by phone in late July, 2022. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Read past National Poll on Healthy Aging reports.

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