Adults Decline New COVID-19 Shots: CDC Studies
Adults Decline New COVID-19 Shots: CDC Studies

By Zachary Stieber

Few older adults are taking the recently cleared respiratory syncytial virus vaccines, according to new studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Just 9.8 percent of seniors in nursing homes have received one of the shots against the virus, known as RSV, one of the papers showed.

The study analyzed data provided by nursing homes certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

According to the nursing home data, just 33 percent of seniors have taken a new COVID-19 vaccine, while about seven in 10 have taken an influenza vaccine this fall.

The data were current as of Dec. 10.

“Coverage with each of the three vaccines, especially updated … COVID-19 and RSV vaccines, was low among nursing home residents,” authors of the study, which included CDC employees, wrote.

The CDC published the paper in its quasi-journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, on Dec. 21.

U.S. drug regulators in June cleared RSV vaccines from Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. The CDC then endorsed advice from its advisory panel, which said that people aged 60 and older could receive one of the shots but should only do so after consulting with their doctor.

That stance, which the CDC refers to as shared clinical decision-making, differs from the other three levels of recommendations, which begin from the default that people in a certain population should get vaccinated. It was offered due to concerns over clinical trial data, including how the trials did not include people at high risk of contracting RSV.

Authors of the new paper speculated the low uptake of the RSV vaccines might stem from factors including “the relative recency of the recommendation, vaccine fatigue associated with the introduction of a fourth respiratory virus vaccine (in addition to influenza, COVID-19, and pneumococcal),” and challenges adding new vaccines.

“Facilities have had limited time to train providers to implement a shared clinical decision-making recommendation and develop processes and policies to support RSV vaccine administration. Nursing home staff members might also be less familiar with the risk for RSV outbreaks and severe disease among residents,” they said. “Increasing awareness of RSV as a cause of disease among nursing home residents might facilitate increased coverage.”

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly primarily publishes papers that have not been peer-reviewed. All papers go through an agency review process that shapes them to align with the agency’s messaging, which repeatedly promotes vaccination.

A person receives an influenza vaccine in Chicago, Ill., in a file photograph. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Adult Uptake

A minority of all adults in America have received one of the new COVID-19 vaccines, according to another paper published by the same journal on Thursday.

Just 18.3 percent of adults have reported through Dec. 9 in surveys taking one of the shots, according to the paper.

Outside surveys show that many Americans did not intend to receive one of the new shots over concerns about side effects and a dearth of data supporting their usage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the shots earlier this year, and the CDC recommended them for virtually all Americans, despite there being clinical study data available for just one out of the three vaccines. Antibody levels from 50 people who received Moderna’s new vaccine were reported by the manufacturer.

Only animal data was cited for authorizing and recommending vaccines from Pfizer and Novavax.

The surveys also showed that 42 percent of adults have received an influenza vaccine in the fall of 2023, according to the CDC. Influenza vaccination numbers are down from previous years, which some experts believe can be attributed to a growing recognition of their sharply fluctuating effectiveness, which has been as low as 10 percent in recent years.

The shots are reformulated each year to try to target the prevalent strains.

The CDC recommends all Americans aged 6 months and older get an influenza shot on an annual basis, unless they have a contraindication.

Per the survey data, just 17 percent of adults aged 60 or older have received an RSV vaccine.

The CDC’s director said recently she thinks the circulation of RSV may be peaking.

The authors of the paper, all of whom work for the CDC, said that vaccination coverage could increase if health care providers recommend the shots to patients. They noted that the CDC is running advertisements to try to increase vaccination.

The CDC also issued an alert this month describing vaccination rates as low and calling for doctors to administer vaccines “now.”

Some doctors have said that the vaccines aren’t necessary, noting their low or unproven effectiveness and the risk of side effects.

“I am not recommending COVID-19 XBB.1.5 boosters, influenza, or respiratory syncytial virus vaccines for healthy adults or children,” Dr. Peter McCullough wrote on Substack recently. “None of these vaccines are compelling and conditions are easily treatable.”

Limitations of the new papers include the reliance on self-reporting by facilities or surveys. Authors did not disclose any potential conflicts of interest.

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