Low Adult Immunization Rates Decline Further Due to Pandemic

September 15, 2020
Immunization Rates Decline

A recent survey, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of GSK, finds that many adults ages 50-79 are unfamiliar with the vaccines recommended for them. The online survey of more than 3,000 US adults ages 50-79 (older adults) and more than 300 US primary care physicians indicates that adults are unlikely to receive many of the vaccines recommended for them:

  • Approximately 1 in 4 older adults have never heard of or are unfamiliar with the adult vaccines for shingles (27%), tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) (28%), and pneumonia (30%).
  • Many older adults say they are not likely to receive the influenza (i.e., flu) (28%), shingles (38%), Tdap (44%), or pneumococcal (i.e., pneumonia) (54%) vaccines.
  • More than half of older adults have never heard of or are unfamiliar with the vaccines for hepatitis B (55%) and hepatitis A (56%).

“Low adult immunization rates have declined even further due to the pandemic, putting the country at risk for a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Manufacturers, healthcare providers and the entire public health community must redouble efforts to ensure older adults are fully immunized,” said Judy Stewart, Senior Vice President, Head of US Vaccines at GSK. “Increasing public health efforts to administer existing vaccines is as important as the efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The pandemic has made older adults more aware of the dangers of infectious diseases and the importance of vaccinations, but that awareness has not converted into intent to seek vaccination. Seventy-two percent of older adults say that COVID-19 has made them realize how important vaccines are for everyone, but less than half (47%) report they are more likely to get at least one of the recommended vaccines for adults over the age of 50 as a result of the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a steep decline in routine adult immunizations in recent months and this survey shows a continuing gap in knowledge of specific vaccines and intention to receive vaccination,” said Barbara Howe, MD, Vice President and Director, Vaccines Medical and Clinical, US at GSK. “Older adults need specific information about vaccine recommendations and they also need to know that healthcare providers and pharmacies have set up procedures to help ensure that people can be immunized safely now—you shouldn’t wait to be immunized.”

Despite understanding the value of vaccines, 46% of adults ages 50-79 give themselves a grade C or lower on their knowledge of vaccines that are recommended for adults their age, and 74% agree they need more information about adult vaccines.

In addition, more than three-quarters of primary care physicians (76%) report that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now more likely to recommend at least one of the recommended vaccines for other diseases to their patients ages 50-79. This is important because, for older adults who have or are likely to receive an adult vaccine, the top reason they got or would get vaccinated is a recommendation from a healthcare professional (59%).

The CDC recommends vaccines for adults because immunity from childhood vaccines wears off over time. Adults are also at risk for different diseases compared to children and their risk generally increases over time because their immune systems weaken as they age.

Adults ages 50 and older may need a number of vaccines, based on their age, underlying medical conditions, lifestyle, prior vaccinations and other considerations. Recommended adult vaccines protect against diseases like influenza, pneumococcal disease, shingles, hepatitis, pertussis, and tetanus. Adults should talk to their doctor or pharmacist about all CDC-recommended vaccines they may need or may have recently missed.

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