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Older adults are more likely than their younger counterparts to have received the latest COVID-19 vaccine and their annual flu shot, but vaccine-related skepticism remains high, according to a recent AARP Research survey.

spinner image Older woman receiving vaccination

Most adults ages 18 and older believe that getting vaccines is a good way to protect themselves — and others — from diseases, but uptake varies by age and vaccine type.

The survey revealed a lack of trust in vaccines and the information provided by health professionals. Many expressed a belief that vaccines are not needed and more than half (53%) are concerned about significant side-effects. Topping the reasons for not getting vaccinated are concerns about efficacy and safety.

Additionally, nearly half of adults who are recommended to receive the new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine say they are unlikely to get it. The RSV vaccine is recommended for adults ages 60 and older but knowledge of this vaccine is low. Among those who haven’t already received the vaccine, 87% say they have not talked to a health care provider about it.

Reasons for vaccine hesitancy

There is a relationship between having had a disease, or the likelihood of getting ill, and vaccine decisions. Among the reasons for not getting various vaccines are never getting the flu, already having had COVID-19, and already having had RSV.

While the flu vaccines have been in common usage among older adults since 1960, the RSV vaccine was approved in May 2023, and the 2023 COVID-19 booster became available in September 2023.

Although the reasons for not getting the vaccines are similar for all types, concerns about side effects and a lack of trust are more common among those opting out of COVID shots. A striking 36% said they don’t trust the COVID vaccine, compared to 27% and 22% lacking trust in the RSV and flu shot, respectively.

Still, more than half report getting the flu shot in 2022, and 2023 uptake was on pace for a similar result. Fewer have gotten the new COVID booster with 51% saying they don’t think they need it. A quarter said they wouldn’t get the shot because they already had COVID.

The relatively low level of awareness of the RSV vaccine may be affecting its uptake, with just 53% having heard of it. Only 19% of adults 60 and older said they were extremely likely to get the RSV vaccine.

AARP has previously sought to understand vaccine hesitancy among adults with similar work done surrounding vaccines for other common diseases such as pneumonia and shingles. This latest survey aimed to capture the willingness of adults to receive these newest vaccines.

Methodology

The four-minute online survey was conducted November 1–7, 2023 and involved a sample of 3,003 people ages 18 or older.

For more information, please contact Teresa A. Keenan at tkeenan@aarp.org. For media inquiries, contact External Relations as media@aarp.org.