Older adults considering vaccinations need honest, factual information from a trusted messenger, according to a recent AARP survey. This survey provides important insights for developing strategies to help adults 50-plus make informed decisions about getting vaccinated.
Generally speaking, most (91%) older adults think vaccines are safe and believe vaccines are a good way to protect themselves and their family (86%) as well as society at large (86%).
Nevertheless, most older adults do not get all of the recommended vaccinations. Less than half (45%) of all adults ages 50-plus report they get all of the vaccines their doctor or health care provider suggests, and a quarter (26%) say they only get a few or none of the recommended vaccines. Those ages 65-plus are significantly more likely than those ages 50 to 64 to say they get all of the vaccines their doctor or health care provider recommends (56% vs. 35%).
For those unlikely to get vaccinated, many say they forgo the vaccines because they are concerned about possible side effects. Some are even concerned about side effects from the flu vaccine, which is notable given its long history. When asked why they are not likely to get a flu vaccine this year, four in 10 (41%) say they are concerned about possible side effects. Similarly, those who say they are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine cite concern about side effects (59%) (asked September/October 2020).
In addition to concern about possible side effects, trust is also a pivotal issue for those considering whether to get a recommended vaccine. Unfortunately, more than half (53%) of those ages 50-plus say they don’t know whom to trust when it comes to vaccine information. When prompted with a list, though, most (74%) say they trust their doctor or health care provider on the topic.
With the COVID-19 vaccine specifically, most (71%) older adults say they highly trust their doctor or health care provider to provide honest and factual information about the vaccine. And nearly six in 10 (56%) say they trust Dr. Anthony Fauci. However, at the time of the survey (September/October 2020), nearly half (47%) of older adults ages 50-plus who said it was unlikely they would get a COVID-19 vaccine cited a lack of trust in the government as a reason for vaccine hesitancy.
For the African American/Black 50-plus, trust is a major barrier
African American/Black adults ages 50-plus are less likely to get recommended vaccinations with only one-third (33%) reporting they get all of the vaccines suggested by their doctor or health care provider. African American/Black adults ages 50-plus are more likely to say they are unsure whom to trust when it comes to information about adult immunizations (61%). However, when prompted with a list, the majority (73%) say their most trusted source for this type of information is their doctor or health care provider.
Trust is also a pivotal issue for older African American/Black adults considering whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine. At the time of the survey (September/October 2020), two-thirds (67%) of these older adults who said they are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine cited a lack of trust in the government as a reason for vaccine hesitancy.
For the Hispanic/Latino 50-plus, concern about possible side effects is a major barrier
Although most older Hispanic/Latino adults believe vaccines are safe, only two in five (40%) report they get all the vaccines their doctors or health care providers suggests. Most (64%) older Hispanic/Latino adults say they trust their doctor when it comes to information about adult immunization; however, one in ten (9%) say they do not trust any source on the topic.
Concern about possible side effects tops the list of reasons cited for vaccine hesitancy for both influenza and COVID-19. Among those who do not regularly get a flu shot, nearly half (45%) say they are hesitant because they are concerned about possible side effects, despite the long history with the flu vaccine. Those who say they are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine cite similar reasons for hesitancy. At the time of the survey (September/October 2020), seven in 10 (69%) older Hispanic/Latino adults who said they are unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccine said they are concerned about possible side effects. Additionally, half (51%) said they believe that risks associated with taking a new vaccine outweigh the possible benefits.
To ensure older adults make informed decisions regarding vaccines, public health officials should capitalize on these trusted sources — especially personal health care providers — to develop strategies to ensure older adults receive the information they need to make informed decisions about vaccinations.
This survey was conducted by the nonpartisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of AARP. For this national survey, data were collected using the AmeriSpeak Panel. AmeriSpeak, the probability-based panel of NORC, is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population.
A total sample of 1,722 adults with multicultural oversamples of African Americans/Blacks (491 total) and Hispanics/Latinos (467 total) were surveyed online and by telephone between September 28 and October 12, 2020. A portion of the multicultural samples came from the national survey sample. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.
Lampkin, Cheryl. 2020 AARP Vaccine Survey. Washington, DC: AARP Research, February 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00432.001