Why won’t more older Americans get COVID booster?

Even as top U.S. health officials say it’s time America learns to live with the coronavirus, a chorus of leading researchers say faulty messaging on booster shots has left millions of older people at serious risk.

Approximately 1 in 3 Americans 65 and older who completed their initial vaccination round still have not received a first booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers have dismayed researchers, who note this age group continues to be at the highest risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19.

People 65 and older account for about 75% of U.S. COVID-19 deaths. And some risk persists, even for seniors who have completed an initial two-dose series of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or gotten one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Among older people who died of COVID-19 in January, 31% had completed a first vaccination round but had not been boosted, according to a KFF analysis of CDC data.

Activity program coordinator Beatriz Alcantara holds a frightened Ellen Spiegel as pharmacy tech Kimberly Singletary administers her COVID-19 booster vaccination at Belmont Village Senior Living Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

The failure to boost more of this group has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives, said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “The booster program has been botched from day one,” Topol said. “This is one of the most important issues for the American pandemic, and it has been mismanaged.”

He added: “If the CDC would say, ‘This could save your life,’ that would help a lot.”

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