Who Can Convince More Seniors to Trust COVID-19 Vaccines?

Study explores older adults' confidence in public health officials and coronavirus vaccines

Published Jan. 14, 2020

 

As millions of people throughout the U.S. weigh the decision of whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, there’s at least one group of Americans who are fairly consistent in their stance: seniors.

According to our survey of 481 adults, 86% of Americans age 65 and over say they will consider getting the vaccine, compared to just 14% who will not. Some concern about potential vaccination side effects remain, however, and many seniors would like to see their own doctor take the vaccine in order to feel more comfortable taking it themselves.

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Graphic showing percentages of seniors who will get the COVID-19 vaccine

Older adults have plenty of reason for vaccine enthusiasm. Despite COVID-19 infection case rates that are lower for adults age 65 and over, death rates for seniors are considerably higher than they are for younger people.    

The high level of confidence in the vaccine among older adults contrasts with that of the adult population at large. Around 60% of U.S. adults say they will “definitely” (29%) or “probably” (31%) get the vaccine, according to the Pew Research Center. 

Who Inspires Senior Confidence in the Vaccine?

We asked our respondents to identify the figures – public professionals and people closer to home – who would make them feel more comfortable about the vaccine by taking it themselves. 

When it came to seeing someone they know take the vaccine, 3 out of 4 older adults say that seeing their own doctor (57%) or a doctor they know (17%) take the vaccine would inspire the most confidence in the vaccine themselves.

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Graphic showing percentages of seniors who trust various familiar figures about COVID-19 vaccine safety

Other polling echoes this sentiment, finding that the number of people planning to take the vaccine more than doubled after health care workers and nursing home residents began receiving the initial wave of shots in mid-December.

Yet one remaining challenge is the fact that 30% of people who work in health care settings say they “definitely or probably would not get vaccinated.” Many health care workers across the country are refusing the vaccine, citing fears of possible side effects or the speed at which the vaccine was developed.

This hesitance on the part of some health care workers could cause real damage to seniors’ confidence in the vaccine. No other figure in our survey – including spouses, significant others, close friends or even religious leaders – managed to earn more than 7% of the votes as the person most likely to make seniors feel more comfortable about the vaccine by taking it themselves. 

Many Seniors Still Concerned About Vaccine Side Effects

While most seniors we polled plan to get vaccinated, 46% still have concerns about side effects of the vaccine, which can include pain or swelling at the injection site, fever, chills, fatigue and headaches. There have been isolated incidents of severe illnesses following COVID-19 vaccination, but experts caution against attributing those instances to the vaccine.

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Graphic showing percentages of seniors who are concerned about COVID-19 vaccine side effects

Most Older Adults Trust Public Health Professionals

When it came to seeing people in the public eye take the vaccine, 58% agreed that federal public health officials are the ones most likely to make them feel comfortable about the vaccine by taking it themselves.  

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Graphic showing the percentages of seniors who trust certain public officials about COVID-19 vaccine safety

23% say they would feel most comfortable taking a vaccine if they saw the CEOs of Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna take the shot themselves. 

Of our survey respondents who said they do not plan to take the vaccine, 41% said they would have to see the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies listed above take the shot before they would feel comfortable doing so. This group of vaccine-skeptical respondents put more faith in seeing these CEOs take the vaccine than in seeing federal public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci take it.

Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease who has become the face of the federal pandemic response, joined other public health officials in receiving the vaccine during a live stream just before Christmas.   

Joe Biden has already been vaccinated, and former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton said they would do so on camera in hopes of inspiring confidence in the vaccine. But according to our survey results, just 13% of senior adults say that a former president is the one who is most likely to inspire confidence in the vaccine by taking it themselves. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he will take the vaccine when it’s his turn to do so, saying he felt it would set a bad example if he and other executives “cut the line.” He noted that polls conducted by Pfizer also showed more people wanted to see Bourla take the vaccine than President-elect Joe Biden, which was consistent with our polling. 

There has been no word on when Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel plans to take the vaccine. 

Conclusion

Adults age 65 and over are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than the general public at large. Older adults increased confidence in the vaccines may be partly due to how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected their demographic. 

Doctors and public health officials are the figures most likely to inspire seniors’ confidence in the vaccine by getting it themselves, followed by the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines. 

Methodology

This study was conducted January 8-11, 2021, with a survey audience pool gathered using MTurk and Prolific, both of which are online polling tools. The total survey included 481 respondents. To qualify, respondents had to be adults aged 65 and older who had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Participants were filtered based on completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)

This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

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Research and reports

Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits, and more.