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COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake ‘Disappointing’ Ahead of Holidays, Winter | Health News

COVID-19 vaccine uptake this fall is perhaps not what many had hoped it would be.

As of mid-November, nearly 15% of adults and more than 5% of children received an updated COVID-19 shot since they were authorized in mid-September, according to national survey data. The rates appear to be on track with the rollout of the previous updated COVID-19 shot but fall significantly short of the flu vaccine coverage so far this season.

“It’s been pretty disappointing to see the low rates of uptake,” says Dr. Camille Kotton, a clinical director within the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The reasons behind the numbers are multifaceted, but one of the leading factors is declining concerns over COVID-19 as the U.S. enters its fourth holiday season with the virus.

With vaccines, treatments and tests readily available, the coronavirus is more manageable than ever. Still, COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing slightly ahead of the holidays and coronavirus levels remain “elevated,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC anticipates a “moderate” wave of COVID-19 during this respiratory virus season, causing “around as many hospitalizations at the peak as occurred at last winter’s peak.” It would be a far cry from the first two COVID-19 winters in the U.S. – largely thanks to the vast majority of Americans having some level of protection against the coronavirus from previous vaccination, infection or both.

“When we first had the vaccines come out, it was kind of a matter of life and death,” Kotton says. “Now, it’s less so given community immunity. Many people have had natural disease, and they’ve had a bunch of vaccines. So it’s less dire, and I think people are … keeping less track of it, and they’re less concerned.”

The trend is reflected in a recent survey from KFF that found that about half of previously vaccinated people cite a lack of worry about COVID-19 as a reason for why they haven’t received the latest shot.

Other reasons for not getting the shot include being too busy, waiting for a later date and concerns over side effects, according to the survey.

Cartoons on the Coronavirus

Kotton, who is a member of the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices, adds that she has seen patients who mistakenly thought they were up to date on their COVID-19 shots even without the latest vaccine. She says that the messaging around the newest shot could be more clear.

“In my experience, many people don’t know that they’re not up to date with their vaccines,” Kotton says.

A couple other factors have probably affected vaccine uptake to a smaller extent. One is that the initial rollout of the shot came with insurance and availability issues that led to canceled appointments and limited accessibility at the start.

“So people tried once or twice, didn’t get it, and then life got busy, and it wasn’t top of mind,” says Emily Smith, an assistant professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The KFF survey found that about 8% of vaccinated people said the main reason they haven’t gotten the updated shot yet is that they haven’t been able to get an appointment.

Smith says that it is surprising how the COVID-19 vaccination rates compare to flu shot uptake. The percentages of both adults and children who have received the flu shot are more than double the rate for the COVID-19 shot, according to national survey data.

“From a purely health perspective or risk perspective, it’s really surprising to me because, in general, you should be more concerned about having a bad outcome from COVID” than the flu, Smith says.

But there is a glimmer of hope that the COVID-19 vaccination numbers will improve. The KFF survey found that another 8% of vaccinated people said the main reason they haven’t gotten the latest shot is because they recently had COVID-19.

The CDC says that after getting COVID-19, “you may consider delaying your vaccine dose by 3 months.”

Given that the U.S. had a late summer coronavirus wave, some people are likely following that recommendation before they get the next shot. But infectious disease researchers say it’s not a large portion of the U.S.

Combination flu and COVID-19 vaccines are in the works but aren’t expected to be available to the public until 2025. Vaccine makers and public health officials hope to increase uptake of both shots by combining them.

In the meantime, low vaccination coverage means one thing for certain: more COVID-19.

“I think big picture prediction-wise, lower vaccine coverage now means more COVID this winter,” Smith says.

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