Majority of older adults remain unvaccinated against Covid amid limited supply

  • About 15.2 million individuals who are age 65 or older have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine so far, out of about 56 million in that age group.
  • Three dozen or so states have expanded vaccine eligibility to include that older cohort.

It's still a waiting game for the nation's most vulnerable age group to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

About 28% of people age 75 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, 22% of those ages 65 to 74 have also received one dose. That translates to about 15.2 million individuals in those age groups getting a shot, out of about 56 million.

"States are moving fairly rapidly, which opens the door to getting more people vaccinated," said Tricia Neuman, executive director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family foundation. "But clearly there is the issue of limited supply."

In mid-January, the CDC encouraged states — which are tasked with vaccine distribution and the complicated logistics that go with it — to expand vaccine eligibility to individuals age 65 or older. The share of states acting on that recommendation has reached about three dozen, Neuman said. (Florida, Georgia and Texas already had been prioritizing that age group before the federal advisory).

The effort to reach these older individuals comes as the 65-and-older crowd continues to make up the majority of Covid deaths (75%), Kaiser research shows. At the same time, vaccine supply continues to lag demand.

Across all age groups, more than 32.8 million people have received at least one dose. Of those, 9.8 million have also had the second shot, which is required for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to maximize immunity to Covid.

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The good news is that the vaccine is free. Medicare, which serves as the primary insurance for most seniors, also made a rule change in October to ensure beneficiaries would be able to receive a vaccine even it was fast-tracked through the approval process.

As for finding out how and where to get a vaccine, it depends where you live. Getting information differs among states and sometimes even counties, Neuman said. 

"A lot of people are relying on word of mouth to get vaccine information, whether through friends or family, or doctor or their local pharmacist," she said.

For jurisdictions relying on a website to get the word out, a "digital divide" can make it trickier for some older individuals or lower-income households to access information.

"They need computers and WiFi and they need to be comfortable with the technology," Neuman said.

Some locales are doing outreach. In Washington, for example, the city is going door to door in some low-income ZIP codes to reach older people and help them make appointments, Neuman said. In other places, there are mobile units that travel to assisted living facilities and the like to give vaccinations.

"There are different efforts under way, but the big stumbling block right now is supply, which hopefully will pick up," Neuman said.

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