Study Shows Low Number of Older Americans Are Vaccinated Against RSV

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Only 9% of older adults who reside in the United States had been vaccinated to protect themselves from RSV this fall and winter.

Only 9% of older adults who reside in the United States have been vaccinated against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the fall 2023 and winter 2023-2024 season, according to study investigators from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health who published their findings in Health Affairs Scholar. This low number of vaccinations comes as a shock, the authors note, primarily because of the growing rates of hospitalization and deaths that are occurring worldwide due to RSV.1

RSV vaccine vial with syringe - Respiratory syncytial virus shot - Image credit: MargJohnsonVA | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: MargJohnsonVA | stock.adobe.com

“RSV—along with COVID-19 and influenza—form the current ‘tripledemic’ found across the United States this fall and winter,” said study author Simon Haeder, PhD, in a press release. “While the elderly, as well as the very young and those with chronic health conditions, typically are affected more than others, the good news is that vaccines now are available for all 3 of these respiratory viruses.”1

Notably, the CDC has reported that between 60,000 and 160,000 US seniors have been hospitalized by the impacts of the virus this fall and winter season, leading to mortality among 6000 to 10,000 seniors. However, a reduction in hospitalization and mortality was displayed following the approval of 2 RSV vaccines that are 83% and 89% effective in lung infection prevention, according to study authors. Yet US seniors remain hesitant to receive the immunizations.2

According to the study authors, the hesitancy could be due to the lack of recommendations for the vaccines from the CDC, as well as other sources that older adults rely on, such as the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Pharmacists Association, according to study authors.2

“Although the vaccines are 83% to 89% effective in preventing lung infections, the CDC did not officially recommend them this year, which may have also been a factor,” Haeder said, in a press release. “In addition, vaccine hesitancy is growing worldwide in response to COVID-19.”1

Haeder said that with these statistics, more illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths will occur among those that are high risk, such as the elderly, or those with chronic health conditions.1

The study included 1345 individuals over age 60 years; this is one of the first studies that addressed seniors in connection to RSV. The study asked the individuals their vaccination status and their plan to receive the RSV vaccine.1 Among the 1345 individuals included in the study, 91% were unvaccinated against RSV, and 42% said that they intended to get the vaccine. However, seniors that were unsure said that they did not need the vaccine, displayed hesitancy to receive the vaccine, were unaware of the vaccine, or were weary of its safety and adverse effect profile.1

However, the study authors also noted that, among the individuals included in the study, men had a higher probability to be vaccinated against RSV compared to women. The study authors noted that overall, the seniors who were vaccinated were more concerned about the risks of RSV and believed they had a greater chance of being infected. They also believed that vaccines in general were safe and important to receive and presented a high level of trust in health institutions.1

To mitigate and limit vaccination hesitancy, Haeder said that this issue could be acknowledged in policies that aid the benefits of vaccines and emphasize the risk of not being vaccinated. Programs that are tailored to those that displayed more hesitancy than others—such as women—could discredit misinformation of RSV and vaccination status.1

“Not only will the unvaccinated place a great burden on the health care system, but their illnesses could have been prevented or mitigated by vaccinations,” Haeder said, in a press release. “The costs to society will be large and will affect society as a whole.”1

References
  1. Only 9 percent of older Americans were vaccinated against RSV before the disease hit this fall and winter. EurekAlert!. News release. March 1, 2024. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1036350.
  2. US seniors' intention to vaccinate against RSV in fall and winter 2023–2024. Health Affairs Scholar. News release. February 2024. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://academic.oup.com/healthaffairsscholar/article/2/2/qxae003/7582007.
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