Why aren’t more older Americans getting a COVID boost?

Although top US health officials say it’s time for America to learn how to live with the coronavirus, a chorus of top researchers say the wrong messaging on booster shots has left millions of elderly people in grave danger.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans 65 and older who completed the initial round of vaccination did not receive the first booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures dismayed researchers who note that this age group remains at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.

People 65 and older account for about 75% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Some risks remain, even for older adults who have completed an initial two-dose series of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or received a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. Of the elderly who died of COVID-19 in January, 31% completed the first vaccination round but were not boosted, according to a KFF analysis of CDC data.

Activity Program Coordinator Beatrice Alcantara holds terrified Ellen Spiegel as Kimberly Singletary administers her COVID-19 booster vaccine at Belmont Village Senior Living Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, October 27, 2021.

Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said failure to further promote this group resulted in tens of thousands of lives lost. “The reinforcement program failed from day one,” Topol said. “This is one of the most important issues for the US pandemic, and it has been poorly managed.”

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