It's not too late to get a COVID booster — especially for older adults
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
When the COVID vaccines first came out, mass-vaccination sites had lines snaking for blocks. These days, that's hard to imagine. The few vaccination sites that remain have a trickle of people coming in, and that's reflected in the vaccination rate. Fewer than 15% of people have gotten the newest booster that protects against recent viral strains. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here to explain how the vaccination strategy is shifting.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: OK, so one problem with COVID vaccination these days is it's pretty confusing. Like...
FADEL: How many shots have you had? When have you also had COVID? Do you even need a shot?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, no, it's true. At the beginning, no one had had any shots...
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: ...So everyone could just line up and get vaccinated in one go. And we're just not synchronized like we used to be. So public health officials are dealing with all of that by emphasizing the idea of being up to date. So ask yourself, have you had a shot or a case of COVID in the last few months? If so, you probably have good antibody coverage. If not, you're more likely to get sick if you're exposed to COVID. And getting a booster might be a good idea.
FADEL: I mean, that vaccination rate for the booster is pretty shocking.
FADEL: And you've been talking to health experts about changing the vaccination strategy. So what have you heard from them?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, some public health experts are targeting people who are highest risk, like seniors. Only 35% of people over age 65 have gotten a booster updated for omicron. Three-quarters of COVID deaths in the U.S. are among people in this age group. Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers says the original system of going to nursing homes and vaccinating everybody on one day doesn't work anymore. So instead...
CLAIRE HANNAN: The CDC is doing an initiative to put single-dose vials in long-term care facilities.
FADEL: OK. Can you explain that?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. So this means that if one senior was ready for a booster, nursing home staff could get a single dose out of the pharmacy-grade fridge and vaccinate on the spot. And it used to be that vaccines came in 10-dose vials with huge minimum orders. So this gives much more flexibility for getting people vaccinated without wasting doses.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So my sources also said, everyone out there, think about the older people in your life - your parents, your grandparents. If they haven't gotten boosted, make sure to get that done.
FADEL: OK. But what if you have to convince your grandparents? What do you do then?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. So vaccine hesitancy is complicated. People have lots of different reasons.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: There's misinformation and distrust and apathy. Experts I talked to say it's important to listen to each person's concerns and try to provide thoughtful answers. Dr. Kelly Moore, who's CEO of Immunize.org, told me she is interested in addressing hesitancy related to the vaccination experience.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So she says most kids and about a quarter of adults are anxious about needles.
KELLY MOORE: How many of those people who are refusing to come in for vaccination are saying, I don't want it; I don't have time; or I don't think it works - for how many of them is that really just an excuse?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So this hit close to home for me because my 7-year-old daughter Noah (ph) really doesn't like shots. And I wanted to take her to get her booster before we had travel coming up.
FADEL: So did she offer any tips to try and make it easier?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She actually did. So she told me, headphones can help, listening to your favorite music, deep breathing or using this small plastic thing called a shot blocker to make it less painful. So what I did was get a lidocaine patch at the drugstore, and I stuck it on her upper arm about 30 minutes beforehand, and she said the shot didn't hurt.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So there you go. In Year Four, vaccination is really about each person and what they need to know or do to make the vaccination happen.
FADEL: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Thanks so much.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABEL GECCO'S "AKALLA")
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