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It’s not too late to get a COVID booster — especially for older adults

December 28th, 2022 by Selena Simmons-Duffin

The U.S. has come a long way from two years ago when COVID-19 vaccines first became available and people were cutting the line to get their shots.

Now, many have shrugged off the need to get updated boosters. Only 15% of people eligible for the COVID booster shot that targets the omicron variant have gotten it — a rate that is even lower than the perennially disappointing rates for flu vaccine uptake. Vaccine fatigue seems to have spread to other shots, too — including those to prevent measles and polio — according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“That is very concerning,” says Claire Hannan, who helps immunization officials from all 50 states run vaccination programs as the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.

As the country trudges towards the end of its third pandemic year, NPR talked to experts on immunization, health communication and public health, to learn how we should all be thinking about COVID vaccines now.

1. Realize that vaccines are still a good tool

Two years ago, a lot of questions about the new COVID vaccines had no answers, but now, we have answers. Do we need more than two shots? Yep. Will protection be long lasting? Nope, antibodies wane over time. Is reinfection after a bout of COVID and a full course of vaccination possible? Yep, it’s become more likely than when the pandemic first began, as the virus continues to evolve and produce variants that can partially get around the vaccine.

Those answers have been disappointing and may have dented demand for the latest round of COVID boosters. But the CDC advises that adults and most children get the booster. And vaccination remains an especially important tool, experts say, to protect those most at risk of a severe COVID infection — people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.

“It’s just really critical that [people] — especially those at high risk — understand the value of getting vaccinated and making sure they stay up to date on their boosters,” Hannan says.

Vaccines, good treatments and the fact that so many people have been infected, all help keep people out of the hospital. But every week in America, more than 2,500 people continue to die of COVID.

“Personally, I am not a fan of needless suffering and death,” says Dr. Kelly Moore, CEO of Immunize.org, which does vaccination education and advocacy. A recent analysis from the Commonwealth Fund found that the vaccination campaign prevented more than 18 million hospitalizations and 3 million deaths in the U.S., and saved the country more than $1 trillion.

“We’ve got an effective tool that can prevent a great deal of suffering, hospitalization and deaths, and we should still be using it,” Moore says….

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