COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Will Challenge Pharmacists, Other Immunizers

As many as a third of adults 50 and older said in a survey that they would be hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved by the FDA. What can pharmacists and other healthcare professionals do to calm the fears and increase uptake? Here is some advice.

ANN ARBOR, MI – Once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is distributed to pharmacies and other immunization centers, more challenges will remain.

A third or more of adults 50 and older recently said in a survey that they are hesitant to receive the vaccine, which is considered critical to ending the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Health Aging poll finds that 58% of adults aged 50 to 80 say they are somewhat or very likely to get vaccinated to prevent COVID-19. The percentage rose to 66% when the poll team asked the question a different way: 20% said they'd want to get vaccinated right away when vaccines become available, but 46% said they'd rather wait for others to get vaccinated first before doing it themselves, according to the report.

Less likely to say they wanted to be vaccinated were women, people of color, people between 50 and 64 years old, and those with lower incomes and education levels. In fact, according to the survey, only 40% of older adults who are Black, and 51% of those who are Hispanic, said they are somewhat or very likely to get vaccinated. That’s despite greater risk of hospitalization and death if members of those racial/ethnic groups are infected with COVID-19.

On the other hand, Americans older than 65, whites, men and those with higher levels of education were more likely than others to report they want a vaccination as soon as possible.

In addition, a fourth of respondents said they'd consider taking part in a vaccine clinical trial.

The poll was taken in October for U-M's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center. The poll draws from the answers of a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.

"Effective vaccines will be crucial to getting this pandemic under control and preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, especially among people over 50 and those with underlying health issues," explained Preeti Malani, MD,, the poll's director and a specialist in geriatrics and infectious diseases at Michigan Medicine. "Our findings point to a strong need to communicate effectively and transparently about how well the vaccines work, the safeguards built in to protect the safety of recipients, and the public health importance of widespread vaccination starting with priority groups."

The poll suggests how pharmacists and other healthcare professionals can increase vaccination rates. One key element is promoting efficacy, as 80% of respondents said that they'll consider how well a vaccine works as part of making their vaccination decision.

Slightly more than half of the older adults polled said a vaccination recommendation from their physician would influence their decision, while just more than 40% consider recommendations from public health officials very important.

On the other hand, personal experience with COVID-19 – either with their own illness or someone they knew – didn’t seem to affect the decision to be immunization, according to the survey. The authors point out that slightly more than half of poll respondents knew someone who had had COVID-19, and 2% said they'd been infected themselves, while about 20% said they knew someone who had died of COVID-19. Yet, those respondents were no more likely to say they'd get vaccinated than others.

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