Americans 65+, first to COVID-19 vaccine, are slow to get booster shots, worrying health officials

Seniors may have been first in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but getting them to come back for a critical first booster shot, and a recommended second shot, has proven much more difficult.

That worries Dr. Felipe Lobelo, medical director of epidemiology for Kaiser Permanente Georgia.

"Because we know that boosting them is going to reduce the chances of them not only getting COVID but also having severe disease," Dr. Lobelo says.

The numbers tell the story.

Just over 1.2 million or 88% of Georgians 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Yet, of the fully vaccinated, only 62% of seniors 65+ have gotten a booster shot, and just 16% have received the recommended second booster.

Early on the vaccine rollout, Dr. Lobelo says seniors were excited about getting vaccinated as a way to get back to their normal lives.

"But back-to-normal is a little bit fuzzier right now," Lobelo says. "We're obviously in a much better place from a societal standpoint. But, we still have viruses around that can make you sick and can make you very sick."

Dr. Lobelo believes the US needs a stronger messaging campaign to explain to seniors why boosters are critical.

He says as the virus is evolving, spinning out new, more contagious variants.

Moreover, the protection provided by the vaccine weakens with time.

So, boosters can fill in the gap, bringing immunity levels back up, and helping the body fight off the virus.

That's the message, Lobelo says, they are trying to push at Kaiser Permanente Georgia.

"We are launching new approaches to reach out to those who have been boosted, to remind them that is an important step to take right now, and not to wait until cases start increasing more in our region."

As tired as we are of COVID-19, Dr. Lobelo says, this virus is not tired of us.

"I guess people lose perspective of how sick they can get," he says.

The CDC recommends Americans 5 and older get a COVID-19 booster at least five months after their final dose of the initial vaccine series.

Americans 50 and up should get a second booster at least four months after the first booster, the agency recommends.