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Half of adults have heard little or nothing about new COVID boosters, survey finds

A pharmacist prepares to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots during an event hosted by the Chicago Department of Public Health at the Southwest Senior Center on September 09, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson/Getty

The new, redesigned COVID booster, which protects against omicron and its extremely contagious subvariants, appears to have a visibility problem.

Federal authorities authorized the shot at the end of August, but by mid- to late September, nearly half of adults had heard little or nothing about it, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, based on the latest of its monthly surveys about attitudes toward the COVID vaccines.

That could have troubling implications. The Biden administration has been touting the booster as a means of warding off a fresh fall or winter surge of the virus.

“America is not rushing out to get the new booster,” said Drew Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Most are only dimly aware of it, which is not surprising in a country that seems to have mostly moved on.” He added, “The exception may be older folks, who are at greater risk and early on are more interested in the new booster.”

The survey was conducted Sept. 15-26, online and by telephone, among a nationally representative sample of 1,534 adults.

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Since the first shots were rolled out, people 65 and older, who are the most vulnerable to COVID complications, have been the most compliant with getting the vaccine. They also displayed the broadest awareness of the new booster, the survey found, with almost half reporting either having already received the new dose or aiming to get it “as soon as possible.” Nearly one-third of adults overall said they had planned to get it soon as well.

Confusion over eligibility seemed widespread, according to the survey.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the new booster made by Pfizer and BioNTech for fully vaccinated people as young as 12 and the new Moderna booster for those 18 and older. But among fully vaccinated adults ages 30 and younger, 43% percent said they were unsure of whether the dose had been approved for them, and an additional 19% said they did not believe it had been.

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Mary Politi, a professor in the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine, said Americans had been experiencing COVID information overload and, as a consequence, decision-making fatigue. One way to overcome both, she said, “is to keep information simple, clear and consistent.”

She added, “Unfortunately, the information coming from various sources has often been conflicting, with uncertain, unclear or changing guidelines.”

Older adults were also better informed about their booster eligibility status. Among those 65 and older, more than half knew the booster was recommended, as did nearly half of those ages 50-64.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that fully vaccinated people 12 and older get the updated booster, it urges those 50 and older in particular to get it.

The report, which also looked at parents’ views of the vaccine, found that there had been a modest uptick in vaccination among the youngest children since July, when COVID vaccines for those ages 6 months to 4 years received emergency authorization. At the time, scarcely 7% of parents said they intended to get their children vaccinated; that percentage has risen to 19%, or nearly 1 in 5 parents.

But more parents are refusing the vaccine for their children, too. Now 53% of parents of children ages 6 months to 4 years say they will “definitely not” let their children get the shots. Last January, 26% held that view.

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While about 60% of parents said their children ages 12-17 had been vaccinated, about 30% of parents with children in that age group said their children would definitely not get the COVID vaccine.

Overall, 77% of respondents said they had gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, with nearly half of those saying they had received at least one booster. But 23% said they were not vaccinated, and nearly all of that group said they would “definitely not” get the shot.