Almost half of adults over 65 are not getting the flu vaccine, and 44% say the reason why is concern about side effects. That’s one of many notable insights gleaned from a joint analysis published by my company Treato, in collaboration with media monitoring firm MediaMiser. As Treato’s CEO, I wanted to learn more about gaps that exist in education about the vaccine.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that this year’s flu vaccine is more effective than last year’s dud, older consumers aren’t particularly worried about efficacy. The disconnect between how government health officials discuss the vaccine and consumers’ skepticism towards it is especially relevant in terms of increasing vaccination coverage among Americans over 65. That is a group that accounts for up to 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 65% and 70% of hospitalizations annually.

The results of a survey we conducted on suggest that flu vaccine uptake is lagging for older adults. As described above, 41% of survey respondents over 65 did not get the vaccine this year. Why not? Here’s the breakdown:


  • 44% were concerned about side effects
  • 23% believed that the flu vaccine can give you the flu
  • 16% were worried about efficacy
  • 14% were allergic.

Among those worried about efficacy, only 39% were aware that last year’s vaccine was less effective than usual. Seniors’ motivations for avoiding the flu shot, particularly the idea that it will give you the flu, show that the CDC is fighting a battle against deeply held vaccine-related myths.

While older adults may well recognize the importance of getting vaccinated against the flu, this knowledge is often outweighed by certain preconceptions. When examining the age-specific social insights we pulled from online health forums and social media websites, we found that nearly a quarter of people over age 65 claimed to have never had the flu and for this reason thought the vaccine was pointless. Within this age group, skepticism towards the flu vaccine sometimes carried over to all government-recommended vaccines (18% of flu-related online conversations among adults over 65 contained anti-vaccine sentiment). There were also some people who were concerned about how the vaccine would affect their pre-existing conditions.

Government health officials and healthcare providers must double their efforts to educate older adults about the vaccine’s benefits. If, as our survey indicated, most older adults get the flu vaccine at the doctor’s office, then clinicians must assuage patients’ fears about side effects, efficacy and other common concerns. That also holds true for residents being vaccinated at their facility.

With the insights presented here, Treato also hopes to empower long-term care professionals to better understand what their patients are thinking when it comes to the flu vaccine. Working together, residential staff and attending providers can address misconceptions about the vaccine and ultimately help prevent flu-related health complications among residents.

Ido Hadari is the CEO of Treato.