Image of Megan Lindley, MPH

Routine vaccinations among older Medicare beneficiaries have not completely recovered from their pandemic slump. Stepped-up efforts to resolve the disruption are necessary, and may give clinicians an additional chance to educate recipients about overall vaccine safety, federal health officials say.

By July 2020, influenza, pneumonia, Td/Tdap and shingles vaccination rates had partly recovered from their lowest point of 80% below year-prior rates among beneficiaries age 65 and older, according to a new study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. But continued lockdowns and hesitancy about receiving medical care due to coronavirus fears have likely prevented full recovery, wrote lead author Megan Lindley, MPH. 

The declines have been similar across all racial/ethnic groups; but recovery rates have varied, she and her colleagues added. Rates among racial and ethnic minority adults have continued to be lower than among white adults, mirroring disparities in COVID-19 rates and vaccinations.

“While the pandemic continues, vaccination providers should emphasize to patients the importance of continuing to receive routine vaccinations and provide reassurance by explaining the procedures in place to ensure patient safety,” Lindley and colleagues wrote.

What’s more, monitoring and early intervention are needed to keep disparities from worsening, the authors said. The drop in routine vaccinations is yet another indirect pandemic outcome (similar to the drop in preventive healthcare appointments) that is affecting these populations disproportionately, they explained. 

The 2020 decline in PCV13 vaccinations (pneumococcal) is also related to the CDC’s recommendation against using them in this age group, the authors noted.

Full findings were published Friday (Feb. 19) in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In related news:

After a month of monitoring, COVID vaccines prove to be safe: CDC  Data from the first month of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rollout indicates “reassuring safety profiles” for the vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While local and systemic reactions were common, reports of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) were rare. No unusual or unexpected reporting patterns were detected, the agency said.