Seniors Skip the Latest Booster

Nearly all Americans over 65 got their initial Covid vaccines. But that immunity is waning, and this time, the government is offering far less support for new shots.

THE NEW YORK TIMES, PLEASANT HILL, Calif. — Bonnie Ronk is something of a public health matriarch at the Mt. Diablo Center for seniors in this liberal Northern California suburb.

When Ms. Ronk, a great-grandmother whose red walker bears a sticker saying “El Jefe” (The Leader), tells her peers to pull their masks over their noses, they oblige. When she received both doses of the Covid vaccine and a booster and told others to do the same, they did.

But even Ms. Ronk, 79, has not gotten the latest Covid booster, which was updated to protect against the Omicron variant and has been available since September. She said she didn’t know about it.

Across the United States, where about 94 percent of people 65 and older had their initial Covid vaccines, only 36 percent have received the updated shot, known as the bivalent booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seniors have offered an array of explanations: They were unaware of it, unable to find it or unconvinced of its value.

“The diminishing immunity of seniors has largely transformed the Covid pandemic in the United States from a threat against the unvaccinated to one against the old, many of whom were once well protected. People over 70 are being admitted to a hospital with Covid at a rate four times higher than that of the general population.” 

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As the pandemic barrels into its third winter, and Covid hospitalizations and deaths climb once again, medical experts worry that there is no effective plan to update the immunizations of the most vulnerable Americans.

Two years ago, when Covid shots were first introduced, the federal government sent teams into thousands of nursing homes and community centers to vaccinate seniors, curbing the devastation of the virus.

But so far this [season], the White House has only offered grants to community organizations to get shots into the arms of older people, without the clear messaging strategy or logistical support that they need most, many caregivers and nursing home executives said in interviews …

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