Vaccine Skepticism and the Elderly: a Caregiver’s Guide

Vaccine Skepticism and the Elderly: a Caregiver’s Guide; We all know the toll that COVID-19 has taken on seniors, including seniors who live at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 8 in 10 deaths from COVID-19 are seniors. The elderly have been prioritized to receive the new COVID-19 vaccines first. But that leads to a question: what do you do if your elderly parent or relative doesn’t want the vaccine? Here we’ll try to answer the most common reasons for vaccine skepticism and help you to reach your elderly relative.

How to Combat Misinformation and Mistrust in Seniors in Home Care

The key to convincing any senior in home care that vaccines are safe and effective is; not to shame or anger them. Experts say that these behaviors cause people to “dig in” on their position and it can make them more averse to receiving the vaccine. Instead, try a reasoned approach:

  • Empathy: You understand their concerns, and agree that there is a lot of conflicting information on vaccines in general, and the COVID vaccine specifically.
  • Compassion: Emphasize that it’s not their fault that they’ve been told things that may not be true about the vaccine.
  • Reason: Offer to walk through their questions and concerns, citing trusted sources for your information, rather than dismissing them.

Your elderly relative may have heard some specific types of misinformation that you should be ready for.

Senior Vaccine Question: Can I Get COVID from the Vaccine? If Not, Why Do People Feel Bad After Getting the Shot?

This is the most common question seniors have about the vaccine. It likely happens because many older vaccines (such as older versions of the influenza vaccine) contained a weakened or dead version of the virus itself. Which triggered the body’s immune response. If that’s the kind of vaccine they grew up with, they are likely to be afraid of the COVID vaccine.

However, that’s not how the COVID vaccines currently approved in the US (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) work. Rather than use a weakened virus; these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. The vaccine tells the body to make a harmless protein piece that looks like the virus (i.e., the spikes you see on illustrations of the virus are known as “spike proteins”).

The body sees this harmless protein; realizes it’s not supposed to be there, and creates an immune response. So now the body is ready to fight anything that looks like that harmless protein. Including the actual virus itself. That’s also why some people feel sick the day after receiving the vaccine shot; it’s the body’s immune response gearing up to fight as if it were a real threat. Not everyone experiences these symptoms; but those who do will only feel symptoms for a day or two. That’s all the time your body needs to be prepared; to fight off the real virus should you come into contact with it.

Senior Vaccine Question: Why Should I Take an Untested, Experimental Vaccine?

Many seniors in at-home care remember that it took many years to develop vaccines like the polio vaccine; and naturally are skeptical that a virus that only appeared a little over a year ago could already have a vaccine. Also, we’re usually told that trials for new drugs and authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take years. Why is the COVID vaccine different?

First of all, mRNA vaccines are relatively new, but they have been in development since the 1990sThe research for these vaccines assumed that someday we would face new viruses that could be prevented using this type of vaccine, so they developed a kind of template. Just like a car manufacturer can manufacture different models of cars on the same chassis, these mRNA vaccines can all be built on this template. All researchers needed was the specific structure of the coronavirus that causes COVID, and they could develop the vaccine. Thanks to researchers who were working on the virus at the beginning of the outbreak, that information was available by the end of January 2020.

Additionally, testing for vaccines usually does take a lot longer than the several months that the COVID vaccine was tested. But that doesn’t mean there was less testing of these vaccines, only that there were so many resources poured into the development of COVID vaccines that these trials could be run in record time. For example, the Moderna vaccine’s Phase 3 trial (where effectiveness is measured) had over 30,000 test subjects, and the Pfizer vaccine had more than 43,000 subjects. For comparison, the HPV vaccine known as Gardasil had about 27,000 subjects in its Phase 3 trial, and the pneumonia vaccine Prevnar had about 42,000 subjects.

Senior Vaccine Question: Aren’t These Vaccines Just Some Political Ploy?

There is a lot of misinformation that many seniors at home have seen on their Facebook feed and on television that says that the vaccine is somehow a political ploy designed to hurt the political party they like and help the one they don’t like. If your elderly loved one believes this, it may be best to steer clear of politics and emphasize that the CDC is not a partisan political entity, and that the vaccines are developed by private companies, not the government. Additionally, the vaccine development largely occurred while one political party was in power, and the distribution of it has occurred while the other party is in power. Claims of credit or blame are irrelevant to the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Senior Vaccine Question: Is There a Tracking Chip in the Vaccine Designed by Bill Gates for Mind Control?

No, really, we kind of can’t believe we have to answer this one, either. But several popular conspiracy theory videos have pushed the idea. The videos all reference a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) that they say is being injected into people so that they can be tracked. Most of this misinformation stems from the fact that some syringe manufacturers have begun using these tiny chips on the outside of their syringes (not the part that gets injected) in order to allow providers to track inventory and make sure they have enough syringes and vaccine doses.

Senior Vaccine Question: Is the Vaccine a Gift From Aliens?

Ok, we admit we made that one up. But sometimes it feels like the misinformation and conspiracy theories are so ridiculous; that there’s no way to combat them without feeling crazy yourself. One way to combat that sort of misinformation may be to reference some of the recent public service announcements, where former presidents Carter, Bush, and Obama showed themselves receiving the vaccine. Reference all the people on social media showing off their vaccine cards, and appeal to their common sense. Would all these people get the shot if it were really dangerous?

Vaccine Skepticism and the Elderly: If All Else Fails, Appeal to Community and Family

The CDC recently released guidelines that suggest; that vaccinated grandparents can see their kids and grandkids again, even if the latter are not yet vaccinated. Remind them that community immunity  can only be reached, and we can only be sure of ending this pandemic, if 75-80% of people are vaccinated. Many elderly folks will remember community efforts during wartime. Or other times of national emergency, when everyone had to do their part and make sacrifices.

And even if all that fails to convince them, you have one final ace in the hole: free donuts.

Home Care Powered by AUAF Can Help

No matter how your elderly loved ones feel about receiving the COVID vaccine. The dedicated caregivers at Home Care Powered by AUAF can help out. Whether it’s help with personal care so they feel comfortable leaving the house to get their shots, or technology and organization help for them to navigate those vaccination appointment websites, Home Care Powered by AUAF is there. Call us at or contact us to find out more.

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