Barely half of Long Island and New York City adults either have received an updated COVID-19 vaccine or plan on getting one, a new survey finds, and medical experts say the lukewarm interest is because of vaccine fatigue, less concern about getting infected, supply issues and the politicization of the pandemic.
The survey, to be publicly released Monday by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, found that 39% of residents of Nassau, Suffolk and the five boroughs plan to get a vaccine, 15% said they already got the shot, 25% do not plan to receive it, and 22% are undecided or did not answer. The survey of 600 adults — 29% who live on Long Island — was conducted Oct. 1-6.
Dr. K.C. Rondello, a clinical associate professor of public health and emergency management at Adelphi University in Garden City, said he’s not surprised by the results.
“There’s a COVID weariness that has set in with many,” he said. “They are tired of hearing about it, they are tired of thinking about it, and they are tired of worrying about it.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- Only slightly more than half of Long Island and New York City adults plan to get the new COVID-19 vaccine or already have received it, a new survey shows.
- Experts say vaccine fatigue, decreased concern about infection, supply and insurance issues, and the politicization of the pandemic are among the reasons.
- Experts say they aren’t as concerned by the overall interest in the vaccine as in convincing people at the highest risk for severe COVID-19 — such as older adults — to get the shot.
A national poll conducted by the San Francisco-based health policy nonprofit KFF from Sept. 6-13 found that 46% of American adults said they definitely or probably would get a vaccine, and 41% said they probably or definitely would not.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 12 recommended a new vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for everyone 6 months and older. The Food and Drug Administration later authorized another COVID-19 vaccine, from Novavax, as an option for those 12 or older.
Scientists say the new vaccines better target the COVID-19 variants currently circulating, and they build up the body's immunity, because protection from vaccines wanes over time. The updated vaccines were created to protect people from the XBB.1.5 virus subvariant, and although that subvariant is no longer dominant, the subvariants that currently are circulating most widely are closely related, so the new vaccines offer strong protection, scientists say.
The new vaccine is the third updated vaccine since the initial ones.
The precise number of new vaccinations administered is unclear because mandatory reporting of COVID-19 immunizations ended in May, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said.
Nearly two-thirds of those 65 and older surveyed by KFF planned to get an updated vaccine, while an almost identical percentage of those 18 to 29 said they probably or definitely would not.
Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau, said the emphasis should be on getting the most vulnerable people — older adults and those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 — vaccinated. He’s not concerned by the reluctance of many healthy young people to get the shot.
“If they wish to get it, I would say it's reasonable,” he said. “But I wouldn't spend a great deal of time trying to convince that patient. Whereas if the patient was 85 years old, hadn't recently had COVID and maybe got a booster a year or two ago, that's the patient I would spend time on.”
Dr. Adhi Sharma, the hospital’s president, said tepid interest in an updated vaccine also may be because the public sees that for most people, COVID-19 cases today are relatively mild.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when hundreds of people were dying of COVID-19 every day, “everyone was really concerned about protecting themselves,” and when the first vaccines became available, most people got them. About eight in 10 Long Islanders received the early vaccines, state data shows.
Today, “People are seeing that the cases are milder” for most, Sharma said.
In addition, Rondello said, there was a much more extensive outreach campaign to encourage people to get the initial vaccines.
The 15% of residents who in the Mount Sinai survey said they already had received a new vaccine as of early October is more than double the 7.1% of adults who said in a nationwide CDC survey of nearly 15,000 adults Oct. 8-14 that they had gotten one.
Ashley Kirzinger, KFF's director of survey methodology, said that larger number could in part be because of confusion over how the question was worded. The Mount Sinai survey, conducted by New Orleans-based LJR Custom Strategies, called the new vaccines “the latest COVID booster” — even though the federal government has avoided using the word “booster” to describe the new shots. Vaccinations from late 2021 and 2022 were called boosters.
Yet even the 7.1% CDC number indicates that interest in an updated shot might be higher than in the earlier boosters, said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president at KFF. About a month after the 2022 booster was released, fewer than 4% of Americans had received it, she said.
Even so, she said, 7% is "still very low.”
Keri Althoff, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said some people may have given up trying to get a new vaccine after early confusion over whether insurance companies would pay for it — they are required to do so by law — and by supply problems that led some pharmacies to cancel vaccine appointments.
The KFF and Mount Sinai surveys showed higher interest in getting the annual flu vaccine. Sharma said that may partly reflect how among some, COVID-19 has been politicized.
It also may reflect how the flu shot has been around for many years, and COVID-19, and the likely need for an annual COVID vaccine, is relatively new, Rondello said.
“It may take awhile for the public to grow accustomed to the need for an annual COVID shot,” he said.