In most states, older Americans have been given priority in obtaining a vaccination against COVID-19. Because they were prioritized, most seniors have been partially or fully vaccinated. By early April, 75% of U.S. seniors had taken at least one dose of the vaccine. By May 17, the CDC vaccination tracker showed that almost 85% of seniors had received at least one dose while nearly 73% of seniors were fully vaccinated.
The vaccination rate for seniors is well above the vaccination rate for adult Americans as a whole. As of May 17, only about 60% of adult Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
If the current trend continues, nearly every older American will have started the vaccination process by mid-summer. Unfortunately, the nation’s overall vaccination rate began to slow in April. The extent to which the vaccination rate of seniors will also decline is uncertain.
Vaccination against COVID-19 should not be a political issue. As divided as Americans might be in their political opinions, both President Biden and former President Trump have urged Americans to get vaccinated.
If everyone in the world were vaccinated (or had gained immunity by recovering from an infection), the virus would not be able to infect new people. Lacking new hosts, the virus would die and the pandemic would end.
Unfortunately, that ideal is not readily attainable. Vaccinations are rolling out slowly in many countries. India for example, has experienced a sharp rise in its infection and death rates while both rates have been falling in the United States. Only about 10% of the residents of India have been vaccinated.
It probably is not necessary for everyone in the world to be vaccinated to protect Americans. Screening incoming travelers from nations with a high infection rate, coupled with a sufficiently high vaccination rate in the United States, should be sufficient to protect Americans from the high risk of infection that existed before vaccines were distributed.
Scientists are nonetheless finding it difficult to determine how many people need to be vaccinated to protect those who are not vaccinated. Their understanding of herd immunity — an immunity rate sufficiently high to prevent the disease from spreading — has evolved as variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have become more contagious. Scientists now predict that 80% of the population will need to be vaccinated or infected with the virus before herd immunity can be achieved.
Reaching herd immunity might be difficult, despite the widespread available of vaccinations in the United States. Polls show that 30% of the American population is reluctant to be vaccinated. That reluctance leaves populations vulnerable, particularly in states like Wyoming and North Dakota, where resistance to vaccination is widespread.
Vaccination Is the Best Protection
Studies show that vaccines used in the United States are highly effective at preventing the development of serious symptoms after being infected by the virus that causes COVID-19. There is also significant evidence that people who have been vaccinated are less likely to transmit the virus to others even after being infected.
That evidence has persuaded the CDC to update its recommendations. As a general rule, fully vaccinated people can resume their usual activities without wearing a mask.
The CDC guidance makes no distinction between younger and older Americans. When everyone in a family has been vaccinated, parents and children can hug each other and have regular contact without undue fear of spreading a potentially deadly virus.
Of course, since it is difficult to know who has or has not been vaccinated, some businesses and government buildings still require everyone to wear a mask. Considerate people comply with those rules.
People who have not been fully vaccinated are still vulnerable to developing COVID-19 if they become infected. Until they are fully vaccinated, seniors should continue to practice social distancing and to wear a mask when they leave their residences.
Resistance to COVID-19 vaccinations is largely based on misinformation and a generalized distrust of government. It is not grounded in science or reason. Seniors who hope to resume a normal life, including regular contact with family and the outside world, should set aside their fears and — unless their treating physician tells them otherwise —protect themselves by completing the vaccination process.