COVID-19 Vaccine Talking Points for Communicating With Older Adults

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Building vaccine awareness, confidence, and education among older adults

Everyone 5 and older who resides in the United States is eligible for the vaccine. But confusion persists about the different vaccines available and how to get a vaccine. A critical part of increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates is building vaccine confidence and education among older adults.

Organizations can use these talking points to increase vaccine education and confidence with their audiences.

Start from a place of empathy and understanding

  • The pandemic has been stressful for everyone, especially older adults.
  • The first step is to acknowledge the disruption COVID-19 has caused on all our lives and provide a space to recognize common concerns that can be addressed by getting vaccinated.

Empowering the older adult community

  • Empower older adults by helping them feel confident in their decision to get vaccinated and to recommend getting vaccinated to their friends and family. This is the element that is most important for your discussions.
  • Empowering tactics include:
    • Engaging national older adult–centric associations, health systems, health care personnel, local community organizations, and churches early and often to ensure a clear understanding of the vaccine development and approval process, new vaccine technologies, and the benefits of vaccination.
    • Using your platform to have empathetic vaccine conversations, address myths and common questions, and provide tailored vaccine information to the older adult community.

Older adults should get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can

  • The CDC recommends people age 65 and older get vaccinated as soon as they can because they are at high risk of hospitalization, illness, and death from COVID-19.

Getting vaccinated

  • You have three ways to find vaccines near you:
    • Go to vaccines.gov
    • Text your ZIP code to 438829
    • Call 1-800-232-0233

Side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines

  • The available vaccines produce common side effects. Side effects are particularly common after the second shot of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which require two initial shots.
  • Possible side effects include:
    • Soreness or swelling on the arm where you receive the shot
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Feeling tired
    • Headache
  • The FDA and CDC haven’t seen any trends of serious or long-term side effects. Side effects are usually mild and should last at most a few days.

Safety

  • The COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States meet the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. Tens of millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines, and all COVID vaccines will continue to be monitored for safety.
  • Serious health effects from vaccines are very rare. It’s highly unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines will cause long-term health problems.
  • Your risk for serious health problems is much lower from the vaccine than your risk if you’re unvaccinated and get COVID-19. COVID-19 can leave you with heart and lung damage and other conditions that require long-term treatment. Vaccines are much safer paths to immunity than the disease itself.

Effectiveness

  • All available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19.
  • To get the most protection from the vaccines, you need all the recommended doses:
    • 2 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine plus 1 booster when you’re eligible.
    • 1 dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine plus 1 booster when you’re eligible.
  • If you’re 50 or older, you can get a 2nd booster 4 months after your 1st. See the latest guidance on boosters.
  • CDC prefers that you get an mRNA vaccine and booster from either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. 
  • People with compromised immune systems are less able to fight infections and may need additional vaccine doses.

How the available COVID-19 vaccines work

  • There are currently two kinds of vaccines available for use in the United States to protect you from the virus that causes COVID-19: mRNA (which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid) and viral vector vaccines.
  • Both kinds of COVID-19 vaccines essentially do the same thing:
    • They provide the genetic instructions for your cells to make a harmless piece of the virus called a spike protein (your cells are like 3D printers for proteins).
    • The presence of these proteins in your body resembles an infection and triggers your immune system.
    • In the process, your immune system learns how to recognize and attack the virus without ever being exposed to the real virus.
  • Neither kind of COVID-19 vaccine changes or interacts with your DNA in any way.

Once you’re up to date with your COVID vaccines 

  • To maximize protection from highly contagious variants and prevent possibly spreading COVID to others, 

    both vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear a mask inside public places when the COVID risk to your community is high.

  • If you’re at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID, you can also protect yourself by:
    • Keeping at least 6 feet away from people who don’t live with you.
    • Avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
    • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you don’t have soap and water.
  • Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still follow federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial laws, rules, and regulations. That includes public transportation, airport/airplane, local business, and workplace guidance.

People with compromised immune systems need extra doses of a COVID-19 vaccine

  •  People with compromised immune systems are less able to fight infections. If any of the following apply to you, you may need additional vaccine doses:
    • You have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency disorder, such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.
    • You have an advanced or untreated HIV infection.
    • You’ve ever had an organ transplant or had a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years.
    • You’re being treated with corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medicines for such conditions as arthritis, asthma, or an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, sarcoidosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
    • You’re being treated for cancer.
  • You should also continue to follow current COVID-19 prevention measures until your health care provider says it’s safe for you to stop:
    • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth around people you don’t live with and when inside public places.
    • Stay at least 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with.
    • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t available.

Strategies for building COVID-19 vaccine confidence among older adults

  • Encourage people who have been vaccinated to be vaccine champions by sharing testimonials about why they got vaccinated and promoting their stories.
  • Host online discussions where your audience can provide input and ask questions.
  • Don’t shy away from the tough questions and conversations. This makes you aware of the pulse of the community and how you should tailor your messaging.
  • Share key messages through emails, newsletters, social media posts, and other channels.
  • Provide information and resources to health care facilities with older adult–targeted messaging about COVID-19 vaccines, how they’re developed and monitored for safety, and how health care staff can speak specifically to older adults about the vaccines.

Use the tools available

  • There are a number of materials like toolkits that include posters, fact sheets, infographics, and social media content on the CDC website that you can use to increase confidence in your clinic or facility.
  • For more information and to view the toolkits, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.

SAFETY IS THE TOP PRIORITY
 

The FDA and CDC have the highest standards when it comes to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Their process includes the following procedures:
  • Scientists must first test vaccines extensively in medical studies to ensure they are safe and effective.
  • Before the FDA authorizes a vaccine for use among the public, it ensures its safety by independently:
    • Reviewing the data from the medical studies, and
    • Inspecting the manufacturing facilities.
  • Even after a vaccine has been authorized, the FDA and CDC closely monitor vaccine administration to identify even rare side effects or reactions.
  • The FDA and CDC closely review any reports of side effects or reactions and share these facts with the public.

The extremely rare cases of blood clotting and Guillain-Barré Syndrome following Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine and heart inflammation following Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines—a very small number of cases out of millions of vaccinations—show that the FDA and CDC’s vaccine safety monitoring systems work and catch even the rarest reactions.

Thorough investigations have confirmed that all three available vaccines are safe and effective. Medical experts stress that the benefits of receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States far outweigh any potential risks.

The monitoring systems ensure that doctors are notified to watch for signs of serious reactions, no matter how rare, and are aware of proper courses of treatment.

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