WASHINGTON >> President Joe Biden’s new COVID-19 plan mandates vaccines for 100 million working Americans, but one group was conspicuously absent: seniors. They’re also the most likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus — by a wide margin.
Retired seniors have been far more accepting of vaccines than their working-age counterparts. Their full vaccination rate is about 82%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because they’re susceptible to severe illness, even relatively few unvaccinated seniors means more deaths — and more crowded hospitals — than would occur in a larger pool of younger adults.
About 75 million people in the U.S. are 60 and older. Recently, about four-fifths of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in that population.
Even before the pandemic, seniors were largely out of the workforce — and thus beyond the reach of job-related mandates. Millions more have retired since March 2020.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said legal options for mandating senior vaccinations are limited. Instead, he said, the government may have to rely on incentives or outreach.
“For the vast majority of unvaccinated seniors, the problem isn’t skepticism or vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “It’s much more a question of access. The fact that they may be homebound, depressed or lonely means they may not be able to negotiate how to find a vaccine.”
Asked about the administration’s plan for seniors, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the U.S. had made “good progress” vaccinating a majority of older Americans, but “we want to get as close to 100% as possible.”
He also said the government would continue to reach seniors through the COVID-19 Community Corps, a program the Department of Health and Human Services set up to address vaccine hesitancy.
“The vast network of community organizations, which include doctors and nurses and faith leaders and other community organizations, has been absolutely essential to do that outreach, and we’re going to continue to do that in the months ahead,” Murthy said.