Older adults are among the first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. This is because seniors have a heightened risk of experiencing more severe symptoms from the coronavirus. The vaccines developed by makers Moderna and Pfizer, were authorized by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in the U.S. in mid-December. Many assisted living residents are already receiving vaccinations, with more expected in the first part of 2021.

NOTE: The Classic residents and staff recently received their first shots of the Moderna vaccine and are scheduled for a second round of shots sometime in mid-February.

While many older adults are excited or hopeful about getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, others might be confused, hesitant, or afraid. Caregivers and family members can play a pivotal role in acknowledging these concerns and helping seniors evaluate what’s best for their health.

  • Encourage open discussion

If you and your senior relatives have different opinions and feelings about the COVID-19 vaccine, certain strategies can help bridge communication gaps, address concerns, and invite discussion. The following active listening traits can enhance your conversation:

  • Statements like “I understand your concerns” or “I know you’re uncertain” let your parent know you’re considering their feelings.
  • Paraphrasing and asking for clarification. Reiterating what your parent says shows you’re paying attention, and provides an opportunity to explain and clear up misunderstandings. Phrases like “It sounds like…” and “So, what I hear you saying…” can be effective openings to summarize a loved one’s points and further conversation.
  • Asking questions. Seek to better understand your loved one’s point of view by asking questions like, “What about the COVID-19 vaccine concerns you?” and “What information do you need about the COVID-19 vaccine?” This can deepen discussion and provide reassurance.
  • Discuss the vaccine’s efficacy

It’s widely understood that seniors are at increased risk for serious illness and death from the coronavirus, which is highly contagious. According to the FDA, which ensures vaccine safety, the Moderna vaccine has a 94.1% efficacy rate, while the Pfizer vaccine boasts 95% efficacy.

  • Address safety and risk concerns

Research suggests side effects of the vaccine are minimal, such as pain at the injection site or a low-grade fever. According to a study of 40 older adults published in the New England Journal of Medicine, no seniors reported adverse effects a month after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, early studies show that older adults may be at a lower risk of vaccine side effects when compared with younger people.

  • Rely on trusted, expert sources

It can be exhausting to follow all the news surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Avoid becoming overwhelmed by identifying one or a few credible, unbiased sources. Seniors and their families can seek guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the World Health Organization (WHO). A trusted local medical institution may also be a good source of information.

  • Talk to your doctor

Sometimes a personal outside perspective can provide much-needed information and counsel. Not only can a doctor share medical expertise, but he/she can also ensure your parent doesn’t have allergies to a COVID-19 vaccine ingredient or other health conditions that could increase their risk of vaccine side effects.

  • Consider the vaccine testing process

When talk to your parent about the COVID-19 vaccine, it may be helpful to share information about how safety and effectiveness were determined. Some insights to share:

  • The Pfizer vaccine trial involved 44,000 people, including older adults
  • The Moderna vaccine trial involved 30,351 individuals, including older adults

Scientists who oversaw these studies observed participants for an average of two months after they received the vaccine, noting only minor side effects.

  • Consider the social benefits and return to normalcy

Getting vaccinated won’t instantly transport seniors to their pre-pandemic lifestyle. It is however, the beginning of a road to a less restrictive existence. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults may have missed out on seeing family and friends and participating in fun activities in their senior living communities. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine can be a step toward returning to beloved hobbies and rebuilding in-person social connections.