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Confusion about flu shot, efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines may slow adoption

Roughly 40% of Medicare beneficiaries plan to get a coronavirus vaccine, the highest percentage among all groups.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

While COVID-19 vaccines are being prioritized for high-risk populations, adoption may be slow among certain demographics due to concerns with costs and side effects, with one in three Gen Zers and Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 or older saying they will wait to get the vaccine, according to a GoHealth survey.

Those under 65, including 56% of Gen Zers, 57% of Millennials and 60% of Gen Xers, are concerned about getting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. About 70% of Medicare beneficiaries have already had their flu shot this year, compared to 41% of Gen Zers, 43% of Millennials and 39% of Gen Xers.

When asked if this year's flu shot is considered their first, Medicare beneficiaries were more likely than their counterparts to say yes (59% vs. 19% of Gen Z, 27% of Millennials, and 43% of Gen X).

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Roughly 40% of Medicare beneficiaries plan to get a coronavirus vaccine, the highest percentage among all groups. Across all generations, most respondents plan to continue safety and social distancing protocols after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

Of those under 65, half say that cost will influence their decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine. One in three Gen Zers, Millennials and Gen Xers had planned to visit with family indoors for the holidays this year.


Apprehensions and even confusion about the flu shot are apparent among younger generations. Gen Zers, Millennials, and Gen Xers were equally likely to believe that the flu shot would prevent COVID-19 (35%, 35% and 38%, respectively). At the same time, only 8% of Medicare beneficiaries agreed.

Among the younger generations, more than a quarter say they don't plan to get a flu shot this year – of which, a near majority (68% of Gen Zers, 80% of Millennials, 78% of Gen Xers) say they usually don't get the annual flu shot. And more than half also report concerns that it would only increase their risk of illness (55% of Gen Zers, 56% of Millennials, 61% of Gen Xers).

And while most people will continue to practice coronavirus-related safety protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing, more than one in five Gen Zers and Millennials plan to ease up after receiving the flu shot. After receiving the shot, one in 4 Gen Zers (24%) and one in five Gen Zers (21%) plan to be less strict about social distancing with family, with friends, and while in public. Only 12% of Gen Xers and 5% of Medicare beneficiaries said the same.

Despite flu shot preference, more than half of those younger than 65 are concerned about co-infection or getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time (56% of Gen Zers, 57% of Millennials, 60% of Gen Xers). Thirty-six percent of Medicare beneficiaries said the same, perhaps because they are the ones taking the most safety precautions to avoid risk of infection.

While Medicare beneficiaries (65+) are taking the necessary precautions, they are the least likely of the group to have been tested for COVID-19. For those that have been tested more than once, Gen Zers (20%) and Millennials (17%) have been tested at almost double the rate of Gen Xers (9%) and Medicare beneficiaries (10%).

For those who are open to getting the vaccine but intend to wait, more than half agreed the top reasons to delay include wanting to see if the first version works, concerns regarding whether the vaccine is safe or has side effects, and a desire to wait for a later version. For the same group, more than half of Gen Zers, Millennials and Gen Xers say they want to wait to see how much it would cost them (61%, 58% and 50%, respectively).


The development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines has been closely monitored by the public and the healthcare industry. Just days before Christmas, the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense announced they will purchase another 100 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. Officials are confident that this deal will ensure that there are enough vaccines available for every American who wants one by June 2021.

Under the agreement, Pfizer will manufacture and distribute the 100 million doses to government-designated locations. At least 70 million doses will be delivered by the end of June 2021, with the remaining doses to be delivered by the end of July.

This week, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield announced that costs associated with all FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines will be fully covered for all members, including members in self-insured plans.

Initial vaccine supplies are expected to be limited. Most states will distribute the vaccines in phases, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to determine which populations will be vaccinated during each phase. As vaccines become more widely and readily available, each state will communicate when and where vaccinations will occur. 

Throughout the public health emergency, it's important to continue practicing social distancing behaviors such as wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart, and washing one's hands, according to CareFirst.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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