Your age may play a huge role in whether you'll decide to get a COVID vaccine, new research finds.
Though vaccine hesitancy due to personal politics has drawn a lot of media attention, a University of Georgia study reveals it's not the only consideration.
The link between vaccines and politics is "not so much true as people get older," noted study author Glen Nowak. He co-directs the Center for Health and Risk Communication at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, in Athens, Ga.
In fact, "people who are 65 and older are almost universally vaccinated, particularly as you start getting to 75 and older," Nowak said.
For the study, his team surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 Americans. The researchers wanted to learn whether respondents' political party, preferred news source and factors like age, gender, race/ethnicity and education would affect vaccine acceptance.
The investigators found that respondents 50 and older tended to consider themselves at greater risk while worrying that getting COVID-19 would have a negative impact on their daily lives.
The youngest respondents, however, were less likely to worry about getting the virus or to consider themselves at risk of severe illness.
"Looking at 18- to 29-year-olds, it's not surprising that they are the group with the lowest overall COVID vaccination rates because they're not a group that is suffering serious illness and death from COVID," Nowak said in a university news release. "Are there instances of that? Absolutely. But it's relatively rare. I think many people in that age group understand that."
Still, even with differences in age, political affiliation and where participants got their news were the most consistent predictors of how they felt about their COVID risk and their vaccine intent, according to the study.
Liberals were more likely than conservatives to consider the virus a bigger threat to their daily lives, worry about becoming ill and think symptoms could be severe. They also were more concerned they could pass the disease to others, more likely to accept the vaccine and to trust public health officials.
Compared with conservatives, liberals and moderates believed medical care and treatment would be more difficult to access.
And, in a finding that surprised the researchers, the survey showed that respondents who received their news from a mix of conservative and liberal sources were more likely to be vaccine hesitant than those who only consumed partisan news.
"If you had asked us before ... this study, we would have said pretty confidently that people who were looking at a wide array of information would be much more likely to be vaccinated and have much more confidence in the vaccine," Nowak said. "What this suggested was the opposite in many instances. Many people who tried or said that they looked at a broad spectrum of information sources came away less confident and more uncertain about the vaccine and its value."
The authors suggested that public health messages should be tailored to specific audiences, in part because those who aren't at high risk tune those messages out.
"This data shows you can't assume interest and attention from younger people and those who are less affected by COVID-19," Nowak said. "It's a good reminder that we can't just blast, 'Everybody should be afraid of getting severe COVID.' That's not an effective communication strategy."
The findings were recently published online in the International Journal of Strategic Communication.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, July 5, 2022