From the Journals

Routine vaccinations missed by older adults during pandemic



Physicians are going to have to play catch-up when it comes to getting older patients their routine, but important, vaccinations missed during the pandemic.

A patient receives a vaccine ©Sean Warren/

Weekly general vaccination among Medicare beneficiaries aged ≥ 65 year fell by around 80% soon after the national COVID-19 emergency declaration and have recovered only partially and gradually, according to a report by Kai Hong, PhD, and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “As the pandemic continues,” the investigators stated, “vaccination providers should continue efforts to resolve disruptions in routine adult vaccination.”

The CDC issued guidance recommending postponement of routine adult vaccination in response to the March 13, 2020, COVID-19 national emergency declaration by the U.S. government and also to state and local shelter-in-place orders. Health care facility operations were restricted because of safety concerns around exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The result was a significant drop in routine medical care including adult vaccinations.

The investigators examined Medicare enrollment and claims data to assess the change in weekly receipt of four routine adult vaccines by Medicare beneficiaries aged ≥65 during the pandemic: (13-valent pneu­mococcal conjugate vaccine [PCV13], 23-valent pneumococ­cal polysaccharide vaccine [PPSV23], tetanus-diphtheria or tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine [Td/Tdap], and recombinant zoster vaccine [RZV]). The comparison periods were Jan. 6–July 20, 2019, and Jan. 5–July 18, 2020.

Of the Medicare enrollees in the study sample, 85% were White, 7% Black, 2% Asian, 2% Hispanic, and 4% other racial and ethnic groups. For each of the four vaccines overall, weekly rates of vaccination declined sharply after the emergency declaration, compared with corresponding weeks in 2019. In the period prior to the emergency declaration (Jan. 5–March 14, 2020), weekly percentages of Medicare beneficiaries vaccinated with PPSV23, Td/Tdap, and RZV were consistently higher than rates during the same period in 2019.

After the March 13 declaration, while weekly vaccination rates plummeted 25% for PPSV23 and 62% for RZV in the first week, the greatest weekly declines were during April 5-11, 2020, for PCV13, PPSV23, and Td/Tdap, and during April 12-18, 2020, for RZV. The pandemic weekly vaccination rate nadirs revealed declines of 88% for PCV13, 80% for PPSV23, 70% for Td/Tdap, and 89% for RZV.

Routine vaccinations increased midyear

Vaccination rates recovered gradually. For the most recently assessed pandemic week (July 12-18, 2020), the rate for PPSV23 was 8% higher than in the corresponding period in 2019. Weekly corresponding rates for other examined vaccines, however, remained much lower than in 2019: 44% lower for RZV, 24% lower for Td/Tdap and 43% lower for PCV13. The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted in June 2019 to stop recommending PCV13 for adults aged ≥65 years and so vaccination with PCV13 among this population declined in 2020, compared with that in 2019.

Another significant drop in the rates of adult vaccinations may have occurred because of the surge in COVID-19 infections in the fall of 2020 and subsequent closures and renewal of lockdown in many localities.


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