SCAN Survey: Doubts About COVID-19 Vaccine Among Caregivers Could Put Seniors at Risk

Longstanding distrust of the medical establishment plays out in a lack of confidence in safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. This gives health plans and systems the task of building bridges with at-risk groups.

Family caregivers—important gatekeepers to care for seniors—have doubts about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine that leave this vulnerable group at risk according to new survey results released by the SCAN Health Plan.

The news comes as FDA granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) on Saturday to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which many have heralded as an important new tool in creating herd immunity, because it allows for easier use among hard-to-reach populations. Besides only requiring a single dose, the J&J vaccine does not need to be frozen while being shipped. An advisory panel unanimously the vaccine Friday.

But these advantages won’t matter if vulnerable populations harbor doubts about vaccine safety, which may be rooted in longstanding distrust of the medical establishment or cultural beliefs.

The new survey, conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of SCAN Health, a non-profit Medicare Advantage plan based in Long Beach, California, found only 63% of family caregivers who have doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine say they will take the senior in their care to be vaccinated.

What’s more, almost half of family caregivers in the United States—47%--said they would delay or refuse the vaccine if offered, which could put seniors in their care at risk.

Safety is on the minds of these caregivers: three in four who would reject or delay vaccination say safety concerns are the top reason.

Seniors in minority groups, which data have shown have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, could remain at risk if their family members do not take them to be vaccinated. And the SCAN survey found that 13% of Hispanic caregivers and 25% of Black caregivers said they did not plan to take the senior in their care to be vaccinated.

“These findings should ring alarm bells throughout the country,” Eve Gelb, senior vice president of healthcare services for SCAN, said in statement released with the results. “Family caregivers are the linchpin in our healthcare system. They make crucial decisions every day that affect the health of the people they care for. That’s why it’s so important that they trust the vaccines and get the person under their care vaccinated.”

The SCAN Health survey polled 1,000 U.S. family members who arrange for medical care for someone older than age 65. The survey included 400 Hispanic and 400 Black respondents. Nationwide, there are 53 million family members taking care of adults and children in the United States, providing everything from transportation and assistance with logistics to ensuring nutritional needs are met.

Among those surveyed, 71% said they had concerns about the vaccines’ safety, with about 1 in 5 caregivers (19%) saying they do not plan to take the person in their care to be vaccinated.

When caregivers refuse to be vaccinated themselves, it can be just as risky for seniors, said Dr. Romilla Batra, SCAN’s chief medical officer. “In addition to exposing their loved one to the virus, if they become sick themselves, they may not be able to provide vital day-to-day care for the person they support.”

SCAN’s Gelb said overcoming the historic lack of trust that some members may have in vaccine safety may not be easy, but the trust that patients have in their physicians and public health officials can offer a good starting point. According to the group’s statement, SCAN has implemented programs with both groups to emphasize the importance of vaccinations.

“We know we have our work cut out for us,” Gelb said. “But the good news is we know exactly what that work is.”