If You’re Over 50, Virus Experts Are Warning About This Kind of Fatigue

As we get older, being tired seems to come with the territory. Between responsibilities at…

As we get older, being tired seems to come with the territory. Between responsibilities at home and work, the stress of dealing with an ongoing pandemic, and the normal aging process itself, there are all kinds of reasons we might be feeling fatigued. But virus experts are sounding the alarm about one type of tiredness in particular, saying it could have consequences for folks over 50—beyond just wanting to lie down for an afternoon nap. Read on to find out what fatigue phenomenon might be affecting you, and how it could affect your health.

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Close-up shot of an unrecognizable doctor holding a syringe and covid-19 vaccine in front of a woman who refusing the Covid-19 vaccine.
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In an interview just hours before the FDA approved the second COVID-19 booster on March 29, Rob Stein, NPR correspondent and science desk editor, told Morning Edition that “many people are already suffering from ‘vaccine fatigue,'” which may impact the demand for a fourth shot.

The concept of vaccine fatigue isn’t new—according to a March study in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, it represents “people’s inertia or inaction towards vaccine information or instruction due to perceived burden and burnout” and has been referenced in studies pre-dating COVID. However, the study’s authors say the phenomenon has been poorly studied, and “little is known about what factors shape people’s vaccine fatigue.” They say more research is needed in order to understand what causes vaccine fatigue and how to keep it from hampering “pandemic control and prevention efforts” in light of the continued threat of COVID variants.

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If it feels like you’ve spent thousands of hours reading articles about COVID over the last couple of years, you might not be too far off. The Frontiers in Immunology study authors point to an analysis by The Economist that looked at the most-read online news content produced by 7,000 different publishers in 2021. They found that people collectively spent 43 million hours reading stories about vaccines, and an additional 27 million hours reading about COVID variants.

“It is possible that, to avoid potential or additional stress caused by the media reports on COVID-19 vaccines, people might develop a passive attitude towards news about the vaccines and the shots themselves, in the form of vaccine communication avoidance, and in turn, vaccine fatigue,” the study authors write.

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A doctor prepares to inject a senior woman's arm with a dose of vaccine.
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The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor has been tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID vaccines since late 2020. Ashley Kirzinger, the Director of Survey Methodology for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said three-quarters of people who are eligible to get the first booster have already gotten it. As for the quarter of people who are eligible to be boosted but haven’t yet been, she said there are “lots of reasons why people say they haven’t gotten it.” So what might convince people to get that booster—and now, a second booster down the line?

“We’re in this weird time right now,” said Kirzinger. “Some people talk about it as an end of a pandemic, and some people talk about it as still a pandemic, we just have lower case counts … If people aren’t seeing the virus as posing a major risk, either because they don’t know many people that have gotten sick, or they think they’re protected enough from major illness from the vaccines they currently have, we would also expect that they would probably be less enthusiastic to get additional doses.”

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A senior man receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot from a healthcare worker
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Some experts think it may not, in fact, be crucial for everyone who is eligible for the second booster to get it right away. John Moore, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told NPR’s Morning Edition that as long as they’re fully vaccinated and otherwise healthy, people in their 50s probably don’t need another shot at this point. “It’s ill-advised to do this too frequently,” he said. “A dose a day does not keep the doctor away.”

Whether or not healthy folks in their 50s need to rush out and get their next booster now, experts are urging two groups of people to get it as soon as possible. The booster “is especially important for those 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe disease from COVID-19,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a statement. This includes people with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and several other conditions you can find listed on the CDC’s website.

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