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Scarier than the flu shot? : The social determinants of shingles and influenza vaccinations among U.S. older adults



Although more than half of older adults receive the annual influenza vaccine (flu shot), only about one-third have ever been vaccinated for shingles. With this in mind, our study examines how the associations between sociodemographic characteristics, health behaviors, and vaccine uptake differ between these two viruses. In doing so, it also investigates whether the social predictors of shingles vaccination changed after the rollout of a new vaccine in 2017.


Data come from the 2017 and 2020 waves of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, using a subset of older adults aged 60-plus (N = 389,165). We use logistic regression models to test for associations between individual-level characteristics and vaccine uptake.


One, when compared to Whites, Black respondents had approximately 30 % lower odds of having received the annual influenza vaccine (Odds Ratios  [OR] = 0.72 [95 % CI 0.66-0.78] in 2017, and 0.66 [0.60-0.72] in 2020). For the shingles vaccine, these racial differences were starker (OR = 0.53 [0.48-0.59] in 2017, and OR = 0.55 [0.49-0.60] in 2020). Two, self-rated health was negatively associated with having received the influenza vaccine, but showed little relationship with shingles vaccination. Three, men were less likely than women to receive both vaccines in 2020 (OR = 0.88 [0.83-0.94] for influenza, and OR = 0.80 [0.75-0.85] for shingles). Four, older adults who abstained from alcohol were, generally, less likely to receive either vaccine, when compared to both moderate and heavy drinkers. Finally, we found that the release of a new shingles vaccine in 2017 (Shingrix) had little effect on vaccination prevalence or its social determinants.


The importance of social groups, health, and health behaviors on vaccination status may be disease-dependent. This study also provides possible guidance to health care providers and health organizations looking to increase vaccine uptake among older adults, which may have more urgency since the arrival of COVID-19.

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