Vaccine Report Insights: Interview with Tricia Neuman – February 18, 2021

Regulation | February 18, 2021 | by Jill Schumann

Tricia Neuman, Senior Vice President of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Executive Director of the KFF’s Program on Medicare Policy, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update call on February 18, 2021.

Tricia Neuman, Senior Vice President of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Executive Director of the KFF’s Program on Medicare Policy, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update call on February 18, 2021. She responded to questions from Ruth Katz and from callers.

Q: We have appreciated the solid reporting the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has been doing during this pandemic. You released a survey report recently regarding vaccination. Please tell us about that.

A: Since 80% of COVID deaths have occurred in people over 65, we were eager to know how many people 65 and older had received the vaccine. This is part of KFF’s broader efforts to track pandemic-related issues. We also wanted to track the 65+ vaccinated population to look at variation by race and ethnicity. We went to every state’s website to determine share of older adults that have received the vaccine. That was much more complicated than we anticipated due to variances in how data is collected and reported. As of the time of the survey (several weeks ago) not all states had expanded vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older.

Q: What did you find?

A: There was a range – in no state were more than 50% of people 65+ yet vaccinated. West Virginia had the highest percentage and Pennsylvania the lowest, but PA did not have Philadelphia included in their statistics. Reporting is far from uniform so it is hard to be precise. For example, we don’t know if people 65+ reported as vaccinated included those who had been vaccinated through the LTC Pharmacy Partnership or not. Some states opened eligibility to 65+, others to 60+ and one to 70+. We thought it was important to give a sense of how vaccination is going with older people since they are the current big vaccination group in most states. We will continue to update the data in an ongoing way.

Q: What did you learn about differences in race and ethnicity?

A: We were surprised to see that there was no data we could report on older people by race and ethnicity. We know that generally COVID vaccination rates for black and brown people are relatively low, but, among older people we can’t find data to tell us if that holds true for them. We believe this is important to know so that we can develop targeted outreach strategies.

Q: What does this say about where our country is with public health data?

A: I think experts have learned a lot about public health through this pandemic. The pandemic is illuminating many types of gaps including data collection. We have a national problem being addressed at the state and local level with glitches between levels. I hope this is a learning opportunity for all of us.

Q: Do you see a relationship between this and Medicare?

A: We have a very separate concept of public health and big programs like Medicare. I think there is more Medicare can/ could do to assist with the public health aspect of things like getting older adults vaccinated. What we now have is fragmented and a free for all - these siloed programs create confusion.

Q: What else is in the works at KFF?

A: We do a fair amount of polling which will continue. We have the Vaccine Monitor which tracks public experiences with COVID vaccines and relates to our work with vaccine hesitancy. A growing share of the public is open to being vaccinated, but many remain hesitant. We will continue to track vaccination rates by race and ethnicity. We are also tracking what states are doing with respect to identifying the next group of people to be vaccinated. States are defining high-risk health issues differently one from another and this creates confusion for people.

Q: In terms of vaccine hesitancy – have you explored the role of misinformation through social media?

A: Yes, and in our last Vaccine Monitor we tested different ways of making people feel more comfortable with receiving the vaccine. There is a part of our Foundation that does work on effective messaging to encourage HIV testing, and that group is working on messaging re: COVID -19 vaccinations. We know that it is important for people to hear from someone they know and trust.

Q: Would you tell us more about the polling process?

A: We do nationally representative polling and use up- to- date techniques to gain statistically accurate responses, including over-sampling of specific populations.

Q: What does it mean to say that the vaccine is safe when there haven’t been long term studies?

A: While you will want to talk with medical experts, I would say that many, many people have been vaccinated over many months and we are not seeing worrisome evidence of adverse reactions. The vaccine trial results and the vaccine technology would indicate safety.