RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The ABC11 I-Team obtained data breaking down the ages of the more than 2 million people in North Carolina who received a COVID-19 booster.
The data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) revealed that while individuals older than 65 have received the highest percent of booster doses, many of their population remains at risk.
While 95% of North Carolinians older than 75 have been vaccinated, only 59% have received a booster shot. While this is the highest percent of any age group, Little said this number should be higher.
"They were the first to jump in line and get their vaccines in the first place and get that protection and now that they are lagging behind on getting that necessary booster shot is surprising and alarming," said Milta Little, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at Duke University.
Similarly, 57% of vaccinated North Carolinians between 65-74 years old have received a booster. A big concern for Little and other health experts is how much risk the virus still poses for these groups.
"Our older adult population who has not yet been boosted is unfortunately much higher chance of having a breakthrough infection than for the people who have been boosted," she explained.
Both age groups are above the national average of 44%.
As holiday gatherings and travel tick up and the Omicron variant spreads, health experts are concerned about this population who haven't received this added layer of protection.
"These are also the population that got vaccinated in January and February of last year, so we're almost a year out from those first two doses," Little said.
Based on NCDHHS data, more than 645,000 individuals older than 65 years old have been vaccinated but not received an additional dose. An additional 156,000 individuals in this age group are estimated to be unvaccinated, which means a lot of older adults face a serious risk for infection.
Little works with older adults and said she hears that some of afraid of the side effects and others question if it is necessary.
Little said studies have shown the additional dose does not lead to any worse side effects than previous doses.
The CDC also recommends a booster six months after an individual received a 2nd shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and two months after receiving a dose of Johnson and Johnson. Experts point to a decrease in immunity, especially in people older than 65.
Little also said it's not too late for people to get a booster before holiday plans. While the deadline to be fully protected in time for Christmas has passed, she said antibodies are created right away and can add some additional layers of protection.
She said the patients who have gotten the additional dose have already started reaping the benefits.
"This really has given people a lot more freedom that they just didn't have a year ago," Little said.
To find a vaccination site, visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines/boosters.