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Covid-19: As hospitalizations are increasing in most states, there has been a little increase of Covid-19 in the winter of 2022.
When compared to other surges, the overall rate is still a small portion of what it was.
The cases involving seniors have been the only significant change thus far.
The age gap has never been larger, and senior hospitalizations are quickly approaching the height of the Delta surge.
The Covid-19 hospitalization rate for seniors has been four times greater than the norm since October.
There was never a gap between nursing homes greater than three-fold even during the winter surge in 2020.
Seniors who tested positive for Covid-19 during the pandemic have consistently been a source of concern.
Only 13% of all recorded cases in the US were 65 years or older, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, that age group has been responsible for half of all hospitalizations and 75% of all deaths.
According to larger trends, the Covid-19 hospitalization rate for seniors has fluctuated.
During the Omicron spike last winter, it hit a record high before sharply declining in the summer.
However, compared to other age groups, hospitalization rates for seniors have consistently been higher.
The present increase has been termed the “senior wave” by physician and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, Dr. Eric Topol.
“Right now, we have an immunity wall built up against the Omicron family – between shots and prior infections and combinations thereof – that seems to be keeping younger folks in pretty good stead,” said Topol.
“But the immune systems of people of advanced age are not as strong.”
Topol stated that the latest wave is probably having disproportionately severe impacts on immunocompromised young adults.
To analyze the patterns in that age group, however, there isn’t enough data.
According to Dr. Eric Topol, the low use of treatments like Paxlovid and new, immune-evasive variants may have contributed to the increased hospitalization rates for seniors.
However, he emphasized booster deficiency as the primary culprit, with woefully low rates.
“It all points to waning immunity,” said Topol.
“If more seniors had their booster, the effect would be minimal.”
Vaccines & boosters
Only a third of people 65 and older had an updated booster shot, which worries experts, according to CDC data.
Infectious disease and geriatric medicine specialist Dr. Preeti Malani from University of Michigan Health said: “It’s very, very concerning.”
“There’s a sizable number of people who actually got previous boosters who have not gotten this one and I worry that there’s confusion, there’s misinformation,” Malani added.
“So to seniors – and to everyone – I say: if you have not been boosted, get boosted.”
According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60% of seniors were concerned about an increase in Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions this winter.
More than 40% were concerned with becoming sick, but almost as many indicated they didn’t have any immediate plans to receive the new booster.
Additionally, about a quarter of seniors claim they have no plans to get a booster and will only do so if required.
The use of booster shots and vaccines to prevent serious illness is still effective.
Despite seniors’ poor booster uptake, it is still higher than for other age groups.
Less than 10% of individuals under 50 and less than 5% of kids received their latest booster, according to CDC data.
Despite this, experts contend that the widening gap in hospitalization rates cannot be explained only by the vaccination rate gap.
“The truth is that, really, anyone can get this,” said Dr. Preeti Malani.
“But the older you are, the more likely you are to have severe symptoms, the more likely you are to be hospitalized, and the more likely you are to die.”
According to experts, infectious diseases like Covid-19 spread similarly among elders and younger people.
Seniors, who are more likely to have more severe consequences, are frequently introduced to Covid-19 by family, friends, and the broader community.
“Seniors are the most at risk, but we bring it to them,” said Malani.
“A thing unique to older adults is that many of them are grandparents and many of them provide childcare for their grandchildren.”
“So they sometimes get infected from their grandkids, who may also be going to school or daycare.”
Malani also emphasized the special risks that older people living in communal settings, such as nursing homes, pose.
The fact is that, despite their vulnerability, seniors do not account for the majority of population growth.
A government watchdog report from earlier this month identified a substantial connection between breakouts in nursing homes and community spread.
This winter, nursing homes are once more at risk.
With the exception of the initial winter wave and the Omicron wave, weekly cases among residents have already surpassed previous spikes.
They continue to rise.
However, according to data from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only 22% of the staff and 47% of the residents have all of their shots.
The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists’ executive director, Janet Hamilton, said:
“We all would have hoped that we would have a vaccine that prevents transmission. We don’t have a vaccine that does that, but it does reduce transmission and it does reduce severe outcomes.”
Hamilton emphasized the importance of vaccination for seniors who interact with other seniors in order to prevent serious consequences.
“But really, any individuals that come in contact with high-risk groups need to be the primary focus for getting vaccinated.”