Linda Stewart was worried when she felt a tickle in the throat a few weeks back.
She is a 76-year-old woman and was aware of the dangers Covid-19, flu, and other colds could pose to her health and that of her husband.
She stated, “I don’t want to take any risks with my health.”
This winter’s rise in Covid-19 seems to have been relatively mild. Hospitalizations are increasing in most states, but only a fraction of the rate seen during previous surges.
Stewart is an older adult, so the situation can be even worse. Seniors are being admitted to hospitals at an alarming rate due to the Delta surge.
The age gap between the ages has never been greater. The average Covid-19 hospitalization rate for seniors has been four times higher since October. Even in the initial winter surge of 2020, when Covid-19 swept through nursing homes like a hurricane, there was a minimum threefold difference.
Senior who has had a positive Covid-19 test during the pandemic were more likely to have been overweight. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 13% of all cases reported in the US were among seniors. This age group accounts for about half of all hospitalizations and three-quarters of all deaths.
The Covid-19 senior hospitalization rate has been rising and falling in line with larger trends. It reached a record-breaking high during the Omicron surge last winter and then dropped significantly in the summer. However, hospitalization rates for the 65- and overpopulation have been consistently higher than other age groups.
Eric Topol, a Scripps Research physician and professor of molecular medicine, calls the current rise the “senior waves.”
“Right now, we have an immunity barrier against the Omicron family. Between shots and prior infections, it seems to be keeping younger people in good stead. Topol stated that the immune systems of older people are less strong.
He said that younger adults with immunocompromised may also be experiencing the most severe effects of this latest wave. However, there are not enough data to determine trends in that population.
Topol stated that new variants of Paxlovid, which are less immune-evasive than older versions and have a lower utilization rate of treatments such as Paxlovid, may have contributed to the rise in senior hospitalizations.
He said that booster deficiency, which results in rates that are “woefully insufficient”, is the main culprit. It all points to waning immunity. The effect would be less if more seniors received their booster.
Vaccines work, but boosters are still effective
Stewart stated that she has reduced her mitigation efforts, but is still keen to monitor Covid-19 trends. Stewart says she has found the right balance between contentment and caution that works for her. However, getting her vaccines is what makes her feel most secure.
She said, “I’m paying more attention to the fact it’s picking up, so I’m a bit more cautious than I was six weeks ago.” “With the pickup, I haven’t reverted to how it was handled a couple of years ago, but now I’m more aware of what I’m doing around me and perhaps wearing my mask a bit more than I did a few years ago.”
She said that a home test for Covid-19 was negative and that another test at the drive-through of a doctor confirmed it. This gave her some relief. Even if the test was negative, she felt reassured knowing that she had been vaccinated.
That was the whole point of all these vaccines. She said that although you could get sick, there was still a good chance that you wouldn’t be hospitalized. “So, that gave me some sense of security that even if it did happen, it wouldn’t be too bad.
However, Stewart is not as well-protected as most seniors.
According to CDC data, only about a third (33%) of 65-year-olds have received an updated booster shot. This is a worrying statistic for public health professionals.
“It is very, very concerning,” Dr. Preeti MALANI, a University of Michigan Health physician who specializes both in infectious diseases and geriatric medicine, said.
“There are a lot of people who received boosters in the past but haven’t received this booster. I worry about confusion and misinformation. Senior citizens and everyone else should know that if they haven’t been boosted, it is time to get one.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 60% of senior citizens were concerned about an increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations and cases this winter. This is a much higher percentage than the average.
Over 40% of seniors were concerned that they might get sick, while nearly the same percentage said they didn’t plan to get an updated booster anytime soon. Nearly a quarter of senior citizens say that they do not plan to get the booster, or that they will only get it if necessary.
Protect the most vulnerable with a community-minded approach
Vaccines, including the new booster, continue to prove effective in preventing severe diseases. However, booster uptake in seniors is lower than for other age groups. According to CDC data, less than 10% of seniors and 5% of children have received their boosters.
Experts say that the growing gap in hospitalization rates can be explained by the difference in vaccination rates.
Malani stated that “the truth is that anyone can get this.” “But the older your age, the more likely it is for you to develop severe symptoms and end up in hospital.
Experts say that Covid-19 and other infectious diseases don’t spread differently in seniors than they do in younger people. Seniors are more at risk of developing Covid-19 from their friends, family, and the wider community.
Malani stated that seniors are most at risk but they have the support of grandparents. “A unique thing about older adults is the fact that many of them are grandparents, and many of these grandparents provide care for their grandchildren. They can sometimes be infected by their grandchildren, who might also be attending school or daycare.
She said that many older adults are congregated in settings such as nursing homes. This poses unique risks.
However, seniors are not the primary drivers of population growth, even though they are more susceptible to serious outcomes.
An earlier report by the government watchdog found that nursing home outbreaks were strongly associated with community spread.
Nursing homes are especially vulnerable this winter. The weekly cases of residents are rising faster than any other surges, except for the Omicron wave and the initial winter wave. According to data from the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, only 47% of residents are up to date with vaccinations, and 22% of staff are.
“We all wished that there was a vaccine that would prevent transmission. Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, said that although no vaccine prevents transmission, it does reduce transmission and can reduce serious outcomes.
She stated that seniors who can interact with seniors should be vaccinated to prevent serious consequences.
She said, “But any individual that comes in contact with high-risk groups should be the main focus for getting vaccinated.”
It’s not all or nothing.
Stewart will host her family again for Christmas this year for the first time since the pandemic.
“We are careful about whom we interact with. Gathering with family doesn’t pose any undue risks. She said that this is a safe group.
Her husband and she also meet with small groups of trusted friends who are similarly vaccinated. However, they plan to avoid baseball games even though they love them.
We love to go to baseball games. While we are true fans and support our team, there is a lot at stake. You ride very closely with many other people when you take the ferry. She said that we are very close to many unknown people when we go to the ballpark. It’s still too risky.
Malani, an infectious disease specialist, stated that she spoke to a friend recently who seemed to want permission to have a family gathering this holiday season. After years of being around, she was excited to celebrate in person with her loved ones but nervous about letting go amid a difficult respiratory virus season.
She said, “It’s all about finding a balance. The viruses can be dangerous but isolation is also important.” “There is always a way forward, and for the moment it’s through vaccination.