(CNN) — When Linda Stewart felt a lump in her throat a few weeks ago, she was worried.
She is a 76-year-old woman and is well aware of the risks to her and her husband’s health from covid-19, influenza and other diseases that are spreading in the middle of the severe season in the US. Respiratory viruses.
He said I don’t want to take any risk with my health.
Throughout the pandemic, one elderly person was overweight as a result of a positive Covid-19.
According to information According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 13% of all cases reported in the country occurred in people over 65 years of age. But half of hospitalizations and three-quarters of deaths are in this age group.
Hospitalization rates among older adults with COVID-19 have generally risen and fallen in line with general trends, reaching an all-time high during the Omicron outbreak last winter and falling significantly over the summer. But compared to other age groups, hospitalization rates continue to be high in the 65 and older population.
This winter, Covid-19 trends are on the rise across the country. So far, the increase appears relatively mild: Hospitalizations are increasing in most states, though the overall rate is a fraction of what it has been during other outbreaks.
But in the case of the elderly, the situation is more serious. Geriatric hospitalizations are increasing rapidly near the peak of the delta variation.
The age gap has never been so great. Since October, the rate of Covid-19 hospitalizations among the elderly has been at least four times higher than the average.
Even during the first winter wave of 2020, when Covid-19 hit nursing homes, the difference did not triple.
Dr. Eric Topol, a physician and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, called the current surge the “senior wave.”
“Now, between vaccines and previous infections and combinations thereof — an immune wall is built up against the Omicron family — it seems to keep very young people in good shape. But isn’t the immune system of the elderly much stronger,” says Topol.
Younger immunocompromised adults may also experience disproportionately severe consequences from the latest wave, but there are insufficient data to clearly understand trends in that population.
According to Topol, new strains that easily evade the immune system and the relatively low use of treatments such as paxlovide may have played a role in the increased hospitalization rate among the elderly.
But “the main culprit is the lack of reinforcements,” he said, adding that the rates are “sadly inadequate.”
“Everything points to a waning of immunity. If more elderly people are vaccinated, the effect will be less.”
Vaccines help, and boosters continue to work
Stewart says he has pulled back on personal mitigation measures but remains alert to Covid-19 trends. She says she’s found a balance between caution and prevention that works for her, but what she’s really confident about is getting vaccinated.
“I’m paying attention to the fact that it’s increasing, so I’m a little more careful than I was six weeks ago,” he says. “With the increase, I’m not like what I was a few years ago, but I’m more aware of who I’m with and maybe wear a mask a little more than before.”
Stewart took a home test for Covid-19, which came back negative, and was confirmed with another test over the counter at a health care provider, which she says was a bit of a relief. But even though the result was positive, knowing that she was vaccinated and encouraged reassured her.
“The idea was to be proactive with all these vaccines. You’re more likely to get sick, but unlike someone who’s not vaccinated, you’re more likely not to. End up in the hospital,” he says. “In a way, it gave me confidence that even if I did get it, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
But most seniors aren’t as protected as Stewart.
According to CDC data, only one-third of the population over age 65 has received an updated booster shot, a concern for public health experts.
“It’s very concerning,” says Preethi Malani, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases and geriatrics at the University of Michigan.
“There are a significant number of people who have been vaccinated and who are not, and I’m concerned that there is confusion and misinformation. So to older people — to everyone — I say: If you haven’t been vaccinated, do it.”
A poll A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60% of seniors are concerned about an increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations this winter, far above average.
More than 40% were worried about getting seriously ill, but almost the same proportion said they did not plan to get vaccinated anytime soon. In fact, nearly a quarter of seniors say they don’t plan to get vaccinated or do so only if necessary.
A social approach to protecting the most vulnerable
Vaccines, including the updated booster, continue to be effective in preventing serious disease. But the increase in booster shots among older adults, although lower, is higher than in other age groups. According to CDC data, less than 10% of adults under 50 and less than 5% of children receive an updated booster dose.
However, experts say the difference in vaccination rates is not enough to explain the large and growing disparity in hospitalization rates.
“The truth is, anyone can get it,” Maloney said. “But the older you get, 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 do not spread differently among the elderly than among the young. Instead, it is family, friends and the community in general that most commonly spread Covid-19 to the elderly, who are more likely to suffer more severe outcomes.
“Older people are more at risk, but we take it up with them,” says Malani. “One thing that’s unique about older adults is that a lot of them are grandparents and a lot of them are taking care of their grandchildren. So sometimes they get it from their grandchildren, and they can go to school or daycare.”
Many seniors live in shelters such as nursing homes, which also present unique risks.
But the problem is that the elderly, although more vulnerable to severe consequences, are not the main drivers of population spread.
A government surveillance report released earlier this month revealed that nursing home outbreaks are “strongly associated with community transmission.”
Nursing homes are particularly vulnerable again this winter. Except for the early winter surge and the Omicron surge, weekly cases among residents have already surpassed all previous surges, and continue to rise. But only 47% of residents and 22% of staff are “up-to-date” on vaccines. Information From the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We would all hope to have a vaccine to prevent transmission. We don’t have a vaccine, but it slows transmission and reduces serious outcomes,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
For this reason alone, seniors who interact with other seniors should be vaccinated to minimize serious consequences, he said.
“But really, anyone who comes into contact with high-risk groups should be the main target of vaccination,” he added.
The way forward is all or nothing
Stewart plans to welcome his family home for Christmas this year for the first time since the pandemic began.
“We are careful about who we associate with. We don’t feel any undue risk in meeting with family. That’s our security team,” he says.
She and her husband also gather with small groups of friends they trust, who are vaccinated and cautious, but they plan to stay away from baseball games, one of their favorite pastimes.
“We love going to baseball games. We’re real fans and we’re very supportive of our team, but there’s a lot of risk. We go on a boat and you’re very close to a lot of people on that ride. The stadium, again, we’re very close from a lot of unknown people,” he said. said. “It’s still very dangerous.”
Malani, an infectious disease specialist, said she recently spoke with a friend who seemed to be asking permission to join her family this holiday season. She was looking forward to celebrating in person with her loved ones after so many years, but was anxious to protect her during the harsh season of respiratory viruses.
“It’s about finding a balance, because viruses are dangerous, but so is isolation,” he said. “There’s always a way forward, and right now it’s through vaccination.”
“Music ninja. Analyst. Typical coffee lover. Travel evangelist. Proud explorer.”