‘Senior wave’ of Covid-19 spurs hospitalizations – Boston News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) — When Linda Stewart felt a tickle in her throat a few weeks ago, she was worried.

She is a 76-year-old woman, and she knows very well the dangers posed to her and her husband’s health by Covid-19, the flu and other colds that are spreading in the United States amid difficult times. respiratory viruses.

“I don’t want to take any risks with my health,” he said.

So far this winter, the increase in Covid-19 appears to be relatively mild – hospitalizations are on the rise in most states, although the overall rate is only a fraction of what it was during other outbreaks.

But for older people like Stewart, the situation is more serious. Elderly hospitalizations are approaching the peak of the Delta surge and are rising rapidly.

And the age gap has never been so wide. Since October, the Covid-19 hospitalization rate among seniors has been at least four times higher than normal. Even in the first wave of the winter of 2020, when Covid-19 swept through nursing homes, the difference was no more than triple.

Throughout the pandemic, a positive Covid-19 test for a senior carried additional weight. According to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 13% of all reported cases in the United States are in people 65 years of age and older. But about half of all hospitalizations and three-quarters of all deaths occur in this age group.

The Covid-19 hospitalization rate for the elderly has generally risen and fallen in line with broader trends, peaking last winter during the Omicron surge and falling sharply in the summer. But compared to other age groups, hospitalization rates are consistently higher among those 65 and older.

Dr. Eric Topol, a physician and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, calls the current surge a “senior wave.”

“Right now we have an immunity wall built up against the Omicron family – between injections and past infections and their combinations – that seems to keep young people in good shape. But the immune system of older people is not just as strong,” said Topol.

Immunocompromised young people are also likely to experience disproportionately severe effects from the latest wave, he said, but there is not enough data to understand trends in this population as well.

Newer, more immune variants and relatively low use of treatments like Paxlovid may have played a role in the increased hospitalization rate among the elderly, Topol said.

But “the main culprit is the lack of recall” with “staggeringly inadequate” rates, he said. “Everything points to a weakening of immunity. If more seniors are recalled, the impact will be minimal.

Vaccines help, and boosters still work
Stewart said he has relaxed personal mitigations, but is still keeping an eye on Covid-19 trends. He’s found a balance of caution and fun that he says works for him — but getting the shot really helps him feel the safest.

“I pay attention to picking up, so I’m a little more careful than I was, say, six weeks ago,” he said. “With the pickup I didn’t go back to how I handled it a few years ago, but I know more about who I am and can wear my mask a little more than before.”

A home test was negative for Covid-19 and was confirmed by another drive-thru test from a healthcare provider, which brought some relief, he said. But even though it was positive, knowing that he was vaccinated and boosted strengthened him.

“It’s the whole idea of ​​being proactive with all these vaccines. There’s a very good chance that yes, you’re going to get sick, but you’re not going to get sick like someone who hasn’t gotten all their shots and there’s a very good chance that you’re not going to get in the hospital. he said. “So it really gave me a sense of security in some ways that even if I did get it, it wouldn’t be bad.”

But most older people aren’t as protected as Stewart.

According to CDC data, only about a third of the population 65 and older has received the updated booster shot — an alarming number for public health experts.

“It’s very worrying,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, a physician at University of Michigan Health who specializes in infectious diseases and geriatric medicine.

“There are a significant number of people who have actually received previous reminders who have not received this one and I’m afraid there is confusion, there is misinformation. So to seniors — and to others — I say, if you haven’t boosted, go get yourself boosted.”

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60% of older people are worried about an increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations this winter – a larger share than usual.

More than 40 percent are worried about getting seriously ill themselves, but nearly as many said they don’t plan to get the updated reminder anytime soon. In fact, nearly a quarter of older people say they have no intention of getting it or only get it when needed.

A citizen’s scheme to protect the most vulnerable
Vaccines – including the updated booster – continue to prove effective in preventing serious disease. But the use of reminders among the elderly, although low, is higher than other age groups. Less than 10% of adults under 50 and less than 5% of children received their updated reminder, according to CDC data.

However, experts say the gap in vaccination rates is not enough to explain the large and growing gap in hospitalization rates.

“The truth is, absolutely, anyone can get it,” Malani said. “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, the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19 is no different in the elderly than in the younger ones. Instead, family, friends and the wider community often bring Covid-19 to older people – who are more likely to suffer more severe consequences.

“Older people are more at risk, but we’re bringing it to them,” Malani said. “One thing that is unique about older people is that many of them are grandparents and many of them take care of their grandchildren. So sometimes they get infected by their grandchildren, who can also go to school or daycare.

Many older people live in congregate settings such as nursing homes, which also pose unique risks, he said.

But the fact remains that the elderly, although more vulnerable to serious consequences, are not the main drivers of the spread in the population.

A government surveillance report released earlier this month found outbreaks in nursing homes were “strongly linked to community spread”.

And nursing homes are still particularly vulnerable this winter. Weekly cases among residents have exceeded all previous surges except the initial winter wave and the Omicron wave, and they continue to rise. But only 47% of residents and 22% of staff are “up to date” on vaccines, according to data from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We all hope to have a vaccine that prevents transmission. We don’t have a vaccine that does that, but it reduces transmission and reduces serious consequences,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

For that reason alone, seniors who come into contact with other seniors should be vaccinated to help reduce serious consequences, he said.

“But in reality, everyone who has come into contact with high-risk groups should be the main target to be vaccinated,” he said.

The way forward is not all or nothing
Stewart plans to host his family again for Christmas this year, for the first time since the pandemic began.

“We care about the people we interact with. There wasn’t much danger we felt in getting together as a family. It’s kind of our safe group,” he said.

He and his wife also hang out with small groups of friends they trust are also vaccinated and equally cautious, but they still plan to stay away from baseball games — even though it’s one of their favorite pastimes. .

“We like to go to baseball games. We are real fans and we support our team, but there are many dangers there. We ride the ferry and on this trip you ride very close to a lot of people. And going to the stadium, again, we’re very close to a lot of strangers,” he said. “It’s still too dangerous.”

Malani, the infectious disease specialist, said she recently spoke with a friend who seemed to be asking for permission to reunite with her family this holiday season. He was eager to celebrate in person with his loved ones years later, but was eager to let her guard down amid the difficult times of the respiratory virus.

“It’s about finding a balance, because viruses are dangerous, but so is isolation,” he said. “There is always a way forward and right now, that is through vaccination.”

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