CDC calls on older Americans to get boostershots as hospitalizations increase

Shana Alesi administers a second COVID-19 booster shot to Army veteran Robert Hall at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on April 01, 2022 in Hines, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week urged older Americans to get a Covid booster shot to increase their protection against the virus amid another increase in hospitalizations, especially among those 70 and older.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the Committee of Experts of Public Health Agency of Independent Vaccine during a public meeting on Thursday.

Only 43% of people aged 65 and over have received a vaccine dose in the past six months and only 38% of people aged 50 to 64 have done so, Walensky said.

“This leaves about 60% of older Americans without the protection they may need to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Walensky said. “We know that immunity declines over time, and we must now do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable.”

Walensky said people 50 years and older should get a fourth Covid shot, and those 12 and older with weak immune systems should get a fifth shot. In March, the CDC said people in those groups could get second-rate Moderna and Pfizer booster doses if they wanted to. The public health agency stepped up its guidance on Thursday, telling people to get the shots for extra protection during today’s Covid wave.

Hospitalizations have increased by 25% in the past week among those aged 70 and over, with more than 1,500 people in the age group being admitted to Covid on average per day on Tuesday, according to CDC data. The US reports an average of more than 100,000 new Covid infections per day, an increase of 18% in the week before, as more transmissible omicron variants scream the US

In people 50 years of age and older, two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approximately 50% effective in preventing emergency departments and emergency care visits due to omicron infection six months after receiving the second shot, according to data presented at a CDC committee meeting in April . A third dose increases this protection to about 77%.

The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC authorized second boosters for older Americans in March based primarily on data from Israel. Scientists in Israel found that a fourth dose reduced the death rate of Covid in people aged 60 years and older by 78% compared to those who received three shots. The study, which did not undergo peer review, examined the health record of more than 500,000 people from January to February at Israel’s largest health care provider, Clalit Health Services.

“This fourth booster dose is something that evidence we now have from Israel suggests that by getting this, the risk of hospitalization and death in this population of elderly people can be reduced,” said Dr. Peter Marks, a top FDA official, told reporters during a call in March.

“We hope that by taking this action we will help people to take steps to protect themselves if we have another wave coming through this country,” Marks said.

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