Slowdown in booster shots leaves older Americans at risk

The delivery of coronavirus boosters in the United States has stalled, especially among older populations, leaving millions of vulnerable people at risk of serious infection and death.

After bottoming out in late March and early April, COVID-19 infections are steadily increasing across the country.

More worryingly, hospitalizations have also increased by 20% in the past two weeks, although deaths have remained relatively low, especially compared to the winter peak, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Studies show that protection against infection from the initial series of vaccines begins to decline after about six months.

While younger, healthier people are still well protected against serious illnesses, this has not been the case for older Americans. This makes booster shots important, especially since most COVID-19 mitigation measures have ended.

Health officials are urging people over 50 to get a second booster, but many haven’t even received their first yet.

“What we should really be worried about is getting the boosters we need to stay current, so with the new variants we have we don’t have unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations,” said said Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf on CNN. recently.

According to the CDC, about 69 percent of people over age 65 have received a booster shot. Overall, less than half of eligible Americans of all ages have received a booster.

A recent CDC study of national nursing home immunization data found that residents who received an additional or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine had 47% greater protection against infection during the prominence of the disease. omicron variant than those who had only received a primary series.

According to an AARP analysis of federal data, more than one million American nursing home workers and more than 350,000 residents have not received a first booster dose of coronavirus, even though they have been eligible since the fall. latest.

There are also large geographical disparities. In Arizona, Florida and Nevada, first recall rates among residents are only about 55%, according to AARP.

“It’s a bit disturbing. Since this is the population most at risk, this is exactly the population that should be increased, but they’re not getting it, and I think the reason for that is that we’ve made it more difficult than necessary,” said David Grabowski, professor. health policy at Harvard Medical School.

During the initial rollout of the vaccine, federal officials identified nursing homes as a priority. They partnered with CVS and Walgreens to hold in-facility vaccination clinics, which resulted in more than 8 million doses being administered to residents and staff.

But with the reminders, nursing homes have been instructed to schedule vaccinations through their normal long-term care pharmacies.

“Whether you’re looking specifically at long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities or just at this broader population of older people, we’ve really failed here,” Grabowski said.

“We know boosters work. Let’s make sure we get this into as many arms as possible, especially among those most at risk,” he added.

To be sure, deaths of nursing home residents have fallen significantly from the peak of the omicron wave in January. Much of this has been attributed to the long-lasting protection of vaccines but also to the new antiviral treatments available.

Grabowski said he didn’t expect the administration to suddenly revert to a more centralized approach, but he said a more focused effort was needed.

“We are not going to start over with a full booster vaccine partnership program. It’s probably not realistic, but I think it’s very realistic to think that we can be very directed,” Grabowski said.

Experts have also attributed the low use of boosters to federal government messaging problems, which have come to figure prominently as officials work to promote second booster shots for people 50 and older.

Chaotic and sometimes disparate messaging from administration health officials has resulted in a convoluted set of recommendations about who should get reminders and why, which experts say has helped dampen enthusiasm.

The CDC initially decided against recommending broad clearance and instead recommended a booster shot for people over 65 as well as anyone at “high risk” of exposure to the virus in the workplace.

The agency eventually decided to make everyone eligible, but by then much of the damage had been done.

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