America may have left itself open to a deadly future wave of Covid because so few seniors have been boosted, some experts fear.
The latest official data shows that nearly six in 10 Americans over 65 did not receive last year’s bivalent booster – and experts believe even fewer will come forward when the newly formulated Covid vaccines are rolled out this this month.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reveal wide disparities between different regions of the country, with only a quarter of seniors receiving support in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana..
At the county level, where the smaller population size means the numbers are more volatile, turnout is as low as 2 percent – and perhaps even lower in some areas. Overall, only about 43% of eligible people over 65 nationwide have come forward to receive the bivalent booster, which was rolled out last winter, according to the latest CDC data dating back to May 2023 .
It’s likely more older people have come forward since then, but enthusiasm for vaccines has waned throughout the pandemic. Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, warned that data suggested the US could see a “notable” increase in Covid hospitalizations and deaths this winter – even though most of the country has antibodies against the virus. .
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The map above shows U.S. counties by bivalent booster use among adults aged 65 and older. The map can be viewed by clicking on the link in the bullet points above
The map above shows bivalent booster adoption among those over 65 by state through May 2023.
While Covid has become milder due to increasing numbers of people becoming immunized through infection or vaccination, older people – with weaker immune systems – still remain most at risk of severe illness and death if they catch the virus.
CDC data was last updated in May 2023 for all 3,144 counties in the United States. Hawaii was excluded because there was insufficient data available. The dataset also included figures from all 100 subdivisions of the United States territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam.
Dr Schaffner told DailyMail.com, after looking at the data: “We could have a notable Covid-influenza-RSV season this year because we will be dealing with an under-vaccinated population.
“That means more cases, more ICU visits and more deaths.”
However, he added: “We do not anticipate an increase in Covid that is of the magnitude of past winters or, God knows, the winter before.
“But we will have an increase and that increase is largely avoidable, that’s the main point.”
Regarding why hospitalizations will increase this winter, he said: “Many people were vaccinated several months ago and now their protection is waning, but they have a false sense of security.
“They went out with friends who got Covid but didn’t go to hospital.
“But as the months go by and their protection continues to wane…they could then get an infection that would put them in an intensive care unit within 48 hours.”
Data showed that more than 60 counties in 13 states saw fewer than 1 in 10 seniors receive the bivalent booster.
However, some of the U.S. counties with low vaccination rates also had small elderly populations, which can skew the numbers.
The county with the fewest people over 65 boosted in the United States is Norton County, Virginia, according to CDC data — where just 0.1% of seniors have come forward to get vaccinated.
However, when contacted by DailyMail.com, the state Department of Health claimed there were discrepancies in national data and the numbers were wrong.
A spokesperson said that, for example, 8.6 percent of seniors in Norton County have actually received the bivalent vaccine.
Excluding Virginia, King County in Texas had the lowest booster uptake among those over 65, with only 2% of residents coming forward to get vaccinated.
Hospitalizations in the United States are also increasing, which could be due to the EG.5 Covid variant.
Covid deaths have increased slightly recently, official monitoring shows
At the other end of the scale was a county in Maine, where more than 86% of residents over 65 received the Covid booster last year.
Wisconsin, Vermont, Iowa, Massachusetts, Washington and Colorado – states mostly run by Democrats – also all had counties in the top 10 for the highest vaccination rate among the group of age.
Contacted by DailyMail.com, a CDC spokesperson said its May county figures were the most up-to-date.
The above is part of the CDC’s advertising campaign to encourage people to get the flu vaccine.
Dr Schaffner added: “A number of studies have shown that your political affiliation is reflected, in part, in how diligently the population embraces the Covid vaccine and I would not be surprised if that is the case. the same for the flu. the vaccine too.
He added: “There is so much information out there about Covid and how bad it is that I regularly find myself perplexed by the fact that people are not taking up this vaccine.
“All these vaccines tip the scales in your favor. None are perfect, none prevent disease, but a completely mild infection is very different from hospitalization.
More than 230 million Americans – including nearly 95% of those over 65 – have come forward to receive the first two injections of the original Covid vaccine.
But for the rollout of the bivalent booster last year, that figure fell to 56 million – with just 23 million over-65s – coming forward for the vaccine.
Two shots of the original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were needed because the first primed the immune system while the second maximized the immune response.
Boosters are now being rolled out, as with the flu vaccine, to supplement immunity levels that may have waned.
Studies show that immunity wanes more quickly in older people, putting them at higher risk of severe illness and death from the virus.
This year, health officials are expected to offer Americans an updated booster vaccine targeting the XBB variant, which was dominant in the United States this summer.
Initial tests show it is also effective in protecting against BA.2.86, which has sparked fears of a new wave of Covid.
There are also promising signs that it will work against the EG.5 Covid variant, which is currently dominant in the United States.
The White House has suggested this vaccine would be offered to anyone over the age of five, although this remains to be confirmed.
Concerns about the Pirola variant have also led some schools to bring back face masks — even though studies have shown the variant is no more transmissible than other strains currently in circulation.
Data shows that Covid-related hospitalizations in the United States are on the rise, with approximately 17,418 people admitted in the week ending August 26, a 16% increase from the previous seven-day period.
But this figure is well below levels reported earlier this year, when there were 44,000 admissions per week in January.
Deaths are also on the rise, with 672 deaths recorded in the week to August 12, the latest figure available, an increase of 6% from 631 the previous week. But this figure is also well below levels recorded earlier this year.
After seeing the maps, Dr. Thomas Moore, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas, told DailyMail.com they were “not encouraging.”
“The map is certainly not very encouraging,” he said.
Asked about the impact on this year’s viral season, he replied: “I think it’s difficult to predict how this respiratory virus season will go.
“We have had significant transmission throughout the summer and cases are increasing locally, but our hospitalization rates have not increased significantly.
“If our experience can be generalized, I believe most communities will experience an increase in outpatient office and emergency room visits, and I expect some increase in hospitalizations.
“But, absent the emergence of a strain resistant to Paxlovid or the vaccine, I expect there will be nothing like the surges we experienced with any of the previous strains , including Delta and Omicron.”