Virus Experts Issue Warning to People Over 50: "We Really Should Be Worried"

Researchers have noticed concerning COVID trends increasing.

It's over two years into the pandemic, and we're still seeing COVID numbers rise in the U.S. In just the last week alone, there has been a 31 percent increase in infections and a 17.5 percent rise in hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the death rate has yet to spike during this recent uptick, the news on that front is far from comforting. On May 12, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. was approaching a "tragic milestone" in the course of the COVID pandemic: one million deaths. To prevent even more casualties, virus experts have a new warning specifically targeted at people over the age of 50. Read on to find out what doctors and health officials are now saying.

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The risk of severe COVID is higher once you reach a certain age.

Child patient with IV line in hand sleep on hospital bed. Medical palliation healthcare concept

While some people experience few to no symptoms when infected with COVID, not everyone is as lucky. According to the CDC, older adults are more likely to have their infection turn severe. "The risk increases for people in their 50s and increases in 60s, 70s, and 80s," the agency explains. "People 85 and older are the most likely to get very sick."

Once you turn 50, you have a higher chance of needing hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help you breathe if you do catch COVID. The latest data from the CDC shows that compared to younger adults between the ages of 18 and 29, people over the age of 50 are three times as likely to be hospitalized and 25 times more likely to die as a result of the coronavirus. As of May 11, more than 930,000 COVID deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to those 50 and older.

COVID deaths are rising among older vaccinated people.

Doctor giving a senior woman a vaccination. Virus protection.

Vaccines have helped curtail the number of fatalities from the coronavirus, with the majority of COVID deaths occurring among unvaccinated people throughout the pandemic. Recently, however, the rate of vaccinated people dying from breakthrough infections has risen, according to an analysis of state and federal data from The Washington Post. The newspaper reported that vaccinated people made up 42 percent of the total fatalities in Jan. and Feb. 2022 when Omicron was surging, compared to just 23 percent in Sept. 2021.

The biggest factor in this concerning rise is the number of deaths among older vaccinated individuals. Nearly two-thirds of the people who died during Omicron's surge were 75 and older, per The Washington Post. And as of April, people over the age of 5o are still making up the majority of fatalities. According to The Washington Post, 34 percent of COVID deaths right now are among people ages 50 to 75, and 63 percent are among those 75 and older. In comparison, people under the age of 50 account for just 3 percent of the share.

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Experts say adults over 50 should be getting boosters.

A doctor prepares to inject a senior woman's arm with a dose of vaccine.

The majority of the rising vaccinated deaths are among people who have not gotten a booster shot, according to The Washington Post. In two of the states analyzed—California and Mississippi—researchers for the newspaper found that three-quarters of the older vaccinated adults who died from COVID in January and February had not gotten any booster doses.

Research has shown that a third shot can help waning immunity from initial vaccine doses, particularly benefiting older adults more at risk of severe COVID most, according to CNN. A study from the CDC found that a booster shot was able to raise vaccine effectiveness during Omicron's surge to 90 percent against COVID-related hospitalizations, two weeks after the third dose. In comparison, two doses were just 57 percent effective for those who received their last COVID shot around 6 months prior.

"What we really should be worried about is getting the boosters that we need to stay up to date so with the new variants that we have, we don't have unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations," Robert Califf, MD, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told CNN. With these up-to-date vaccinations, "almost no one in this country should be dying from COVID," he added.

But a large number of older adults haven't even gotten their first booster.

A senior man receives a COVID-19 vaccine booster from healthcare workers

Given the waning of immunity from vaccines and the impact of boosters, the CDC and the FDA have already authorized a second booster for adults 50 years and older who got their last shot at least four months before. But despite this and the urgent push for additional doses, there has been a significant slowdown in the rate of older adults getting boosters. According to the CDC, more than 32 percent of the booster-eligible population 65 years and older have still not been boosted.

"It's kind of troubling. Given this is the highest-risk population, it's exactly the population that should be getting boosted, yet they aren't getting it, and I think the reason is we made it harder than it needed to be," David Grabowski, PhD, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School, told The Hill.

More than 350,000 older adults residing in nursing homes across the U.S. haven't even received a first coronavirus booster dose, according to a recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) analysis. Among older populations, booster coverage "isn't where it should be," Ari Houser, a senior methods advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute and coauthor of the analysis, said in a statement. In certain states, like Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, first booster rates among nursing home residents are only around 55 percent.

"We know boosters work. Let's make certain we get this into as many arms as possible, especially among those who are at greatest risk," Grabowski said.

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