According to official figures, less than half of nursing home residents are up to date on their Covid vaccinations, which could signal another deadly wave.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that as of Nov. 27, only 46 percent had taken advantage of the most recent offer, while take-up was only 23 percent for nursing home workers.
Age and underlying health conditions are two of the biggest risk factors for Covid, making nursing homes a hotbed for the virus during the pandemic.
Another worrying sign is that the number of Covid hospitalizations among Americans over 70 has jumped by about a third in a week, and the number of flu hospitalizations is at its highest point in more than a decade.
It comes as New York City and Los Angeles officials begin urging residents to re-mask to stop the spread of the ‘triplemic’ of Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
On November 27, less than half of the nursing home residents per institution were aware of their Covid vaccinations. Arizona has the lowest coverage per nursing home, with only 27 percent of residents aware of Covid vaccines. South Dakota, on the other hand, has the highest — with 72 percent having all their Covid shots
Hospital admissions of people over 70 with the virus have risen by more than 30 percent in a week. The seven-day average for the week ending Dec. 2 and the average for the week ending Nov. 25 saw a 30 percent increase
The seven-day average number of Covid hospitalizations among the over-70s has risen from around 1,700 at the beginning of November to 2,500 last week.
By comparison, in January 2022, at the peak of the Omicron wave, nearly 8,000 seniors were hospitalized for the virus each week.
Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the US is doing a “terrible job” of protecting seniors.
Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit nursing homes, said clear messages are needed about what the vaccine can do — and what it can’t.
She said breakthrough infections don’t mean the vaccine has failed, but false perceptions have been hard to combat.
Ms Sloan said: ‘We need to change our messages to be accurate about what it does, which is to prevent serious illness and hospitalization and death.
“This virus is insidious, and it keeps popping up everywhere. We just have to be realistic about that.’
Issues include the unwarranted hesitation to quickly prescribe Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral pill to the elderly, prompting five major medical associations to hold a web-based educational session for physicians, “Vax & Pax: How to Keep Your Patients Safe These winter’.
Easing restrictions, broader immunity in the general population and mixed messages about whether the pandemic is over have softened the sense of threat among younger adults.
That may be a welcome development for most, but the attitude has seeped into nursing homes in a disturbing way.
And nursing home leaders said getting family consent to vaccinate nursing home residents has become more difficult, as some residents who can give their own consent reject the injections.
Hospital admissions are rising in all age groups, but the increase is more pronounced in seniors, leading to fears that more elderly people will die this winter
Like hospital admissions, deaths are also on the rise. The number of weekly deaths for the week ending December 7 was 2,981. In the first week of November there were 2,463. Both figures are still significantly lower than the second week of January this year, when the number of weekly deaths stood at 23,366
Could COVID be the key to curing cancer? The virus’s infamous spike protein kills hard-to-treat lung tumors in lab studies
The virus has claimed the lives of six million people and caused unprecedented global disruption – but Covid may hold clues to a cure for cancer.
In lab studies, a modified version of Covid’s spike protein killed the most treatment-resistant and deadliest form of lung cancer.
The spike protein is the unique part of Covid used to infect humans, as it is the structure that initially binds to human cells.
It can also infect and kill lung cancer cells because the protein, when combined with other cells, can trigger the process of cell death.
The early finding doesn’t mean people with cancer would benefit from contracting Covid – in fact, patients with the disease are often immunocompromised and therefore at higher risk of serious illness and death from the virus.
Cissy Sanders of Austin, Texas, faced multiple obstacles when trying to get a booster for her 73-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home.
The facility told her they couldn’t find a vaccinator, so no repeat clinic was scheduled.
Ms. Sanders made plans to go to Walgreens with her mother later this month.
Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are seeing an influx of elderly patients that Dr Topol called “quite alarming,” adding that booster rates among seniors are “pathetically low.”
He said that in California and New York, hospital admissions for seniors with Covid-19 have already surpassed those during the spring and summer microwaves.
Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, said his hospital had also seen an increase, but said they had not seen an increase in ICU admissions.
He added that health care workers at his hospital are promoting the booster “every chance we get” but they are not giving it to people hospitalized with Covid-19, who are generally told to wait three months after being infected to get it.
The novel booster-injection combination, which targets both omicron and the original coronavirus, offers protection against one of the main omicron variants driving cases up lately: BQ.1.1, which is especially adept at escaping immunity.
Deaths, such as hospitalizations, are also on the rise now, with the ultimate worry that more seniors will die.
Last spring and summer, mortality rates generally fell as more people gained protection from vaccination and previous infection. But the share of Covid-19-related deaths for the oldest old — adults aged 85 and over, who make up 2 percent of the population — grew to 40 percent.
Over the course of the pandemic, 1 in 5 Covid deaths have been in a long-term care facility.
Dr. Walid Michelen, chief medical officer for seven nonprofit nursing homes operated by the Archdiocese of New York, said: “We’re getting a new variant, and who knows how aggressive that variant will be? That keeps me awake at night.’