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CDC urges older Americans to get Covid booster shots as hospitalizations soar again

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 surge in hospitalizations, particularly 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 public health agency’s committee of independent vaccine experts during a public meeting on Thursday.

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

“This leaves about 60% of older Americans without the protection they may need to prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Walensky said. “We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable.”

Walensky said people ages 50 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 Moderna and Pfizer booster doses if they want them. The public health agency strengthened its guidance on Thursday, telling people to get the shots for added protection during the current Covid wave.

Hospitalizations have increased 25% among those 70 and older over the past week, with more than 1,500 people in the age group admitted with Covid per day on average as of Tuesday, according to CDC data. The U.S. is reporting more than 100,000 new Covid infections per day on average, an 18% increase over the week prior, as more transmissible omicron variants weep the U.S.

In people ages 50 and older, two doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are about 50% effective at prevent emergency department and urgent 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 boosts that 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 from Covid in people ages 60 and older by 78% compared with those who received three shots. The study, which hasn’t undergone peer review, examined the health record of more than 500,000 people from January through February at Israel’s largest health-care provider, Clalit Health Services.

“This fourth booster dose is something that evidence that we have now from Israel suggests that by getting this, one can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in this population of older individuals,” Dr. Peter Marks, a top FDA officials told reporters during a call in March.

“We’re hoping that by taking this action, we will help allow people to take steps to protect themselves should we have another wave that comes through this country,” Marks said.

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