Most U.S. seniors are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the virus is infecting younger people, setting off a race to immunize the bulk of Americans in the face of aggressive variants and a feared “fourth wave” of infection.
People over 65 were decimated by the virus during the first year of the pandemic. Now, about 55% of them are fully vaccinated and a whopping three-quarters have received at least one dose of vaccine as the U.S. averages more than 3 million vaccine shots per day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said young people are fueling the current spread as they wait to get vaccinated — partly because of risky behaviors, transmission around youth sports and the prevalence of fast-moving viral variants.
“Cases are increasing nationally and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “We know that these increases are due in part to more highly transmissible variants, which we are very closely monitoring.
“And, as more schools are reopening, it’s even more important to make sure they do so safely, with strict adherence to CDC guidance and for all of us to roll up our sleeves for a vaccine as soon as we can,” she said.
Dr. Walensky said the CDC is working with states to increase testing to avoid clusters of infections around extracurricular activities in schools, while doctors and state officials in the upper Midwest and East Coast confirmed the emerging trend.
“Much younger admissions this weekend,” Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and critical-care doctor who treats COVID-19 patients, told The Washington Times on Monday.
Officials in Michigan, which is experiencing a surge, said cases emerged in ages 10-19 before increasing among those in their 20s to 50s in recent weeks.
“We are not seeing this case-spread among those 65 and older and we attribute much of that to vaccination as two-thirds of those 65-plus have received at least their first vaccine,” said state Health Department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin. “We have recorded outbreaks in schools, mainly connected to sports and other outside-of-the-classroom activities.”
Basketball, which is played indoors, was associated with about 200 of 500 cases tied to youth sports in Michigan, although transmission might be occurring off the court.
“We are hearing repeatedly from local health departments that the transmission may not be happening on the playing field, but rather during postgame and post-practice activities such as team dinners or sleepovers, etc., where masks are not being worn,” Ms. Sutfin said.
U.S. hospitalizations for COVID-19 are hovering around 40,000. Deaths have fallen to about 800 per day, a positive trend that could continue if vaccinations keep up with transmission and cases are concentrated in younger people who may experience problems from COVID-19 but are less likely to die from the disease.
“This demographic shift will also be accompanied by a decoupling of cases with hospitalizations and deaths as younger individuals are much less likely to develop severe illness,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Dr. Walensky said seniors appear to be having better outcomes now that 13 states have vaccinated at least 8 in 10 older adults and Vermont is close to 9 in 10.
“What we’re seeing is both a decrease in emergency department visits as well as hospitalizations associated with that demographic,” she said.
The CDC director said she expects to see corresponding drops in younger cohorts as their vaccination rates match those of seniors, given that existing shots seem to be effective against current variants.
“It makes it more and more important that when the vaccine is available — regardless of your age — you roll up your sleeve,” Dr. Walensky said.
Many states are allowing adults of any age to schedule vaccine appointments or will do so in the coming days or weeks — putting them on track to beat President Biden’s May 1 deadline for full eligibility.
The U.S. on Saturday recorded more than 4 million shots in a single day for the first time.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Biden coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt. “The war against COVID-19 is far from over, far from won. The worst thing we could do right now would be to mistake progress for victory. If we let our guard down now, we will see more of our fellow Americans get sick and die unnecessarily. Each of us can act to prevent this.”
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