A year ago I had hopes that rapid progress with vaccines might lead to herd immunity and an end to the pandemic, though I advised caution https://isl.fsu.edu/article/youve-gotten-vaccine-can-life-now-return-normal. As it turns out, advising caution was wise. A recent article showed that there is a risk of severe consequences for aging adults from COVID-19, particularly from the now widespread Omicron variant https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/31/health/omicron-deaths-age-65-elderly.html.
The recent winter wave of Omicron hit those age 65+ hard with a large increase in deaths compared to other age groups. Why did this happen? The infectious nature of Omicron is one reason, coupled with the weaker immune response of people as they age. Many seniors have still not had their first vaccine shot, second vaccine shot, booster, or second booster shot, despite being advised to do so.
The New York Times article indicated that the death rate for unvaccinated seniors was 156 per 100,000 during the winter Omicron wave. For those vaccinated, the death rate dropped strikingly to 24 per 100,000. For those who had a booster, it was 7 per 100,000.
Death is of course the most attention-grabbing outcome. However, even for those who recover, there are potentially severe consequences post-COVID. Organ systems can be invaded by the virus, resulting in cardiovascular damage, lung damage, kidney damage, musculoskeletal damage, and neurological damage, including damage to cognitive health https://isl.fsu.edu/article/long-term-effects-covid-19-infection-may-shape-cognitive-health-aging-society.
Recently released statistics by Centers for Disease Control indicate that for those less than age 65, the chance of post-COVID injury is about one in five. For those age 65+ it is about one in four: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7121e1.htm.
What can be done? People should avail themselves of vaccinations and boosters as soon as possible. Fortunately, if you do contract the virus, there are now effective treatments. The Pfizer anti-viral drug, Paxlovid, is recommended for older adults who contract COVID-19.
Paxlovid can significantly reduce the impact of the virus, such as becoming hospitalized and dying. Although the government is trying to increase the availability of Paxlovid, it is still not easy to get, as I found out when trying to pick up a prescription for my wife, who recently fell ill despite being vaccinated, boosted, and boosted a second time.
Convenient access is important because the drug is only effective if given early in the disease, usually within five days of infection. The problem is that many people do not get symptoms until two or three days after being infected. There are probably many people who do not have access to rapid Antigen home tests, despite their being free to order: https://www.covid.gov/tests.
We were fortunate to have test kits handy at home, and even more fortunate that our home was large enough for my wife to isolate upstairs while I managing to avoid infection. She recovered within a week or so.
There is evidence that infection can rebound following treatment with Paxlovid, somewhere around day 10, and people can infect those around them, leading the CDC to offer new guidelines following a course of Paxlovid: https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/2022/pdf/CDC_HAN_467.pdf. At this point we don’t know the prevalence of rebound. It was estimated at about 2% but may be higher, so it would be advisable for anyone treated with Paxlovid who experiences renewed symptoms days later to take a COVID test.
We need to encourage friends, family, neighbors to get vaccinated, particularly at-risk older adults, and, if they become infected, to get treatment ASAP.
Neil Charness is Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute for Successful Longevity at Florida State University.
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