From lifted vaccine requirements to reversed mask mandates, our stance on COVID mitigation in the U.S. has changed significantly in the past few months. But many of these adjustments were made during a time in which virus infections were consistently and substantially falling in the country—something that has also recently changed. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID cases have climbed by more than 25 percent in the last week, while virus-related hospitalizations have also increased by over 18 percent in the same timeframe.
COVID deaths, on the other hand, are still decreasing, thankfully. The CDC’s data shows that there has been more than a 5 percent decline in deaths in the past week alone. Nevertheless, some of the death toll data is causing serious concern among virus experts.
According to a recent Washington Post analysis of state and federal data, COVID deaths among vaccinated people have been rising in the past few months—shifting the balance away from the unvaccinated people accounting for the overwhelming majority of coronavirus fatalities in the U.S.
While unvaccinated people as a whole still remain most at risk of dying from the virus, the death toll among vaccinated individuals rose from 23 percent in Sept. 2021 during Delta’s peak to 42 percent in January and February of this year, when the Omicron variant was surging across the country.
“It’s still absolutely more dangerous to be unvaccinated than vaccinated,” Andrew Noymer, PhD, a public health professor at the University of California at Irvine who studies COVID mortality, told The Washington Post. “A pandemic of—and by—the unvaccinated is not correct. People still need to take care in terms of prevention and action if they became symptomatic.”
The rising death toll among vaccinated individuals is disproportionality affecting older people. According to The Washington Post, nearly two-thirds of vaccinated people who died during Omicron’s recent wave were 75 or older, while this age group only accounted for a third of the deaths during Delta’s reign.
The majority of vaccinated deaths among those 75 and older are people who have not been boosted, the newspaper further reported. According to its findings, in California and Mississippi—two of the states analyzed—three-quarters of elderly vaccinated deaths through Jan. and Feb. 2022 were among those who had not yet received a booster dose.
According to the CDC, around 50 percent of the total booster-eligible population has yet to get an additional shot, with more than 32 percent being eligible individuals over the age of 65. The agency also recently expanded vaccine guidance to allow for those in this age group to get a second booster. Many officials have reiterated that elderly vaccinated individuals are most in need of additional doses.
“We have made the fourth shot—the second booster—available to everyone over the age of 50 because everybody does have individual, you know, risk assessment as to how they’re approaching this vaccine,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during an April 5 White House press briefing. “But we really would encourage people who are over 50 who have underlying medical conditions and those over the age of 65, to go ahead and get that next shot.”
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