U.S. health officials brace for another fall Covid surge, but with fewer deaths

Many elderly people and individuals with weak immune systems remain vulnerable to the virus. The rate of hospitalization and death from Covid has increased among those ages 65 and older since April despite high levels of vaccination in this age group, according to CDC data.

Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Brown University School of Public Health, said she is worried about the elderly and those with weak immune systems who are not up to date on their vaccines heading into the fall. Nuzzo said the public health response this fall should be laser focused on making sure these people are protected.

“I have some worry that unless we put that at the top of our list, our efforts are just going to be diluted, spread out over a number of different areas,” Nuzzo said. “If we fail to make sure the highest-risk people are fully protected, that’s when we’re going to see the deaths and that’s the most important thing we could try to prevent.”

Although 92% of those ages 65 and older received the first two doses of the vaccine, many of them have not stayed up to date with their boosters. About 70% received their third dose and only 40% have gotten their fourth shot since the FDA authorized it in February.

People ages 50 and older who received a second booster dose were 14 times less likely to die from Covid than the unvaccinated, and three times less likely to die than people who had one booster dose, according to CDC data.

Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, said people ages 75 and older, people with serious medical conditions and those with compromised immune systems would benefit the most from getting a booster right now. Deaths from Covid have risen in particular among people ages 75 and older, according to the CDC.

The CDC has also emphasized the importance of using therapeutics to protect people who simply cannot mount a strong immune response to the virus even with vaccination. Nearly 3% of U.S. adults have compromised immune systems, or about 7 million people ages 18 or older, according a survey published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The CDC has emphasized the importance of administering an investigational antibody therapy called Evusheld for people ages 12 and older with moderate and severely compromised immune systems. Evusheld is administered as two injections, before Covid infection, every six months to prevent severe illness, according to the FDA. But only 450,000 courses of the medicine have been administered so far, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

“The goal moving forward here for this year, next year, five years and 10 years down the road is protecting the vulnerable,” Offit said.