Is US on track for an explosive outbreak in care homes this winter? CDC report shows as little as 10% of elderly residents have had their seasonal vaccines

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Fewer seniors in care homes are vaccinated against RSV than those not in homes
  • Less than 10 percent of nursing home residents received the RSV vaccine
  • READ MORE: Everyone you know come down with a ‘super-cold’?

Seniors in the US could be facing a ‘great risk of serious illness’ due to their low vaccination rates and health officials stress there is ‘an urgent need’ to protect the vulnerable population from an outbreak of respiratory viruses.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report today found that as of December 10, just one-third of residents were up to date with their Covid vaccine and just 10 percent had received a vaccine for RSV.

A higher share – 72 percent – have received their flu vaccine. 

Older residents in nursing homes are at heightened risk of severe illness and death from any one of the three viruses due to their weakened immune systems. 

During the 2021-2022 flu season, the death rate for people 65 years and older was around 7.4 per 100,000 population, compared to 0.1 per 100,000 people among those aged 18 to 49 years. 

Health experts have warned America is battling one of the worst winter cold seasons they’ve seen as cases of Covid-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continue to climb and put pressure on hospitals. 

For Covid vaccines, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Iowa, Alaska and Hawaii had highest rates, with between 45 and 60 percent of residents vaccinated

For the flu, residents in elderly care homes with vaccination rates above 75 percent were observed in two dozen states, including Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania and Arkansas

For the flu, residents in elderly care homes with vaccination rates above 75 percent were observed in two dozen states, including Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania and Arkansas

RSV coverage was the lowest and nearly three dozen states reported between one and 15 percent of residents vaccinated

RSV coverage was the lowest and nearly three dozen states reported between one and 15 percent of residents vaccinated

The CDC has been warning the rise in illnesses could put a strain on the healthcare system, meaning ‘patients with other serious health conditions may face delays in receiving care.’ 

The US is already seeing crowding among hospital beds for pediatric patients.  

The CDC said: ‘In some parts of the country, hospital beds for children are already nearly as full as they were this time last year.

‘If these trends continue, the situation at the end of this month could again strain emergency departments and hospitals.’

The low rates of RSV vaccination could partly be because this is the first year a shot has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the virus for Americans over 60 years old. 

Challenges to implementing the roll out and administration of the new vaccine, along with limited time to train providers may also be a driving force behind the low coverage. 

The CDC said it will be important moving forward to educate staff and residents about RSV and its vaccine.  

Overall, the health agency also said vaccine fatigue, vaccine hesitancy and inaccurate health information could also be driving low numbers. 

Access to vaccines in underserved areas or among vulnerable populations, as well as cost and payment barriers, is also a contributing factor.

Vaccination rates varied across the US, with some regions having more coverage than others. 

For all vaccines, North and South Dakota consistently reported the highest coverage of all three. 

For Covid vaccines, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Iowa, Alaska and Hawaii had highest rates, with between 45 and 60 percent of residents vaccinated. 

The lowest rates – between 15 and 30 percent – were seen in 15 states, including Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. 

For the flu, residents in elderly care homes with vaccination rates above 75 percent were observed in two dozen states, including Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania and Arkansas. 

The lowest rate – vaccination of between 30 and 45 percent of residents – was seen only in Arizona. 

RSV coverage was the lowest and nearly three dozen states reported between one and 15 percent of residents vaccinated. 

The above shows the levels of respiratory illnesses in the United States as of December 9

The above shows the levels of respiratory illnesses in the United States as of December 9

The above shows the new weekly hospitalizations due to Covid (blue bars) and the weekly positivity percentage of Covid tests (yellow line) as of December 9

The above shows the new weekly hospitalizations due to Covid (blue bars) and the weekly positivity percentage of Covid tests (yellow line) as of December 9

States where rates were the lowest included Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma, Maine, Ohio, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. 

Rates were highest – between 30 and 45 percent – in just Alaska and Hawaii. 

The low rates of vaccination are concerning as the number of respiratory illnesses spread across the US this winter. 

Overall rates of respiratory illness have reached high or very high levels in 14 states and hospitalizations for these illnesses has been on the rise for eight weeks, hitting 5.3 percent of all hospitalizations for the week ending December 9. 

The number of Covid hospitalizations has also been on the rise for five weeks, hitting 23,400 during the week ending December 9. 

Test positivity has generally gone up as well over the five weeks, hitting 11 percent for the same week.  

The increase in cases is likely due to the JN.1 variant, which experts believe could be more infectious.

The CDC recently announced it was tracking the mutation and the World Health Organization announced it was deemed a ‘variant of interest.’

The agency said it is currently the fastest-growing variant in the country, and its presence will continue to increase.

The new variant was first detected in the US in September.

Due to its rapid spread, the CDC believes it is either more transmissible or better at evading the human immune system.

Still, there is no evidence the variant poses an increased risk to people and no indication it is more severe than previous variants.

Additionally, experts say the current Covid vaccine provides protection. 

And now WHO designates new JN.1 strain a ‘variant of interest’ that could strain hospitals this winter

The World Health Organization has classified the new Covid-19 variant, JN.1, as a variant of interest (VOI) separately from its parent lineage BA.2.86.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it appears to be more transmissible or better at evading immune systems, but there is no evidence it presents an increased risk to public health. 

The variant was first detected in the US in September and has only a single change from its parent strain. 

The WHO declared the global public health risk posed by JN.1 as low, but said the onset of the winter cold and flu season, coupled with the rise of the more transmissible Covid variant, could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries.

The health organization said it is continuously monitoring the strain and will update the risk evaluation as needed. 

Additionally, it advised that current Covid vaccines are effective at protecting against severe disease and death from the JN.1 mutation. 

While multiple viruses circulate this winter, the WHO recommended washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, staying current on vaccinations, isolating if sick and wearing a mask in crowded spaces. 

It also encouraged people to social distance from others and get tested if you develop cold, flu or Covid symptoms.  

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