WASHINGTON — In a sign of growing concern among federal health officials about the spread of new coronavirus infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now saying everyone 50 or older should get a second booster if at least four months have passed since their first booster dose.
Previously, the agency said people 50 and older had the option to take an additional photobut only encouraged people over 65 or with underlying medical conditions to get it. The new orientation released in a statement on the CDC website on Thursdayalso extends to anyone 12 years and older with certain immune deficiencies.
The CDC said it was changing its advice because of a steady increase in infections over the past month, coupled with “a sharp and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans.” New confirmed cases again exceeded the average of 100,000 a day this week, according to a New York Times database — a number considered an undercount. And nationally, hospitalizations for people with Covid-19 averaged more than 23,800 a day on Thursday, 31% more than two weeks ago.
Most Americans 50 or older received their last dose of the Covid vaccine more than six months ago. This left “many vulnerable people without the protection they may need to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death,” the CDC said.
In another warning of growing Covid risks, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the agency, said on Friday that more than 45% of Americans now live in areas with transmission rates high enough that they should at least consider wearing a mask in indoor public places.
This was a substantial leap from the data she cited two days earlier during a White House briefing. She said then that about a third of Americans live in counties with medium to high levels of virus transmission. That in itself was a big increase; only about a quarter of the population fell in at-risk areas in the previous week, she said.
In a post on Twitter on Friday, Dr Walensky said people living in high-risk areas – mainly in the northeast – should wear masks indoors in public. Those in medium-risk areas, which include counties in nearly every state, should consider masks based on their personal risk assessment, she said.
Hospital admissions of patients with Covid are a major factor in CDC assessments of a community’s risk. But other experts have warned hospitalization data could be misleading because patients may have been admitted for unrelated illnesses and simply tested positive during routine Covid checks.
“We currently have 11 people in our hospital with Covid,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at San Francisco General Hospital. “Three of them were hospitalized with Covid and the other eight have Covid in their noses and are there for other reasons.”
She said that in Massachusetts, a state with a high vaccination rate, authorities estimate that up to 70% of hospitalized patients who test positive for the virus were admitted primarily for unrelated illnesses. However, coronavirus infections can also exacerbate underlying medical conditionsthat many Americans have.
The Covid death rate, although a lagging indicator, may be a more reliable indicator of the degree of impact of the disease, as doctors must note the cause of death on the death certificate, according to Dr Gandhi and d other experts.
Recently, deaths have remained low. About 275 deaths have been recorded each day over an average of seven days, Dr Walensky said Thursday. The number of new deaths has actually fallen slightly in recent weeks. According to the Times database, the overall death toll in the United States surpassed one million on Thursdaythe highest confirmed total of any nation.
People age 50 or older have been eligible for a second booster since late March, but federal health officials said too few people are taking advantage of it. Only a quarter of people aged 65 and over who received a booster dose, for example, received a second, CDC data shows.
Dr. Walensky also said this week that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are now discussing whether to expand eligibility to people under 50.
This week, agencies authorized a booster injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, expand eligibility for a first booster dose to a younger age group. Among the other factors cited in his decision notethe FDA cited the “continued relaxation” of preventative measures, including mask mandates, social distancing and isolation of infected people.
The agency also noted the long-lasting risk of Covid, which it said “can lead to significant morbidity after an initially mild infection”.
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