Dec 13, 2021 - Health

Millions of America's seniors are vulnerable to Omicron

Data: CDC; Note: From Aug. 29 to Sept. 26, 2021, facilities reporting 100% fully vaccinated individuals were excluded; Data for week ending Dec. 5 is still accruing, with 10,477 nursing homes reporting as of Dec. 12. All other data points had more than 14,000 homes reporting; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Only about half of nursing home residents have received a COVID booster shot — an ominous statistic as Omicron rapidly spreads around the world.

Why it matters: Experts recommended booster shots — especially for this vulnerable population — even before the emergence of Omicron. But preliminary data shows that two doses of Pfizer's vaccine isn't very effective against the new variant, although three is.

Data: CDC; Note: Eligible population is defined as persons 65 years and older who completed a primary COVID-19 vaccination series and were eligible to receive a booster or additional primary dose by the end of the analysis period, Nov. 19, 2021; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The big picture: Less than half of eligible adults 65 and older — 44% — had received a booster shot as of shortly before Thanksgiving, according to CDC data released Friday.

  • There was wide variation by race and ethnicity, with white Americans more likely to have gotten a booster than most people of color.
  • There was also significant variability based on vaccine type. Eligible seniors who originally received J&J's one-shot vaccine were much less likely to have gotten a booster shot than Pfizer and Moderna recipients.
  • Only 17% of eligible J&J recipients had been boosted as of Nov. 19.

The bottom line: Millions of unboosted seniors, even those who are fully vaccinated, are vulnerable to breakthrough infections as Omicron cases spike.

  • It's still not clear how well two doses of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines — or one dose of J&J's — protect recipients against severe disease, although experts expect the vaccines' effectiveness against severe disease to remain stronger for longer than their effectiveness against infection.
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