Dec 13, 2021 - Health

Millions of America's seniors are vulnerable to Omicron

Percentage of U.S. nursing home residents who have received a COVID-19 booster
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.

Percentage of eligible population age 65 and older who have received a COVID-19 booster, by race
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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