By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
In the face of an ongoing and persistent threat, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the critical importance of COVID-19 vaccination, particularly for older adults. The report, which collected information between January and August of this year, reveals that individuals aged 65 and older accounted for a staggering 62.9% of all COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the United States.
Perhaps even more alarming is the finding that only 23.5% of people in this age group had received the bivalent vaccine introduced last fall. The repercussions of this low vaccination rate are grim, with the same demographic representing a staggering 87.9% of in-hospital deaths tied to the virus over the eight-month span.
Dr. Thuan Ong, an associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, emphasized the gravity of the situation.
“COVID-19 has a huge impact on older communities. It’s contributing to a lot of morbidity and mortality,” he said. Drawing parallels with other respiratory illnesses like RSV or influenza, Dr. Ong stressed the need to consider COVID-19 in a similar fashion.
Working extensively in long-term care facilities, Dr. Ong has witnessed the vulnerability of residents to viruses. He strongly encourages everyone to get the new COVID-19 vaccine as a preventive measure. For those expressing concerns or hesitations toward vaccination, he advocates for open conversations about the associated risks, particularly when dealing with older friends or loved ones.
In an effort to provide further insights into the impact of COVID-19 on older adults, Dr. Ong shared his experiences working in nursing homes. He highlighted the severity of cases among residents, noting that patients in long-term care communities are still being hospitalized at a rate of one in six due to COVID-19. His message is clear: the impact is substantial, and the battle against the virus is far from over.
Addressing the concern of residents in long-term care facilities who may face challenges getting vaccinated within their living environment, Dr. Ong suggested proactive measures.
“It would be important then, for their family members or their loved ones, or their friends to be able to take them out of the facility and arrange for an appointment to get a COVID-19 shot in a timely fashion,” he advised.
Acknowledging the logistical challenges, Dr. Ong highlighted the availability of mobile vaccination clinics in Washington state to cater to these specific needs. However, for those without such facilities, he recommended visiting local pharmacies as the next best step in obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine.
In delving into the psyche of vaccine-hesitant older individuals, Dr. Ong emphasized the importance of recognizing the individual’s risk. He underscored the importance of personal discussions with healthcare providers and family members to address any reservations or fears surrounding vaccination.
Providing practical advice for those experiencing symptoms of a respiratory virus, particularly among the older population, Dr. Ong stressed the urgency of reaching out to healthcare providers promptly.
“If your symptoms turn positive, it’s imperative that you call your healthcare provider in a short amount of time so that you can get started on treatments because you have a small window of opportunity to initiate treatment,” he said.
This health series is made possible by funding from the Public Health – Seattle & King County, which has no editorial input or oversight of this content.